How do you characterize the "new supply chain" and what can railroads do to better serve it? (Jim Blaze)

Jim Blaze Headshot (2)

We hear a lot about “the new supply chain.”
How do you characterize it, and what can railroads do to better serve it?


The new supply chain isn’t really new. Better long-distance product logistics viability with command and control aspects has been developing since the introduction of decentralized personal computers and small “servers” since the 1985-95 period. 

Railroads attempted to enter that digital age in the period 1992-95 with AEI radio frequency tags and a skeleton network of RGUD tag reading scanners. But they didn't integrate this visibility tracking technology into the direct enhancement of the shippers' TMS supply chain software tracking systems. 

Transportation Supply Chain software (TMS) is actually where shippers control their supply chains.  Truckers like JB HUNT know this, and this integrates with their 360-platform software. Railroads have yet to do this big time and full-time. 

Did you know that the first AEI train interchange movement between UP and Conrail back in the 1994 period actually shut off the precisely recorded clock time? Why do that? -- Because the accurate AEI RFID tag time was way out of sync with all of the other legacy CLM railroad car visibility reporting

Fast forward to 2021. If you're a rail freight customer and your disrupted supply chain requires a fix...your best bet today is to use third-party track and trace visibility hardware/communications/smart positional software packages offered by third-party “IT VENDORS.” Companies like Nexxiot and ZTR are among those suppliers. 

Waiting for your favorite Class I North American rail company to provide superior real origin to real destination supply chain “touch” into your logistics TMS programming might not be your best choice if you need solutions right now. Rail Pulse and Railinc are promising forthcoming greater visibility.  But so far, it is hard to touch and use those promised features. 

That, my rail user and railway customer serving colleagues, is our industry dilemma. 

Can we as a closed, limited coverage rail “way” network provide that entire OD journey coverage that shippers and receivers seek? Probably not if “we” design it as railroaders. Our offering has to be expansive and feed intel directly into customer TMS systems. Traditionally, railroads have resisted such openness. 

Two action questions:
  1. Are “we “ now up to that task?
  2. How long for “we” as railroaders to deliver something equivalent to our Amazon-type supply order delivery experience?

Please, if you disagree with this old man’s prescription share your counter logic with us. That dialogue process starts a serious business solution search.