Rail Container Tracking for Enhanced Visibility

Published on
Nov 9, 2023
Written by
Adam Baker
Read time
3 Minutes

Adam Baker

VP of Customer Experience

In the fall of 2022, Gnosis Freight began offering its first version of rail container tracking to a select group of customers. Since then, we have continued to improve upon our ability to track containers on rail, resulting in what we believe to be the most advanced rail container tracking system available in North America.

The Current State of Rail Tracking

During the last couple of decades, there have been very few rail tracking solutions for shippers and logistics providers to turn to. And those that were available provided limited information, such as static ETAs and location updates at stops along the route.

For example, for a container making its way from the Port of Los Angeles to Chicago, you'll typically get an ETA of, say, June 3rd, and then receive updates along the way about when the train has passed through Tucson, San Antonio, Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, etc., based on the route. But these timestamps don't change the ETA along the way. Finally, you'll get an update once it's arrived in Chicago.

Another option outside of third-party solutions has been information provided by the ocean carriers, which often only provide the initial loaded-on-rail information and an initial rail ETA that never changes, even when the actual arrival time differs significantly.

The problem for a shipper or Logistics Service Provider ("LSP") trying to track containers on rail and effectively schedule drayage is that the information is historical and lacks accurate and timely updates.

Why You Need Better Rail Tracking

At this point, everyone in the logistics world is familiar with the challenges of demurrage at ocean terminals, but it's even more challenging at rail terminals.

Outside of custom contracts, ocean terminals typically provide a shipper with four working days to remove a container before they start charging demurrage. While the ETAs provided by ocean carriers leave much to be desired, they are at least updated periodically along the ocean transit to help schedule drayage before the last free day (LFD), and you have several days to work with.

Rail terminals, on the other hand, provide very limited free time for container pickup, typically 24 or 48 hours. After that, fees can escalate rapidly, reaching up to $500 per day. This makes accurate and predictive rail tracking and last free day milestones even more crucial for businesses to avoid hefty demurrage fees and ensure efficient container pickup.

Time Savings

Gnosis' Advanced Rail Container Tracking can provide significant time savings by eliminating certain steps typically required when tracking containers on rail.

One Gnosis Freight customer conducted their study to see how much time they spent tracking containers on rail before using Gnosis and after. Typically, this freight forwarder has 8 milestones to confirm for each rail shipment, from when a container arrives at the Port of Discharge until it is picked up at the rail terminal. They found that, on average, they spent 23 minutes on activities related to tracking a container on rail. Once they started using Gnosis' Advanced Rail Container Tracking, that time was reduced to an average of 8 minutes. These 15 minutes in time savings per container result in a significant improvement in files (shipments) per FTE, leading to improved operational efficiency.

What Gnosis Freight Provides and the Benefits to Customers

Gnosis Freight's Advanced Rail Container Tracking offers a new level of visibility for tracking containers on rail, starting weeks before the container is loaded on the well car.

Using the example of a container going from the Port of LA to Chicago via rail, Gnosis Freight's proprietary Marlo™ container tracking engine begins by calculating a predicted vessel berthing window in Los Angeles. Based on that predicted vessel berthing window, Marlo then predicts when the container will be discharged, how long it will take to get loaded on rail, and how long it will take to reach the final destination.

As the train makes its way from Los Angeles to Chicago, each of those location events is added to the predictive algorithm, fine-tuning the ETA to provide not only the day the container is predicted to arrive but also an approximate time on that day.

What all of this means is that Gnosis Freight can predict when that container will arrive in Chicago while it is still on the water with a very high level of accuracy.

A Real-World Example

Here's a real-world example of a test we conducted with one of our customers to compare Gnosis Freight's Advanced Rail Container Tracking predictive ETAs against rail carrier Canadian National Railway ("CN"). In this case, we were tracking containers from the Port of Vancouver to Indianapolis on CN. CN told the shipper (our customer) they were going to have 15 to 20 containers arrive in Indianapolis during a specific work week. Gnosis Freight predicted that 40 containers would arrive during that work week.

On the last day of that work week, 31 containers had arrived at the rail terminal, and Gnosis Freight was predicting that 9 more would arrive at approximately 10:00 pm that evening. At 12:09 am the next morning, 9 more containers arrived at the rail terminal, missing 100% accuracy for that work week by just nine minutes.

This is particularly important because, as mentioned previously, sometimes you only have 24 hours of free time.

So, what happens if you think only 20 containers are going to arrive on a certain day but 40 arrive at the rail terminal?

You have 20 truckers on standby ready to pick up the 20 containers you expected to arrive that day within 24 to 48 hours of their arrival, but you will also have 20 containers that are likely to sit at the terminal past their free time and accrue demurrage while you scramble to schedule truckers to pick them up, all while you're scheduling for the next several rounds of containers that will be arriving in the coming week or two.

Rail Tracking Container Information

In addition to the predictive ETAs and location updates along the container's rail journey, Gnosis Freight can offer additional details about that container once it's arrived at the rail terminal to help your truckers make quick and efficient pickups. These details include:

  • Notify Date
  • Specific rail terminal locations (Example: CSX 59th Ave, Chicago)
  • Location In Yard (Example: Lot B, Row 5, Spot 2)
  • FIRMS Code
  • Last Free Day
  • Chassis Number

Lastly, in addition to the details listed above, one of the most asked-about pieces of information for rail containers is the pickup number, which for rail terminals is a required piece of information needed for a trucker to pick up a container.

Typically, the rail leg of the container's journey is booked and facilitated by the ocean carrier. Because the ocean carrier books the rail leg, the rail carrier will send the pickup number to the ocean carrier. The ocean carrier will then send it to the shipper, and the shipper will have to send that pickup number to their drayage carrier or trucker who will be picking up the container. Without it, they can't get the container.

With Gnosis Freight, that pickup number automatically shows up in your Container Lifecycle Management™ platform. For customers who have the Scheduling and/or Delivery Order Creation CLM Enhancements, that pickup number, as well as all the other details above, can be included in the Delivery Order sent to the trucker from the platform.

For shippers who move a lot of containers inland by rail, Gnosis Freight's Advanced Rail Container Tracking enhancement is a must-have addition to the Container Lifecycle Management platform.

Save time, reduce unnecessary costs like demurrage, and work more effectively with your logistics partners. Experience a smarter way to track and manage your containers with Gnosis Freight.