The name Conrail is synonymous with railroads, but it takes a fleet of road vehicles to keep the trains running. Those road vehicles are most efficient when using a reliable GPS-based fleet management solution, which is why Conrail has depended on Trimble Fleet Management for more than a decade. Now, with an increasingly tech-savvy workforce, Fleet Management is also helping the company decentralize some operations and modernize communications from radios to cell phones.
Consolidated Rail Corp.
Conrail — officially Consolidated Rail Corp. — was formedin 1976 as a combination of six freight railroads that had gone into bankruptcy, primarily as a result of competition from trucking. Conrail’s origins, however, date all the way back to the pioneering days of railroading when its oldest segment, the Granite Railway Co., was built in Massachusetts in 1826. Today, Conrail is a jointly owned subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corp. and CSX Corp. that operates a switching and terminal railroad on behalf of its owners. To service and maintain about 1,200 miles of track in Philadelphia, New Jersey andDetroit, Conrail manages a large fleet of pickup and bucket trucks, panel vans, cranes and 3-ton boom trucks.
Rails to roads
Conrail originally installed Fleet Management in locomotives, but later decided the solution would also prove valuable in the rubber-tire vehicles that service the tracks. Trimble Fleet Management is a cloud-based solution that provides visibility into daily field service operations to help organizations identify, manage and improve operational areas such as driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel use and vehicle efficiency.
The solution helps managers and supervisors make intelligent decisions based on vehicle status and real-time location to get the best performance out of their fleet. With Fleet Management, businesses can improve their overall fleet productivity by identifying where improvements can be made to reduce fuel costs and travel time.
Conrail had several goals in mind when deploying Fleet Management on its field vehicles: achieve real-time visibility of the entire fleet, monitor vehicle idling and unauthorized use, and reduce fuel expenses.
Fleet Management generates on-demand information and activity reports on key data such as off-hours use and mileage. Exception alerts tell managers and dispatchers when a vehicle hasn’t moved or leaves its designated work area. This 24-hour visibility into fleet operations makes it easy to identify correctable behaviors. Idling, for instance, burns up a lot of fuel if drivers don’t routinely turn off engines when they stop for more than a minute or two.
Idling is allowed in some cases, but Fleet Management helps determine when it is warranted. “In the winter, we are more lenient about idling because of the colder temperatures,” Conrail IT Manager David Arnold said.
As for unauthorized vehicle use, he said, the company doesn’t routinely track drivers “but we do need to know if they were off the property and why they were off property, especially if the vehicles go where there are no tracks.”
Most maintenance takes place on company property in a group setting. Some workers, however, are self-supervised and allowed to take vehicles home, where they start the workday, Arnold added.
Decentralized fleet management
When Conrail first implemented Fleet Management, it was primarily interested in having the IT department gather real-time information to produce daily, weekly and monthly management reports, according to Arnold. “Eventually, however, we transitioned away from that model so that supervisors in each region now manage their own fleet of vehicles and work is no longer centralized."
Centralization made sense early on, but a demographic change in the Conrail workforce over the years made it possible to delegate responsibility for the fleet management solution to supervisors, Arnold added.
“In the last six to seven years, there has been a shift as many workers retired. Now about 70 percent of our supervisors are younger and tech savvy. They are new to rail but very sophisticated,” he said. “Our team has adjusted well to the change.”
The implementation of Trimble Fleet Management has been a success. For one thing, unnecessary idling is no longer an issue because Fleet Management generates reports on when vehicles are stopped for more than a specified duration, Arnold said.
In addition, employees now know where they should be, thanks to integration with cell phones. “One of the benefits of the technology is the increased communication that comes from using a cell phone. The railroad is radio-based and all vehicles have radios, but we are rapidly transitioning to cell phones,” Arnold said.
Trimble Fleet Management paid for itself long ago, he added. “Now our number one use is analyzing data from the field by generating reports on issues like speeding, vehicle usage and accidents and using this information to optimize safety, efficiency and productivity. Fleet Management is a tool that everybody uses and we can’t imagine giving up.”