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Rail News Home Mechanical

July 2009

Rail News: Mechanical

New UMLER system will enable car owners to communicate more clearly and quickly, Railinc says


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

An event that promises to have a far-reaching impact on the rail industry is set to occur by month’s end. Railinc plans to launch the new Umler™ Equipment Management Information System (Umler/EMIS) on July 25.

Introduced more than 40 years ago, the Universal Machine Language Equipment Register (UMLER) is a computer platform used by railroads, rolling stock owners and repair shops to share a wealth of rail-car information, which is used to interchange cars, pool traffic and issue blocking requests.

However, UMLER — which has evolved from IBM punch cards to computer tapes to Electronic Data Interchange messages over the years — long has needed a major overhaul, says Alan McDonald, director of the Umler/EMIS project for Railinc, an Association of American Railroads subsidiary that hosts UMLER and spent the past five years developing the new system.

“Users can’t put all the data they want into the system and the industry is clamoring for more information,” he says.

User-friendly and flexible

The first major re-engineering of UMLER, Umler/EMIS will be a more flexible, intuitive and easy-to-use Web-based application, says McDonald. The system will offer real-time data updates via the Internet or enhanced “Train II’ computer-to-computer electronic messaging; better equipment-level security and control over access to equipment; and improved data quality to reduce car-movement delays caused by data errors.

“It will go from a static database to a dynamic database, so users can get as much information as they need to,” says McDonald.

Instead of communicating on UMLER via alphanumeric codes, which can have dual or triple meanings, Umler/EMIS users will share data via English-language words. UMLER currently is accessed by 1,400 companies and about 2,000 to 3,000 individual users.

In addition, information will be shared instantaneously instead of being processed twice daily, 12 hours apart. Real-time data exchanges mean fewer cars will sit for up to 24 hours or more awaiting instructions, such as a car that was stenciled, says McDonald.

For First Union Rail, fewer idle cars means fewer phone calls from disgruntled railroads asking why their car isn’t moving, says Mary Gonzalez, assistant director of fleet and UMLER for the leasing company, which manages a 90,000-car fleet.

First Union Rail has been waiting for Umler/EMIS for a number of years to do away with codes and usher in a more robust system that enables the company to better define car messages, she says.

The firm has redesigned its own database to fit the new Umler/EMIS system, says Henry Dong, technical lead and head of the EMIS project for First Union Rail.

Umler/EMIS will undergo a staggered implementation so the new system isn’t flooded with new users right off the bat, says Gonzalez, adding that First Union Rail will go live on Oct. 10.

An Umler convert

Meanwhile, CSX Corp. will go live on Oct. 31, says Randy Voith, technical director of CSX Technology. To prepare for Umler/EMIS, the Class I needed to convert 350 mainframe programs, design a new database and replicate various processes, he says.

The new system will help the railroad react quickly to business needs, says Voith.

“If you can’t modify your database, you can’t react as quickly,” he says.

Umler/EMIS also will provide CSX flexibility to change data as necessary, says Lora Dorman, the railroad’s manager of AAR services, mechanical car operations group.

“For example, there are new emission laws for refrigerated cars in California,” she says. “With an old mainframe, it’s difficult to add information like that.”

Ultimately, Umler/EMIS will be a key asset because the system will handle more precise information, says Railinc’s McDonald.

“The UMLER system touches virtually every operating system at the railroads, so it has to be accurate,” he says.


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