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Rail News: Norfolk Southern Railway

NS notes success with ethanol virtual management and delivery system


Norfolk Southern Railway recently marked the one-year anniversary of a virtual inventory management and delivery system for ethanol shippers that can cut in half the time it takes to transload shipments at Thoroughbred Bulk Transfer (TBT) facilities, according to the Class I.

The new system combines ethanol shipments from multiple customers into a single inventory in a process called commingling. The process expedites transloading operations by enabling trucks to access ethanol from any rail car when they arrive at the terminal.

Since implementing the system in October 2010, NS has increased the efficiency and capacity of TBT commingling facilities. For example, at-transload process times dropped from an average of 90 minutes to 30 minutes in Alexandria, Va., according to a press release.

“By creating a virtual inventory, we are taking the variability out of service, increasing flexibility and accessibility to the product, and decreasing the time it takes to get the product to blending and storage facilities,” said Charlie Brenner, NS assistant vice president of market systems and development, in a prepared statement. “We visualize it as a ‘rolling storage tank’ that streamlines access to a customer’s ethanol supply.”

Customers can access real-time information on shipments through the enhanced NS Ethanol Dashboard, a component of the inventory system’s software developed by the Class I’s e-commerce team. The web-based application tracks the quantity of ethanol each shipper uses, then automatically updates inventory levels, monitors shipments in transit and provides access to historical data. Truck arrival and departure times also are recorded. In addition, NS monitors each customers’ supply chain, sends automated alerts if inventory levels are low and, in some cases, assists with purchasing.

To date, the new system has been used to transload more than 150 million gallons of ethanol at NS TBT facilities in Doraville, Ga.; Pineville, N.C.; and Alexandria and Petersburg, Va. The railroad also will offer the new inventory system at its recently opened TBT in Pottstown, Pa., and a soon-to-open TBT in Roanoke, Va.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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