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January 2014

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Railroad crew management firms offer an array of transportation and logistics services


— by Walter Weart

There's always been a need to transport train crews — whether it's to a train or terminal or to a lodging facility after the end of a run. In the past, railroads enlisted commercial taxis. Now, railroads and railroad contractors turn to firms that specialize in providing customized crew transportation logistics management services.

For example, Renzenberger Inc., which launched operations in 1983 with two vans and an aim to provide quality crew transportation service to U.S. railroads, now has a fleet of more than 1,500 vans and serves most Class Is, some regional railroads, and the oil, gas and airline industries, says Chief Executive Officer Tony Plut.

Renzenberger offers "radius vans," which operate 24/7 within a 50-mile radius, and "individual trip" vans that transport crews for specific trips, Plut says. To help ensure driver and passenger safety, Renzenberger installed video equipment in its vans. And the company has automated the dispatch process: The firm's customized center receives dispatches from railroads electronically, removing the human element as much as possible, Plut says. Renzenberger also has developed systems to communicate real-time dispatch and billing data with customers. Vehicle specifications, too, are based on customer requirements.

For Renzenberger, providing cost-efficient service is key.

"For the past few years, we have looked at alternate fuels for our vans and where it is available, we have been using that," Plut adds, noting that the company also has an anti-idling policy in place. "One area where there are still cost savings is in the Chicago terminal area, where there is a concentration of yards and other facilities."

Regarding the latter: More cooperation among crew transporters and railroads would lead to better response times and resource utilization, Plut says.

"We're in and out of the same yards, and we could all reduce our deadhead mileage if we [cooperate]," he adds.

In November 2013, Renzenberger merged with Hallcon Corp., which operates in Canada and the United States. The companies plan to continue operating under the Hallcon and Renzenberger names, and maintain individual operating teams, according to a press release.

An Array Of Services

Travelliance also offers crew and workforce accommodations, transportation management and logistics services.

Launched in 1976 with a focus on building and operating lodging facilities, the company also bills itself as "an unbiased administrator of crew-hauling vendors" on its website. Services include: crew transportation to/from remote job sites; ongoing van shuttles between terminals; 24/7 automated dispatching; automated invoicing; compliance controls; predictive analytics; online reporting; and process improvement audits.

Travelliance currently dispatches "between 1,700 and 1,800 trips" per day for Class Is, says President Todd Friesen.

"We started the transport business to serve our customers with a complete service package, but at the outset, the dispatch process was strictly a manual operation," he says.

The process now is fully automated.

"We use GPS and a tracking service PeopleNet, an onboard computing and carrier fleet communications provider, to know where the van is located, monitoring the trip start to finish," Friesen says.

Travelliance moves dispatch information down to the railroad's divisional offices, which helps keep on-time arrivals around 85 percent to 90 percent, company officials say. "Lessons learned" calls that include railroad and crew hauler representatives help all parties determine how they can work together to make the entire process more efficient, Travelliance Vice President - Business Development Andrew Claude.

Technology's Role

PS Technology (PST) also offers crew management scheduling, time keeping and crew logistics management services to "multiple" Class Is and short lines, PST said in an email. Offerings include:

  • "VanMan" crew logistics, a Web-based electronic ordering and processing system for crew vans/limos. VanMan is designed to reduce the time crews are held for transportation; improve operating velocity; enhance communications; and eliminate third-party accounting services and costs. It also collects van trip and expense data, "benefiting both the railroads and their limo provider(s)," PST said. VanMan also features a vendor performance monitoring tool, which tracks data customers can use to award performance bonuses to van providers.
  • The Hotel Management System (HMS), which projects the quantity of crew rooms needed, and calculates and adjusts the monthly or daily guarantees between railroads and their crew hotels. The HMS dashboard shows incoming, checked-in and checked-out stays, which "minimizes railroad costs associated with unused rooms, third-party billing, delays, adjustments for crew rest and check-out expenses," according to PST, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Corp. HMS also benefits crews by electronically providing them with check-in information, eliminating credit card fees and facilitating the appropriate rest cycles by requesting "do not disturb" times from hotel staff.

A New Provider

Meanwhile, Keep It Moving Transportation (KIMI) plans to begin providing rail crew shuttle service in the Midwest early this year.

"We thought we would be able to start in the fourth quarter," says KIMI President Julece Glaum. "However, the recent government shutdown delayed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in issuing our [interstate operating authority] certificate."

KIMI plans to offer "scheduled runs, which avoid the need to dispatch drivers on an irregular basis, enabling many of our drivers to work predicable shifts," says Glaum. The firm also plans to have on-call drivers. The KIMI fleet will comprise "CNG-fueled vehicles," according to the company's website.

"We, as well as the rail carriers, are very concerned about sustainability and safety," Glaum says.

Initially, KIMI will serve southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northern Indiana, but the company is ready to expand if the market calls for it, Glaum says.

Walter Weart is a Denver-based freelance writer. Email with comments or questions.


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