The challenges of the single wagon, the chemical industry's key transport method

August 28, 2023

Thanks to the single wagon system, shippers who don't fill a whole train with goods can send their products safely. The main challenge: wagon tracking.

When shippers choose rail as their freight mode, they don't necessarily have enough goods to fill a full train. Thanks to the single wagon system, they can ship only one or several wagons at a time. These wagons, dispatched from sites connected to the railroads, pass through various shunting yards where the trains are reorganised according to their destination, by grouping together wagons from different customers.

This mode of transport is commonly preferred by the chemical industry, as certain products cannot be transported by road due to their hazardous nature. However, it is not without its drawbacks: tracking difficulties, approximate arrival times, wagon retention, etc. It is essential for shippers to find a solution to these problems, which have a negative impact on the quality of their service and their yield.

Safety, a major challenge for the chemical industry

The transport of hazardous materials is particularly strictly regulated. Unsurprisingly, since these are sensitive products that can cause great damage in the event of an accident. The main risks associated with chemicals are leakage, explosion and reaction with other substances. To avoid any incidents, the transport of hazardous materials is strictly regulated.

Faced with these safety challenges, rail transport is the safest method. Railcars can be fitted with various safety devices: leak detection, fire-fighting equipment, containment in the event of an accident. What's more, in the event of an accident, the collateral damage is generally less severe on a railroad than on a freeway, in the case of truck transport. What's more, some countries, like Switzerland, only allow hazardous materials to be transported across their territory by train. When transporting across Europe, it is therefore essential to use the railways, or risk being refused access to certain borders.

Essential but not always optimised transport

Single wagons are an integral part of chemical transport. However, it does not guarantee shippers optimal end-to-end transport. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, single wagons are not always easy to keep track of. In fact, with this mode of transport, it's the rail company that manages the logistics, not the shipper himself. It is the railways that assemble the trains from the available single wagons, according to demand and the route to be covered. During the journey, the single wagon may be transferred from one train to another as it passes through a shunting yard, potentially several times. As a result, precise tracking of the wagon becomes complicated. This is a major problem for chemical shippers. For safety reasons, they always need to know where their goods are, so that they can alert the authorities if a hazardous situation or accident occurs. 

What's more, it's particularly difficult to determine an accurate ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) for a single wagon. There are several reasons for this: 

  • The route a single wagon will take is not known to the client.
  • A single wagon can be associated with different trains during its journey.
  • A single wagon may be subject to prolonged stops in shunting yards or at the delivery site.

This lack of precise ETAs has a negative impact on the quality of service for shippers, who are unable to warn their customers of any delays.

Last but not least, the use of single wagons encourages wagon retention. This is a major problem. For many manufacturers using rail transport for their goods, logistics costs are greatly influenced by the size of their wagon fleet. In order to reduce this fleet (and therefore the associated costs) without risking disruption, it is crucial to optimise wagon utilisation as much as possible. However, it is still all too common for these manufacturers to encounter problems with wagon immobilisation. "Monitoring retention is a key element in controlling our rail flows. (...) A wagon that makes more rotations is a wagon that brings more value to Arkema,"explains Damien Roussel, Supply Chain Project Manager at Arkema

Tracking, ETA and wagon rotation: TVMS to the rescue of chemical manufacturers

To overcome these problems, it is necessary to find a solution that enables real-time tracking of wagons, ensuring accurate ETA and tracking of wagon downtime. This is what TVMS aims to achieve for its users. 

TVMS (Transport, Visibility and Management System) enables real-time tracking of its shipper customers' wagon fleets. By retrieving the wagons' GPS positions (sent by sensors placed on them), the TVMS is able to precisely track the wagon and its cargo throughout its journey. This is what Everysens does for the 500 railcars that make up Arkema's European fleet.

Thanks to this tracking, the TVMS is able to determine a precise ETA for each wagon. What's more, this ETA is regularly updated according to the wagon's progress. In the event of a delay, the shipper at the origin of the shipment is notified by an alert on the TVMS platform, enabling him to inform his customer immediately. As a result, service quality is greatly improved. 

TVMS is also able to deliver an automatic report on turnaround times by departure zone, broken down into journey times and waiting times. Thanks to this report, the shipper can use reliable indicators to collaborate with rail companies to improve performance through better fleet rotation. In addition, TVMS alerts and provides detailed reports on wagon immobilisations, enabling the shipper to be proactive in avoiding wagon retentions. 

Towards improved rail logistics for chemists

The single wagon is a crucial method of transport for the chemical industry. Although this system offers undeniable advantages, particularly in terms of safety when transporting hazardous materials, it is not without its challenges. Problems of tracking, determining precise arrival times and wagon immobilisation are just some of the obstacles facing shippers.

The use of TVMS overcomes these obstacles: real-time tracking of wagons, precise determination of ETA and detailed reports on wagon rotation and immobilisation. With Everysens' TVMS, shippers can improve the quality of their service, strengthen their collaboration with railway companies, and minimise delays and unwanted downtime.

You too can optimise your wagonload utilisation