The importance of digitalization in managing rail transport flows

June 23, 2023

Why and how should rail transport flows be digitized? Which tools to use, which technologies to adopt, which levers to focus on for successful adoption? And what are the benefits? 

In Europe, the modal share of rail freight represents only 18% of freight transport. Yet rail freight is essential to achieving the decarbonization targets set by numerous institutions and conventions, such as the Paris Agreements and the COPs of recent years. Rail freight transport emits 14 times less CO2 than road transport, per tonne transported. This is the main reason why the European Green Deal has set a target of a 30% modal share for rail in Europe by 2030.

However, there are still obstacles to the adoption of rail freight by as many companies as possible, resulting in the overwhelming presence of road freight in Europe: 75%. Unsuitable tools, long and complex processes, repetitive tasks for logistics teams, too much reliance on paper documents, difficult tracking of wagons and goods, delays... For rail freight to be more attractive, it needs to be simplified. That's where the digitalization of rail transport flow management comes in. 

How do you go about digitizing your business? Which tools to use, which technologies to turn to, which levers to focus on for successful adoption? And what are the benefits of digitization for rail freight operators? 

Taking advantage of the right technologies, at the right time

Artificial intelligence: optimizing logistics processes and resource allocation

Being able to analyze data to propose solutions, recommendations and improvements is one of the main strengths of artificial intelligence (AI). In the case of rail transport, AI takes into account all relevant data (transport flows, timetables, wagon capacities, operational constraints) and determines the best alternatives for planning routes, coordinating operations, managing stocks or resolving bottlenecks. 

The use of artificial intelligence is also relevant to resource allocation. AI is capable of taking many factors into account, such as shipment priorities, delivery times and capacity constraints. Based on these factors, AI is able to assign wagons, plan loading and unloading operations, and optimize connections between trains, all in the most efficient way possible to maximize the use of rail assets. 

Finally, AI can assist teams with intelligent decision-making. AI leverages insights from historical data to provide recommendations on how to react to unforeseen changes, solve operational problems, minimize delays and so on. In short, AI assists decision-making and makes it more informed, leading to greater overall efficiency in managing transport flows

IoT for real-time monitoring

Intelligent sensors on railcars open up a wide range of applications. The ultimate aim is to improve service quality, reduce losses and ensure smooth transport. GPS sensors enable real-time tracking of wagons, alerting teams to anomalies such as stops, delays or off-route departures. Temperature and humidity sensors facilitate cold chain management. Vibration sensors inform crews of any shocks or changes in wagon position, enabling them to anticipate potential theft or accidents on the route. Finally, sensors enable predictive maintenance by collecting data on performance, wear and potential failures. 

To sum up, digitizing the management of transport flows enables : 

- optimized route planning

- improved visibility of shipments for better flow management, facilitating collaboration between all stakeholders: shippers, rail companies, rental companies, etc.

- reduced waiting times, delays and asset downtime

- automation of logistics processes, leading to greater operational efficiency and more satisfied teams who can concentrate on higher value-added tasks

- reducing CO2 emissions through easier collection and measurement using artificial intelligence

Best practices for successful digitalization

- Establish a clear vision: What does digitalization mean for your company? How will it contribute to improving the management of transport flows?

- Assess needs and appropriate technologies: Carry out an in-depth assessment of your company's digitalization needs. Identify the specific areas of transport flow management that can benefit most from digitalization. Determine which technologies are most likely to meet the identified needs.

- Collaborate with supply chain partners: Ensure that your digitalization initiatives are aligned and interoperable with the systems and processes of your partners (sites, carriers, rail operators, etc.).

- Employee training and awareness: Make sure your employees understand the benefits of digitalization, the new skills required and how work processes can change. Provide adequate training to enable employees to master new technologies and adapt to new ways of working.

- Change management: implement a change management strategy to anticipate resistance, communicate effectively and involve employees throughout the process. The changes brought about by digitalization can lead to significant organizational and cultural changes, which is essential to take into account and anticipate.

Digitization in rail transport flow management enables  optimized processes, improves wagon tracking and visibility, anticipates problems and improves service quality, makes transactions more secure, and makes the work of teams easier, more efficient and focused on high-value tasks. 

Improving the flexibility of rail freight will make it all the easier to achieve the European Green Deal objective. 

30 minutes to discuss your digitization needs