Rail Users’ Manual

The Rail User’ Manual available from The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL)  contains some basic, important, timeless, and valuable information relating to railroad railcar tracking that you may not be able to find consolidated anywhere else. The information in the manual could be more timely since the latest version that I am aware of is 2004. Its cost is reasonable ($100) and it comes in a PDF, so it is searchable.

Here is the link to the page that provides a summary and an order form that you must fax back to them with your credit card information: Rail User’ Manual.

The manual provides a list of railroads and CLM Collection Services (aka VANs – value added networks). The list is not complete any more and the phone numbers and contact names are probably not too current, but it is a good place to start and represents a pretty good summary of the major players. More importantly, it will give you a good background of the terms used and what questions to ask when it comes time for you to get CLM for your railcar shipments.

By reading this blog, you don’t have to buy anything from me, but if you are interested in a CLM collection service, contact Railcar Tracking Co., which provides CLM specifically for the small to midsize shipper (large shippers welcome too) with no monthly minimum fee and no contracts.

A chapter entitled “AAR/NITL Car Location Message Standards” makes this document worth while. Although I would recommend checking with the railroad e-business customer service departments to see if they can provide you a similar document for no charge. Also, before you read this chapter too closely, note that several of the major railroads no longer allow certain types of CLM gathering methods as mentioned in the manual, so you may want to check with the railroad first before you spend too much time learning about CLIs and CLUs. Section Text Format Options is helpful in that it shows you the different text file format options that are available. CLMs are delivered in text files. Section 2.3.3 gives you all of the CLM sighting codes and describes the type of railcar handling events that trigger them. Section on Bad Order Reporting codes is really useful – these codes describe what kind of repair is needed.

The “Use of Car Location Messages” chapter is helpful since it describes data integrity problems of CLM and their causes. This will help you understand how to build your systems to anticipate and handle them.

The other chapters in the manual relate to railcar repairs, leasing invoice guidelines, role of third parties (these are companies that provide services to rail users), data services provided by Railinc (the VAN for the Association of American Railroads – AAR) and a glossary of terms.

I hope that I have given you a reasonable preview of what you can expect if you fork out the money for the Rail Users’ Manual. Thanks for reading and if you have experience with the Rail Users’ Manual, please add a comment!

All the best,


Jim Dalrymple


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