Railroad free track & trace tools – reduce the learning curve

The Class I railroads have made an effort to provide tools for customers to gain visibility of en route rail shipments. The offerings vary widely across the railroads. Over the last year, I have provided articles on how to sign up for and use Class I railroad track & trace web site tools including:



Through my review of these websites, I discovered that, in general, these track & trace tools are effective mostly for rail shippers / receivers who are served by a single railroad with a relatively low number of shipments (or unit trains). There are significant weaknesses of these tools for the more prolific shipper / receiver, but the features may be just what you need and warrant an investigation before considering a paid option. Of course, the features vary by railroad and I encourage you to read the reviews above for more specifics so you can determine if these offerings will or will not satisfy your particular needs. Here are some challenges that most of the sites have:

  • Visibility of a shipment is provided only if the railroad is in the route.
  • ETAs are often only provided to interchange.
  • Historical shipment data can often only be gotten back to the beginning of the current shipment.
  • Customizing and delivering reports automatically is limited.
  • Transit time and dwell time reports usually only show measurements on that particular railroad if they are available at all.
  • There are no fleet management features for those who own or lease railcars such as railcar utilization measures, lease / sublease tracking, repair / maintenance / compliance history.

Geez, are there any good things about these websites? Well, yes…

  • Free… as in a box of donuts sitting in the break room.
  • Most timely, accurate and detailed data since it comes directly from the railroad’s operating system. I recommend that you sign up for all the railroad websites upon which your traffic moves. This way, even if you eventually go with a paid subscription to a 3rd party system, you will always be able to refer back the original source if there is ever a question about the current location of a railcar. 3rd party systems usually collect data in batches throughout the day, so it will not be as timely as the railroad systems. Sometimes railroad systems will also provide intermediate or intra-rail-yard moves that 3rd party systems can’t see because the railroads don’t forward that data on.
  • When they are available, trip plans and ETAs for the shipment should be the most up to date estimate of future movements of the car.

I hope that you have found this article helpful and time saving in learning about what the railroad websites can provide you for tracking & tracing rail shipments. Please comment with questions or personal experiences that others may find valuable.

All the best,



p.s. If you have read my reviews, tried the railroad websites and are convinced that for your particular situation they are not going to satisfy all your needs, then you may want to look into a 3rd party developed rail shipment tracking and fleet management system. Read this article, which will reduce the time it will take you to review these types of systems. 


Jim Dalrymple


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