Trace all your rail shipments on a single website – for free
The Holy Grail for many rail shippers is to find a single website where one or many railcar initial and number(s) can be entered / pasted and no matter where the railcar is in North America, it will return the last reported sighting. Over the last year, I have reviewed the Class I railroad track & trace tools and only one (Norfolk Southern) provides the ability to trace a rail shipment on any railroad even where they (NS) are not in the route. All other Class I railroads, will provide some form of visibility of shipments as they move on other railroads, but only if that railroad is in the route. Well your search is over. This website exists although it may not be available to all, it is available to many. If you would like to find out how you can access this website, keep reading.
So… what is this website? Well, er, um…. OK, OK! It’s http://www.steelroads.com (Steelroads is a product and trademark of Railinc Corporation). There are actually a few things you can do at this site such as:
- Submit Shipping Instructions (bills of lading) to most major railroads from one website
- Trace your railcar shipments on any railroad in North America (530+ railroads)
- Reference – Look up Product Codes (STCC), Rail Stations, and more (doesn’t require a user account)
The main thing I will discuss in this article is the Track & Trace application. Anyone can set up an account and request access to the Track & Trace application, but not all will gain access to it. The Track & Trace application must be sponsored by a railroad. Keep reading to learn the likelihood that you will get sponsored and to get some ideas on how to increase your probability of sponsorship.
Do you pay for freight?
If you pay fees for moving railcars to a railroad, your likelihood of getting sponsored is much better. The trace data costs the railroad money; they actually pay for each record. I imagine that it is viewed as a cost they are willing to incur in return for some level of business. If you pay for freight, you will want to request sponsorship from the railroad that you do the most business with – this will increase your likelihood of sponsorship.
Are you PTW?
If your company is not listed as a party on the waybill such as a shipper, consignee, care of, freight payer, etc., it will be difficult for you to use Steelroads and it will be more difficult to get sponsored. Visibility of loaded railcars is limited to those companies that are listed as a party on the waybill. Sometimes you may have some traffic that is part of your business, but for some reason you are not on the waybill. In these situations, you may be able to get visibility of the traffic with a letter of authorization from a company that is listed on the waybill. Contact Steelroads support firstname.lastname@example.org to request the letter.
Do you originate shipments on different railroads that do not intersect?
Since initial release of Steelroads, many large railroads have developed track & trace tools on their own websites. As these tools have progressed, the railroads are more reluctant to sponsor a Steelroads account. If you ship on multiple railroads that do not intersect, most railroad websites cannot provide visibility of shipments where they are not in the route. This is a reason why you would benefit from Steelroads Track & Trace. If your sponsorship request is not initially approved and you have shipments like this, I would recommend contacting the railroad and explaining this to them and asking for sponsorship again. Here is a link to railroad contacts to speak with regarding Steelroads: https://www.steelroads.com/Steelroads_RR_Contacts.pdf. The information may be out of date, but it will at least get you started. Typically it is the railroad EDI or ebusiness department that you will need to speak with.
Do you wish to feed a business system in an automated fashion?
If you wish to feed a company business system in an automated fashion, most railroads are limited in delivering data in a way that will support this. This is another real reason why you would benefit from Steelroads Track & Trace and could explain this to the railroad in the case that your initial request is denied. Stay tuned for a future article that discusses the script and web service interfaces that enable automated access.
How to request Steelroads Track & Trace
You must first create an account by doing the following steps:
- Access www.steelroads.com
- Select “Become a Member”
- Enter required registration information
- Select “Continue”
- Select and answer personal question and answer additional registration questions
- Select “Done”
After your account has been established, request access to the Track & Trace application by following these instructions:
- Log into your account
- Select “Services” from the top toolbar
- Select “Request Access to a website Application”
- Select “Request Access to Equipment tracking — Sponsored and Railroads users only” for Track and Trace
- Choose a railroad for sponsorship, or search for a railroad by location – I’ll chime in here. Do be sure to select the railroad that you do the most business with
- Select “Submit request”
I hope that you have found this article useful. Please comment with any of your experiences that may be useful to other readers or post a question and I will reply.
All the best,