Track & Trace Railcar Shipments with Norfolk Southern’s accessNS
Norfolk Southern is another Class I railroad that provides web-based tools for rail shippers and receivers to track their shipments. They package their railcar tracking tools into what is called accessNS. You can plan a shipment, get pricing, bill a shipment and pay for a shipment here, but this article focuses on the Track & Trace section. If you have been thinking about using accessNS rail shipment tracing tools or you have been using just a small part of it and would like to learn more about what it can do, please read on.
To sign up for accessNS, take a look at this article, which explains how to sign up for most of the Class I railcar track & trace tools.
Copy and paste a list of railcars to track and trace
When you first login to accessNS, you will see a menu for Quick Trak. Clicking on this menu will take you to a window where you can paste up to 1,000 railcar initial/numbers to quickly see their last reported location and ETA. A saved trace list of railcars can be used as well; there is a link (see red arrow on the screen print below) on the window labeled Stored Trace List Selection / Maintenance that when clicked will open another window where you can create lists of railcars. The report provides basic information such as load/empty status, location, event, date/time (time zone), destination, train, ETA/I (to final destination or interchange, whichever is first). You can drill into the last 5 days’ worth of history for each railcar by simply clicking on an individual record. You cannot customize this report. You cannot schedule this report for automatic delivery. If you want to do these things, skip to the Custom Reports section of this article.
Display historical railcar movements on other railroads
The tracing reports provided by the Tracing Applications section and the Customized Reporting Wizard show the last reported location of each railcar shipment where NS is in the route. If you include the Extended History (EH Hyperlink) field, your reports will include a link that, when clicked, provides a pop up window of the last 90 days of sighting history for the particular railcar. If NS is not in the route, you can get only the last reported event from the Steelroads Track and Trace application provided within the accessNS Track & Trace solution. You may paste up to 1,000 railcars or use a saved list. The output is limited to railcar, Umler equipment detail drill-down link, load/empty status, location, event, date/time, train, destination, and railroad.
This is a quite impressive feature of accessNS. You can get history as far back as 2004. From the Track & Trace main menu, click on the Tracing Applications menu, then Historical Reports by Initial and Number menu, then the Unit History-Single Car link. This application can give you history back to 2008 by choosing an end date of 2010 and then telling it to gather the prior 730 days of history. Enter the railcar initials / number; choose the end date and then the number of days of history you would like. From the Historical Reports by Initial and Number menu, you can also click on the Unit History Archives link that provides a query where you can get railcar history as far back as 2004.
On Custom Reports, estimated time of arrival (to final destination) is provided when NS is the last railroad in the route (i.e. the railroad that will be delivering the railcar to the customer). Otherwise, an estimated time of interchange (ETI) to the next railroad in the route will be provided.
If you require consistent ETAs to final destination that are provided from the beginning of the shipment all the way to the reaching the customer, you may want to consider a 3rd party rail shipment tracking system. This article discusses the types of features you can expect from these types of systems. This article discusses the cost of such systems. The sponsor of this Learning Center offers such a system and you can find out about it here.
When you use the Customized Reporting Wizard, see Custom Reports below, you can add a field named “TP Hyperlink”. This will insert a hyperlink labeled “T” for each railcar record on your report. When you click the link, another window will open showing the scheduled arrivals / departures for the NS part of the trip. It includes an on-time indicator including variance of the actual vs. schedule.
There is a Train Inquiry menu that leads to a window where you can select a date and a train symbol to see the plan for that train. The plan includes the arrival / departure for each station until arriving at the destination or point of interchange.
accessNS provides the Customized Reporting Wizard. This is a tool where the user can create reports to their own specifications including fields included, filters, sorts, title and automated delivery. There is also a window titled the Customized Reporting Applications which contains specialized reports customized for you by railroad personnel. So if you can’t seem to get a report to meet your needs, be sure to contact NS before you give up. You can also access the Wizard from that page.
Wizard Customized Reporting. There are 4 steps:
1) Select a basic report profile as a starting point. This pre-selects fields for you. If you wish to choose the fields yourself, skip this step. You can also add/remove fields after choosing a profile.
2) Select fields and filters. There are 106 fields to choose from in the Current Traffic Data table/view such as railcar, origin, location, destination, weight, waybill parties, commodity, etc. It is nice that there are hyperlinks on the results that enable drill-down to 90 day history, trip plan, Umler characteristics of the railcar, and detailed waybill information. If you want to filter by a particular field, you simply place a check in the Filter? check box next to it.
3) Choose display options. This is where you give your report pages a title and report heading. You can even number the rows if you wish. You can choose to include/exclude hyperlinks to the history, Umler, waybill and trip plan. The coolest feature is Criteria-Based Row Coloring. The promise of this feature is that records are colored based on the type of event. For example, if a railcar was bad ordered, the record would be colored yellow (or some other color). On the Chrome and IE web browsers, I was not able to get this to work and have logged the issue with NS.
4) Save and run the report. This is where you get the chance to enter the values for the filters you requested in Step 2. You may also set the filter as Static or Interactive. Static is a good option if the report will be run automatically where the filter will never be changed. The Interactive option will prompt the user with the filter each time the report is run. When the report is displayed, you will have the option to sort the records again for the first 7 fields.
The Page Title that you give to the report, is what will show in the subject line when emailing the report.
When creating the report for the first time, you must display the report by clicking on the “Run/Save myReport” link and when the report displays, click the “Save myReport Now” link as shown below in order to save it so it can be run again.
Automated Delivery of Reports
After you create a report using the Customized Reporting Wizard, it is a little tricky to find where you schedule it for automatic delivery.
Click the little green box next to the report when it is listed in the Customized Reporting Wizard Application Menu – Individual or [Company Name] Reports section to open the Scheduler page.
Reports may be sent to email addresses (HTML, PDF, Text, XML, Excel, CSV), a fax number, or an FTP server. Once the report is scheduled, the box will turn yellow and you can edit the schedule by clicking on it.
No graphical mapping of shipment locations is available.
Transit Times & Dwell Times
There are many pre-defined, non-customizable reports available in the Tracing Applications section of accessNS. If you click on this menu, you will see another menu labeled “Traffic Analysis Reports”. Click on the “Traffic Analysis Reports” menu and click on the “Customer Transit Times” link. You will need to select your company and then click the Continue button. The reports show the last 2 years of moves where NS was in the route excluding any shipments with bad orders (repairs) during the trip. This is done so that the unusual delay of a repair will not inflate the average transit time. This is good practice since bad orders are not necessarily the fault of the rail carrier and it is not representative of a typical trip. You will initially see a list of origins and then a list of destinations. You can see a summary of the number of shipments by month and commodity from/to a particular location. If you click on a destination location link such as Louisville, KY, you will see all shipments to that location grouped by lane, year, month, load/empty, shipper, receiver. If you click on the Count link, it will show you the specific shipments as shown below.
Click on the following links to get more information:
- Number to see detailed history of the trip on all railroads
- WBS to see waybill information
- AAR to see the trip plan (only for NS portion of move)
- STCC to see a description of the commodity
If you want to export the report to CSV, the easiest way is to click on the “Report Destinations” link, check the CSV check box, enter your email address if it isn’t already present and click the Process Selected Report Destinations button. NOTE: the transit time for this report starts at the Pulled From Patron event.
If you click on the Lane link (on the prior report before the one shown above), it will show you a summary of the last two years of that particular origin / destination pair. If you scroll down, you will see some graphs. I think the most useful chart is the one below that shows transit trends.
If you scroll back up and click on the Details link for one of the month/year combinations, you will see a report similar to the one shown above by clicking the Details link, but it includes transit time from the Release event and it includes more of a summary record with just key date / times such as Constructive Placement, Actual Placement and Release. It includes dwell times such as constructive placement (PCON) to actual placement (PACT) and actual placement to release (RELS) that are useful for analyzing demurrage.
Overall, the screens display a lot of data relatively quickly. The loading of the Customized Reporting Wizard was a little slow one day – it took about 12 seconds to load the menu from the Home window. This was not the norm, other days it took only 2 to 3 seconds to load.
Ease of use
The interface is simple and mostly intuitive (i.e. I could learn most features with a little trial and error). Sometimes it was a little hard to use. For some of the windows, I wished that I could expand them to view more options at once – such as choosing fields for a custom report; it is difficult to enter the display order (from left to right) for each field when I can’t see them all at once. The default order of the fields is based on the order they are selected. If you choose a profile, the order of the fields is preset and this preset was a good order. There are often links to tips on how to use the functionality, which are helpful. However, many people like to dig into a user manual and I didn’t find one. On the Help menu, there is an option to chat with support. I called and left a message for support (the number is on the Help menu) and they emailed me back the next business day.
I hope that this review gives you a better understanding of the accessNS suite of Track & Trace tools. If you use this site, please post some comments about your experience with it and any tips or tricks that you have.
All the best,
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