What is a CIF and what does it have to do with tracking railcars?
If you ship or receive rail shipments and attempt to track these shipments, you may have experienced the problem of not having visibility of some shipments due to your company not getting listed on the waybill or due to the way your company is listed on the waybill. You may have heard the terms “CIF” and “PTW” or “Party to Waybill Security”. This article discusses CIF and will hopefully provide you with knowledge that will result in more reliable tracking of your rail shipments.
What is CIF?
The Customer Identification File code is an, up to, 13 character code that identifies a company location. The first 9 characters are usually the DUNS number for the company location. An additional 4 digits added by Railinc can be used to provide additional information related to the customer’s location. CIF is designed to increase the quality of customer information on bills of lading and waybills resulting in a higher rate delivery of railcar tracking data. The data quality is mainly achieved by railroads using a common reference file of customer information.
Rail shipment tracking data in North America can only be delivered to those companies who are party to the waybill (i.e. shipper, consignee, care of, freight payer, …). Rail shipment tracking systems are fueled mainly by EDI 417 waybills and CLM (car location messages). Waybills and CLM for many railcar tracking systems are provided by Railinc Corporation. Railinc uses CIF to determine which company’s are party to a waybill and whether data can be delivered to them or not.
Who maintains CIF?
Railinc. Railroads can request Railinc to make updates to the information. Each month, updates are received from Dun & Bradstreet as well. You can request Railinc to make changes too. Email email@example.com if you have a recent address change, business shut down or merger. The CIF team at Railinc will verify requests for their validity and accuracy. The work you do to keep your Dun & Bradstreet profile(s) up to date will flow through in the monthly updates.
Who is responsible for assigning CIF to waybills?
Once a bill of lading is received by a railroad, the railroad system uses the common CIF reference tables to match the company location information provided for each party on the bill of lading. If there is a match, that CIF code is assigned to the party waybill. If there isn’t a match, the waybill is created and forwarded to Railinc without a CIF code for the parties where the match failed. Railinc will then use company name alias spellings to match.
What can I do to ensure more consistent tracking of my rail shipments?
Ensure proper billing of shipments. From my experience, the most critical place and time is when the shipper is preparing the bill of lading. A common scenario is when Company A sells an order of widgets to Company B. Company A then purchases a carload or carloads of product from Company C to fulfill the order, which need to be shipped to Company B. Here is how the parties show on the bill of lading:
- Company A = Consignee
- Company B = Care Of
- Company C = Shipper
- Company C = Freight Payer
On the bill of lading, the company name for each party should be spelled exactly the way that the CIF is showing it for the particular company / location. Be sure to not allow the combination of company names in a single party field. For example, “Company A C/O Company B”. Also, the address for each party should be the actual physical address of the party’s facility or office, wherever it is located. This will provide the highest probability that the proper CIF will be matched with each party.
Regularly monitor and correct Dun & Bradstreet profiles and CIF. When there is a change with your company such as an address change, a location shut down or a merger with a different company, be sure to communicate this information immediately to Dun & Bradstreet. Since CIF only gets the D&B updates once per month, you may want to also communicate the changes directly to Railinc. This will ensure that there is no gap in your ability to receive rail shipment tracking data.
I hope that you have found this information useful. If you have some personal experience that you would like to share regarding CIF, please comment and start the conversation!
All the best,
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