tracking rail cars

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 must request Railinc to make updates to the information. Each month, updates are received from Dun & Bradstreet as well. As a shipper or receiver of rail freight, you can request a CIF or make updates (address change, business shut down, merger, name change, etc. ) to an existing CIF through the railroad that serves your location or the railroad you do business with. You will also want to keep Dun & Bradsheet up to date on any similar changes as these will flow through to the CIF database in monthly update. The CIF team at Railinc will verify requests for their validity and accuracy.

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 the railroad that serves your company location as well as other railroads that are in the route of shipments your company is party to. This will ensure that there is no gap in your ability to receive rail shipment tracking data.

Note that if you have recently worked with your serving railroad to add or change a CIF, it is a good idea to send a copy of the CIF information to any railroads that are in the route of shipments that you will be initiating or receiving. Contact their customer service department and ask them to get the information to the specific department. Why? Railroads don’t always update their CIF tables with all Ralinc updates immediately. If they know that you have a new CIF and that CIF will need to be used for shipments initiated on their railroad, then they will more proactively ensure that their systems are updated and your CIF entity will be ready to be used for creation of new bills of lading for example.

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,


Jim Dalrymple


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  1. on May 18, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Thank Jim. Tyrone Holmes

  2. George Shaw on October 21, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Does anyone know the meaning of the term “. . . PHP car . . . “?

    • Jim Dalrymple on October 24, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Hi George,

      I’m not sure of this, but I may have heard this term before and believe that php / a-php / alpha-php is a type of chemical. So this term may refer to the product the railcars are carrying.

      Hope this helps,