Norfolk Southern has a solid track record of introducing new technologies to improve our business operations and customer service.
During 2012, for example, we improved the look and functionality of our online business portal; completed initial rollout of a handheld device for train and engine crews that streamlines customer railcar pickups and deliveries; and implemented a GPS-based tool that generates an online report when trains arrive and depart from terminals. In addition to enhancing the services we offer shippers, these technologies alos have improved employee productivity, increased operations efficiencies, and reduced operating costs.
E-commerce at your fingertips
Our service management, e-commerce, and marketing departments have collaborated on a range of online offerings to assist shippers. Through our accessNS Resource Center portal, customers can track rail shipments online, receive text-message alerts on cell phones or handheld devices when railcars reach their destination, and get quick answers to questions in “live chat” sessions with our e-commerce help desk.
The interactive accessNS portal has eliminated a lot of paperwork, minimized errors, and generated significant savings for customers and us. In 2012, we introduced an improved version. In addition to adopting a more colorful, modern look, we added desktop functionality that allows customers to work in multiple applications during one session. For example, a customer can open one application to access a bill of lading report, “park” that report on the tab bar, and open another application to trace a railcar number to verify information in the bill of lading. Using the previous version, customers could open only one application at a time; they would have to close the bill of lading application to trace a railcar.
The new version of accessNS updates the movement of car shipments in near real-time, giving customers more accurate and timely information. Also, customers now can use accessNS on both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac operating systems, as well as on handheld mobile devices, enabling them to conduct business on their iPad, smartphone, or Android tablet from wherever they may be.
A milestone for ‘RIT’
By the end of 2012, Norfolk Southern had distributed Remote Intelligent Terminal (RIT) devices to rail yards in all three of our operating regions and our Conrail Shared Asset Properties. Train and engine crews use the wireless GPS-based device to receive and transmit work orders to place and pull cars for industry customers and interline rail partners at interchanges.
We began developing RIT in 2009, assembling a group of 22 conductors to help perfect the new technology and train coworkers on use of the rugged handheld device. They worked alongside Microsoft programmers, who wrote the operating software.
RIT has eliminated paperwork orders, increased the productivity of train crews and operations support employees, and improved customer service. When customers order and release freight cars through our online application Pacesetter, for example, their requests are automatically transmitted to the appropriate train crew’s RIT device.
With railcar information moving electronically, our OSS office employees no longer have to manually type information into the railroad’s Thoroughbred Yard Enterprise System, a centralized computer system for reporting yard activity. This innovation has improved accuracy and timeliness.
RIT also has improved our asset utilization. RIT is helping us turn our rail cars quicker and get them back out on trains for reuse, so we need fewer cars to do the same amount of work.
Tracking trains and cars with GPS
A systemwide rollout of GPS-enhanced reporting of train arrivals and departures at railroad terminals is another significant technology achievement in 2012.
We created the system by installing GPS devices on long-haul “road” locomotives and using geofencing software at rail yards. Geofencing establishes a boundary that automatically records the time of arriving and departing locomotives and railcars. The use of Remote Intelligent Terminal at local and yard operations performs the same function when railcars are pulled or placed for sorting and delivery. Customers can access the information through our online Pacesetter portal.
“This is giving customers and us more timely and accurate reporting,” said Brad Fitzgerald, our director of Operations Service Support in Atlanta. “This gives customers real-time visibility of their assets in motion, and it gives them greater flexibility to meet their customers’ demands.”
We use technologies to improve service and business operations
Practices related to customer satisfaction, including results of surveys measuring customer satisfaction.