The challenges of the single wagonload, an essential transport method for the chemical industry

March 8, 2024

Thanks to the single wagonload, loaders who do not fill an entire freight train can send their products safely. The main challenge: the monitoring of the cars.

When shippers choose rail as a mode of freight transport, they do not necessarily have enough goods to fill a full train. Thanks to the single wagonload system, it is possible for them to ship only one or several cars at a time. These cars, shipped from sites connected to the railways, pass through various marshalling yards where trains are reorganized according to their destination, grouping together cars from different customers.

This mode of transport is commonly preferred by the chemical industry, as some products cannot be transported by road due to their level of danger. However, it is not without drawbacks: difficulty in monitoring, approximate arrival time, retention of cars... It is essential for shippers to find a solution to these problems, which have a negative impact on the quality of their service and their performance.

Safety, a major challenge for the chemical industry

The transport of dangerous goods is particularly regulated. Not surprisingly, because they are sensitive products that can cause great damage in the event of accidents. The main risks associated with chemicals are the risks of leaks, explosions, or reactions with other substances. In order to avoid any incident, the transport of dangerous materials is strictly supervised.

Faced with these security challenges, rail transport is the safest method. Wagons can in fact be equipped with various safety devices: leak detection, fire-fighting equipment, confinement in the event of an accident. In addition, in the event of an accident, collateral damage will be mostly less serious if it occurs on a railway than on a highway, in the case of transport by truck. In addition, some countries, such as Switzerland, allow the transport of dangerous materials only by train through their territory. In the case of transport across Europe, it therefore becomes essential to use railways, otherwise you will be refused the passage of certain borders.

Essential transport but not always optimized

The single wagonload is an integral part of the transport of chemical products. However, it does not guarantee shippers optimal end-to-end transport. There are a number of reasons for this.

First of all, insulated cars are not always easy to follow. Indeed, with this mode of transport, it is the railway company that manages the logistics and not the shipper itself. It is the railway companies that compose the trains from the available insulated cars, according to demand and the journey to be made. During the trip, the insulated car can be transferred from one train to another during a passage through a marshalling yard, and this potentially several times. In fact, accurate tracking of the car becomes complicated. However, this is a big problem for chemical shippers. For safety reasons, they always need to know where their goods are, in order to be able to notify the authorities if a risky situation or an accident occurs.

In addition, it is particularly difficult to determine a ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) accurate for an insulated car. There are several reasons for this:

  • The route that an insulated car will take is not known by the client.
  • An insulated car can be associated with different trains during the trip.
  • An insulated car may be subject to extended stops at rail yards or at the recipient's home.

This absence of a precise ETA has a negative impact on the quality of service of shippers, who cannot warn their customer of a possible delay in goods.

Finally, the use of insulated cars favors the retention of cars. Which is a major problem. For many manufacturers using rail transport for their goods, logistics costs are greatly influenced by the size of their wagon fleet. In order to reduce this fleet (and therefore the associated costs) without taking the risk of disturbances, it is crucial to optimize the use of the wagons as much as possible. However, it is still all too common for these manufacturers to encounter problems with the immobilization of their cars. “Retention monitoring is a key element in controlling our rail flows. (...) A car that rotates more often is a car that brings more value to Arkema,” explains Damien Roussel, Supply Chain Project Manager at Arkema.

Tracking, ETA and wagon rotation: TVMS to the rescue of chemical manufacturers

To overcome these problems, it is necessary to find a solution that allows real-time monitoring of the cars, ensuring a precise ETA and the monitoring of the immobilization time of the cars. This is what TVMS strives to achieve for its users.

The TVMS (Transport, Visibility and Management System) allows the real-time monitoring of the wagon fleet of its loading customers. By retrieving the GPS positions of the cars (sent by sensors placed on them), the TVMS is able to precisely follow the wagon and its goods throughout its journey. This is what Everysens does for the 500 cars that make up Arkema's European fleet.

Thanks to this monitoring, TVMS is able to determine a precise ETA for each car. More than that, this ETA is regularly updated according to the progress of the wagon. In the event of a delay, the shipper sending the shipment is notified by an alert on the TVMS platform, which allows him to immediately update his customer. It is the quality of its service that is greatly improved.

Also, the TVMS is able to deliver an automatic report on rotation times by departure zone, broken down between travel time and waiting time. With this report, the shipper can use reliable indicators to collaborate with railway companies in order to improve its performance through better fleet rotation. In addition, the sending of alerts and detailed reports on wagon immobilizations by the TVMS allows the shipper to be proactive in avoiding car detentions.

Towards improved rail logistics for chemists

The insulated wagon is positioned as a crucial transport method for the chemical industry. Although this system has undeniable advantages, especially in terms of safety for the transport of hazardous materials, it is not without its challenges. Problems with tracking, determining the precise time of arrival and stopping the cars are all obstacles that shippers face.

The use of a TVMS makes it possible to overcome these obstacles: real-time monitoring of the cars, accurate determination of the ETA and detailed reports on the rotation and immobilization of the cars. With TVMS, shippers can improve the quality of their service, strengthen their collaboration with railway companies, and minimize delays and unwanted downtime.

You too can optimize your use of insulated cars