Welcome to the first in our series of articles on Telematics for Railcars. In this series, we will dive into the world of railcar management and explore how telematics technology is reshaping the landscape of rail freight transportation. This article aims to provide an overview of the need for telematics in the rail industry, and touch on the numerous benefits it offers. Join us as we delve into the potential of telematics to enhance supply chain coordination, improve safety, and drive efficiency in railcar management.


Efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness are crucial in the fast-paced world of transportation logistics. Rail transport, a cornerstone of global trade, relies on the seamless coordination of fleets of railcars traversing extensive networks of tracks.

Freight railroads account for roughly 40% of U.S. long-distance freight volume (measured by ton-miles) — more than any other mode of transportation. However, they account for just 0.5% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA data, and just 1.7% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Railroads are the most fuel-efficient way to move freight over land, moving one ton of freight nearly 500 miles per gallon of fuel, on average (1).

While rail freight transportation is superior in a lot of aspects, from 2011 through 2020, rail transport’s share of that market shrank from 51% to 37%. In that same decade, the truck transport’s market share grew from 49% to 63% (2). This trend underscores a problem: many shippers and operators view rail as simply too hard to use compared with trucking. This shift underscores the urgent need for innovation within the rail sector to regain competitiveness and efficiency.

To keep pace with the evolving demands of the industry, we need innovative solutions, and one such game-changer is telematics. In this write up we will explore the transformative power of telematics in railcar management, its key benefits, and the role of Pivot, our advanced railcar remote monitoring solution, in driving efficiency and innovation.

Understanding Telematics:

Imagine tiny smart sensors at different parts of your car and a smart device installed in your car that provides comprehensive reports to you at your mobile at home about various aspects like location, speed, fuel consumption, tire pressure and to the extent that how your child is driving the car! This is telematics - blending telecommunications and informatics to transmit data across long distances.

How Telematics Works

In the context of railcars, telematics involves deploying advanced sensors to gather real-time data on everything from location to condition and performance, and a communication system to relay this information to remote users. Armed with this wealth of information, rail operators and logistics experts can make well-informed decisions, optimize fleet operations, and ensure the secure and efficient transportation of goods.

The Evolution of Railcar Management:

Railcar management has typically been relying on manual checks and periodic inspections to keep tabs on their condition and whereabouts. Let us acknowledge, these methods are outdated, eat up a lot of time, require a ton of effort, and are prone to mistakes.  With telematics stepping into the scene, railcar management is taking a giant leap forward. Real-time data collection and analysis are replacing manual processes and offering unparalleled visibility into every aspect of railcar operations. From pinpointing the exact location of railcars to monitoring various parts (door, handbrake etc.), conditions (temperature, pressure etc.) and reporting potential problems before they escalate, telematics is transforming the way we manage rail fleets.

Key Benefits of Telematics for Railcars:

Following is a non-comprehensive non-exhaustive list of benefits from telematics for railcars. We will delve dive into these and explore more benefits in future articles.

Real-time Location Tracking: Telematics, through GPS technology, provides exact location and tracking of railcars, giving operators a real-time view of their movements and precise ETAs. This level of insight helps with precise scheduling and routing and boosts operational efficiency.

Condition Monitoring: Telematics sensors monitor various aspects of railcars, such as door status, loaded/unloaded status, handbrake status, temperature and more. The information from these sensors gives real time insight into the health and performance of our railcars and provides us an opportunity to address current problems quickly and potential problems proactively. This all adds up leading to longer railcar lifespans, minimal downtime, and lower maintenance costs.

Enhanced Safety: From impact detection systems to monitoring the status of door/hatches and load status, telematics can alert in real time about collisions, derailment, unauthorized access, and stealth of the cargo. Expanding from improving efficiency, telematics provides real-time and historical data, insights and alerts that enhance safety for cargo, railcars and even operators.

Optimized Asset Utilization: Telematics provides us data that helps in identifying underutilized and overutilized assets, the location of railcars and their movement over a period enabling data-driven decision making to allocate resources efficiently. These insights can help us with optimizing our purchasing, leasing and operational decisions and save expenses.

Meet Pivot:

Leading the charge in railcar telematics is Pivot, our advanced railcar remote monitoring solution built to give rail operators the tools they need to make informed decisions in real time. Pivot, powered by BlackBerry, is not just another piece of tech; it is a game-changer. It is installed in under 10 minutes, seamlessly integrates with your existing railcar infrastructure, and has a suite of telematics sensors combined with an IoT gateway device. Whether it is keeping tabs on where your railcars are, checking in on their condition, detecting impacts, or analyzing asset usage, Pivot offers a comprehensive package of features designed to streamline your railcar management while supercharging your operational efficiency.


Telematics is revolutionizing the transportation industry and is poised to continue doing so in the foreseeable future. The railcars transportation industry is catching up on this technology with its counterparts on the land and water. While we explored some benefits and capabilities of telematics for railcars, there is continuous research and development by organizations across the world, including us at ZTR, to continue making this technology more advanced and add more capabilities for railcar management. In the upcoming parts of this series, we will continue exploring Telematics for Railcars and dive deeper into specific features and capabilities of Pivot, exploring how it tackles the unique hurdles railcar operators face, and opens exciting new avenues for growth and innovation.

We also did a webinar on Telematics for Railcars – Bridging Gaps and Enhancing Efficiency. You can watch the recording of the webinar here.

Find out how PIVOT can help you improve your railcar operations efficiency. Drop your contacts below.
  1. AAR 
  2. BCG - Benefits of Applying Advanced Technologies to Rail Freight Shipping