Maritime News

Improved railway management

How many railcars are on port territory? Are they located in the port’s railway yard or on a terminal and, if so, which one? Which cars are loaded and which ones are empty?

 Yves Bertrand, yardmaster.

Port of Montreal yardmaster Yves Bertrand can answer all of these questions in just a couple of clicks. Furthermore, he can indicate, on screen and in colour, where each railcar is positioned. And there are hundreds of them! For example, on February 18 at 2 p.m., there were precisely 522 cars on port territory.

This exact, clear and visual information, updated hourly, is one of the advantages of the Port of Montreal’s new computer applications system that has been in operation since January 1. EI System’s Rail Manager software manages the movement of all railcars that enter, load and/or unload and then leave the port.

This new rail yard management system delivers clear information, in stark contrast to the previous software, which featured rows of green data on a black background. Technology in this area has made giant leaps forward. Rail Manager is a ‘cloud’-based system hosted in Austin, Texas, and EI System provides technical maintenance.


The former system ...















... and the new system. The placement of cars on the tracks represents reality. A colour code is used: for example, the blue cars are empty. A car’s shape also provides information: for example, CP cars are rectangular, and CN’s are angled downward.



“Furthermore, we have given our terminal operator partners access to all of this information,” said Port of Montreal systems analyst Roch Robitaille said. “Ultimately, we would like to allow them to manage the cars that enter their yards, which would eliminate a lot of paperwork.”

Yves Bertrand receives a call from the Viterra grain terminal, which needs cars for unloading and loading purposes. “We can look at the Viterra yard on screen to see which track can accommodate new cars,” he said. On his screen, with one click, he moves the cars “virtually” from the railway interchange to Viterra’s yard. He then advises a railway colleague to proceed with the “real” movement of the cars.

The port required a powerful system to manage its rail activities as they are completely integrated into handling operations. The Port of Montreal owns and maintains 100 km of track. CN and CP bring their trains to the interchange where Port of Montreal railway teams take charge of the trains. The railway teams bring the railcars to port terminals and place them in a pre-determined order. The terminal operator then unloads and loads the cars. Port employees then remake the train and return it to the interchange where they hand it back over to CN or CP.

The system maintains information on each railcar and the history of its movements. This information is compiled and a daily report is sent to the invoicing system, which, in the same step, also has been simplified.

The Rail Manager software was customized for the geographic specifications of the port and its terminals. The port also had the challenge of transferring to the new system from the old. The port’s railway operations department works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of January 1. The port used this one day off to go online. “We were extremely busy on December 31 and January 1,” said a smiling Robitaille. “But it was mission accomplished.”

The yardmasters also had to learn how to use the new system. And now, their work has been simplified. “The software does calculations that we used to make by hand, such as the number of railcars and their length in order to calculate the total length of a train,” Bertrand said.

This table shows at a glance the status of rail tracks ...

This table indicates the status of rail switches.