Maintain Your Railcar Fleet and Overcome Challenges

At RSI Logistics, our experienced staff keep informed of industry news that can affect your rail shipping. Our Fleet Maintenance services team works hand-in-hand with railcar lessors and repair shops to get the most accurate and up-to-date industry news related to supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and shop performance. They ensure they are knowledgeable on factors that affect the repair of railcars, such as scheduling and shopping cars, shop estimates, and this includes repair shop performance.

Recently, we have been experiencing an uptick in the overall industry’s shop dwell times, staffing shortages, and material delays. All these factors are likely to negatively affect your fleet. We will first explore the current challenges of fleet maintenance, then best practices that can help you maintain your railcar fleet and overcome those challenges.

Current Challenges

With railcar fleet maintenance services comes a unique set of challenges. This is compounded by the added challenges the entire rail industry is currently facing. Pandemic protocols, material delays, and other supply chain issues have affected the overall efficiencies related to railcar repairs.

maintain railcar fleet

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing issues have been one of the most prominent challenges impacting the North American rail industry. While the entire rail industry has been affected, repair shops and fleet maintenance facilities have been hit particularly hard. Lack of personnel means that repair times are extended, and services take longer to complete. Last-minute and emergency repairs cannot be completed as quickly as they once were, making it difficult to accommodate if expedited repairs are needed.

Material delays have been another issue. Material delays and rail carrier service issues compound issues by delaying railcars for longer periods of time. When your railcar is away you cannot shop it, and the more time the car is stuck in transit, the less time you have to send it to a repair facility. Furthermore, the longer it takes your railcars to reach locations, the more railcars at one time you will have in transit, leaving you with less options to send to repair facilities.

These issues magnify the danger of letting your railcar repairs wait until the last possible moment. Similarly, trying to fit all your railcar repairs into one group can be dangerous, as there is a high possibility that you would be without railcars for an extended amount of time. For more information on timing your car qualifications throughout the year instead of towards the end, check out our other blog Completing Car Qualifications Early in the Year.

Best Practices to Maintain Your Railcar Fleet

To overcome current trends in fleet maintenance and maintain your railcar fleet effectively, we recommend a few sound practices to lessen the burden on your logistics department:

1. Set a Roadmap

Set a roadmap for your organization’s repair schedule. Know which cars in your fleet are affected and plan accordingly. Since the carriers are dealing with material delays and staffing issues, there are fewer available railcars. The railcars that are available, are now available for less time out of service.

Therefore, a roadmap for a repair schedule is of the utmost importance. Without a roadmap, it is much easier to let repairs fall by the wayside to ensure that there are railcars available to meet order fulfillment requirements.

Having a roadmap that sends your cars for repairs and qualifications in a staggered pattern allows you to avoid the challenge of waiting until late in the year and then having all your railcars out at the same time.

2. Promote Engagement

Regularly engage with all key stakeholders on your team. This will boost confidence that your entire team is up to date with the latest news related to shop repairs and what actions from the organization need to happen before the next steps in the process can be taken.

With this knowledge, you and your colleagues across various functions can work together to develop a yearly shop roadmap that takes into consideration requirements from all sides of the business.

3. Execute a Plan

After creating your roadmap and collaborating with key stakeholders, work as a team to deliver on the plan put in place.

Managing and following a yearly shop plan requires buy-in and support from various team members within your rail shipping organization. Without proper planning and coordination, your roadmap may not be followed, resulting in bunching all your yearly railcar maintenance needs at the end of the year. Following the shop roadmap will ensure that your railcar repairs are scheduled in a staggered plan to ensure minimal disruptions to business.

worker checking on a train

How Can We Help You?

Analyzing data for a hypothetical client with a fleet of roughly 2,000 railcars, we have insight into the average time at shop for qualification versus railroad damages and general repairs. With 48 months (about 4 years) of data, we can report that the average days at shop for a qualification car was about 90 days and the average days at shop for general repairs was about 115 days.

Comparing that average to the last twelve months, we can see that the average days at shop for qualifications has increased to about 110 days, while the average days at shop for general repairs has decreased to about 90 days.

What we can do to help you overcome these challenges is develop project plans for the routine maintenance requirements of your fleet, canvas the market for more efficient mobile repair services, and take the lead on estimate and invoice processing. We can also track your cars to shop, manage the event during shop, and close out maintenance events by ensuring all estimate and invoices are in line with the industry standard and scope of work.

We will work side by side with you to facilitate the routine and non-routine maintenance of fleets; however, we take the lead when it comes to the administrative tasks related to railcar repair. We will work directly with railcar lessors to get mobile repairs completed promptly, as well as communicate project plans to railcar owners for routine tank car qualification events.

The less time you spend talking to car owners and shops means the more time you have to make better business decisions with the rest of your fleet. If you’d like to learn more about the data available and how our experts can help you maintain your railcar fleet faster and easier, contact us today.

Meet the Author: Dan Kretchman
Dan Kretchman began his time at RSI as a Logistics Coordinator before being named the Fleet Maintenance Manager. In previous roles in third party logistics, he learned valuable skills related to sales, operations, and customer service. He’s using these skills to service RSI’s diverse client base as part of the fleet maintenance team. Key initiatives Dan is working with internal stakeholders to develop are more robust invoice/estimate auditing tools, client engagement, and the expansion of the fleet maintenance team.