Railways 101

Member Profile | Essex Terminal Railway

An innovative approach to track inspections by Essex Terminal Railway (ETR) is proving not only that a picture is worth a thousand words, but also that visual reports can save time, money, and even lives.

“A lot of us are visual learners, so you put something like this in front of us, and it’s something that’s actionable,” says ETR Superintendent Ivan Pratt of a new e-dashboard the company has developed to give clients real-time insights on track conditions.

Darryl Potter uses the tablet-based track inspection system which he and colleagues at Essex Terminal Railway developed to make reports more visual, actionable, and efficient for clients and ETR alike.
Photo(s) courtesy: Burton Dauncey

“They used to be on paper and sent onward. This involves our customers with something that’s understandable and highly detailed for review. When they can see a potential issue, they can act,” Pratt adds.

ETR has been acting on the best interests of clients on both sides of the Detroit River since 1902.

The company operates 54 kilometers of short line rail to yards at the critical Windsor-Detroit Gateway. (Its location offers clients direct freight connections to CP, CN, and CSX, and trans-modal services for shipments across North America.)

ETR also offers track maintenance and repair services. Based on customer feedback, ETR noticed the opportunity to improve inspection reports that has become a promising new line of business.

Essex Terminal Railway is a short line rail company that helps freight clients in the busy Windsor-Detroit Gateway get products to destinations across North America. Photo(s) courtesy: Burton Dauncey

“We got some incredible feedback from every client that saw it: they like the change and we like it,” says Jack Weston, Darryl’s supervisor and ETR’s Assistant Superintendent. “It’s pictures, measurements, and tracking over time – green to red…understanding to action.”

Jack and Darryl worked with administrative assistant Sandy LeClair to develop a working form of 20-30 inputs that could be completed by inspectors using tablets to give clients line-of-sight on key systems.

Working with TekTracking, a US-based software company, ETR was able to deliver even more efficiencies – some are already in-field, others are in development.

Screenshot of Essex Terminal Railway’s new customer interface for track inspections developed in association with American software company TekTracking. Courtesy: ETR

“Systems improvement, cost efficiency, better service, more volume – it’s full-blown asset and risk management thinking that allows us to develop more of a partnership with our customers,” says Michael Semande, ETR’s Director of Operations.

ETR says customers can expect to see the return on investment from the new system in as little as two weeks.

“Class ones and other rail companies have been investing heavily in recent years. With COVID, they’ve been looking at different ways of making rail more appetizing,” says Semande. “The more we can improve it, the more people will choose rail moving forward.”

Semande is already fielding calls about the new offering, and says he’s certainly open to taking more.

He and his ETR colleagues are already thinking of new ways to innovate as they write the century-old company’s next chapter and prepare to illustrate new paths to safety and success for their clients.