Gateless in Seattle: BNSF technology eases truck entrance into intermodal facilities
From steam engines to hybrid diesel-electric locomotives, the freight rail industry has long been a pioneer of technology to expand our ability to move the global economy.
As a technology leader, BNSF explores and adopts new tools to enhance the safety and efficiency of our operations. Our pilot program of a touchless automated in-gate system at our South Seattle Intermodal Facility drives efficiency by admitting trucks more quickly. Additionally, it protects drivers’ safety by removing the need to touch equipment to gain access – especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When a freight truck enters an intermodal facility, several exchanges of information occur between BNSF, the trucking company and the driver. These exchanges take place at a gated kiosk and are used to verify the contents of the shipment, the driver’s identity, freight destination and equipment condition.
Once the information is exchanged, the driver receives a digital ticket with directions to a parking spot inside the hub to unload the freight. Using the same digital ticket, the driver is often directed to another parking spot to pick up a new load before exiting the facility. A final exchange of information is required at an out-gate kiosk.
BNSF sped up this process with our RailPASS mobile application, deployed in 2016. RailPASS allows the driver to input the required information upon arriving at the hub by scanning a QR code displayed on the driver’s smartphone for approximately 90 percent of BNSF’s intermodal freight volume. The app then instructs the driver how to navigate the intermodal facility. RailPASS not only saves time at the gate kiosk, it reduces the potential for manual errors that delay the process further. On average, the app cuts gate time from three minutes to 30 seconds per truck. The app currently has more than 65,000 active users.
Our touchless in-gate technology, the next evolution, speeds up the process even further. Using the RailPASS app as a foundation, the new technology coordinates the driver’s security clearances, the customer’s shipment information and the facility’s freight directions, all before a truck tire touches the property.
BNSF is implementing technology that acts as a real-time, event-driven trigger of information between software systems belonging to the railroad and the freight shipper.
The system first lets BNSF know the truck is on its way to the facility and transmits a waybill. A second information exchange occurs when the trucker approaches a virtual perimeter known as a geofence, located approximately one mile outside of the facility. The truck’s GPS alerts the geofence that it is nearing the facility. If the shipment information is complete, the driver receives confirmation through an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) in the truck cab, all without lifting a finger.
Once on property, the truck’s GPS triggers a second geofence announcing its arrival. The truck drives over a ground sensor that identifies its unique vehicle magnetic signature. BNSF then guides the truck through the facility using this unique identifier, raising the in-gate and providing the drop-off and pickup directions through the driver’s ELD.
“The touchless in-gate pilot has demonstrated how we can enhance our customer’s facility experience, simultaneously increasing the safety of drivers by reducing their exposure and touchpoints while on our property and increasing their speed through our facility,” said BNSF’s Jim Pang, director, Business Unit Operations and Emerging Technologies. “The use of these tools simplifies the communication between BNSF and our shipping partners, which provides further opportunities to advance intermodal and supply chain efficiencies.”
After the pilot program in South Seattle is completed, removing potential kinks, BNSF plans to expand the system to other hubs.