• UP moves off TCS, onto NetControl

  • Discussion about the Union Pacific operations past and present. Official site can be found here: UPRR.COM.
Discussion about the Union Pacific operations past and present. Official site can be found here: UPRR.COM.

Moderator: GOLDEN-ARM

  by eolesen

UP adopts a more modern — and groundbreaking — transportation management system
Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

Jan. 6 was a very big day for Union Pacific Railroad. It might have been a seminal moment for the rail industry, too.

That’s the day the railroad flipped the switch on NetControl, booting up its new high-tech transportation management system. By completing the cutover to NetControl, UP became the first Class I to modernize the trifecta of major operating systems: positive train control, dispatching and transportation management.

NetControl replaces the outdated Transportation Control System (TCS), a legacy mainframe management system that UP had employed for more than 50 years. It took about 10 years to develop the new system, with initial planning efforts starting well before that.

NetControl processes all information about rail cars moving throughout UP’s network, processes key operational metrics and serves as the main data source for revenue billing and recognition. It handles myriad functions from customers’ car requests and inventories to car movements in terminals to car assignments on trains.

NetControl has become the new heart of UP, says Rahul Jalali, the Class I’s executive vice president and chief information officer.

NetControl will enable the railroad to be predictive instead of reactive with its assets and resources.

“Over the years, we have done a lot of systems, but never like NetControl. It’s a system of systems,” he says. “It enables us to be predictive instead of reactive.”

NetControl employs real-time analytics that provide UP with new information technology (IT) capabilities, and incorporates artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies to support predictive decisions. It can take millions of messages and apply business logic to help process information.

“It can trace every single car on our network,” says Jalali. “NetControl is a new era for UP, making us more tech-enabled. Employees can feel the power of technology.”

Workers can make decisions through visualization, accessing something that’s easy to use on their phones, he adds.

Getting NetControl developed and implemented required a cross-functional effort among numerous departments, including IT, sales and marketing, operations, finance and corporate communications.

Three key things were vital during implementation: There could be no operational impacts, revenue management couldn’t be disrupted and regulatory compliance had to be met.

“Customers need to do things uninterrupted. NetControl is the new heart, but the body needs to keep functioning,” Jalali says.

The switchover was completed within three hours with minimal disruptions to operations. That’s a credit to sound engineering orchestration and robust business continuity planning, UP leaders say.

Implementation had to be “picture perfect,” as Jalali characterizes it, and it nearly was because of employees' mettle.

“It shows the quality of our people,” he says.

Jalali leads the development, implementation and operation of UP’s IT and telecommunications. He joined the railroad in November 2020 as senior VP and CIO.

Prior to Jan. 6, Jalali heard from his peers at the other Class Is, which are in various stages of developing a new transportation management system of their own.

“Some said, “Good luck, I hope it goes well,” says Jalali, adding that he sensed a bit of envy from others.

He has offered to discuss NetControl with the peers going forward.

“I have challenged myself to offer myself up while they are on their own journey,” Jalali says.

For now, he plans to continue monitoring NetControl while implementation is in its infancy and focus on the next IT endeavors, such as eventually implementing all back-office systems on SAP software.

The switch to the new transportation management system needs to be forged — and remembered — as a major milestone for the railroad, Jalali says.

“We want this to be epic for UP. NetControl is a way to be relevant,” he says. “Now, we can do things in real time with predictive analytics. It sets up a benchmark for the future.”

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