IT drives train-truck shipping deal

Creating a new IT standard for the Canadian railway industry is the impetus behind last Wednesday’s signing of a 10-year, $400-million (LTL) “less-than-truckload” freight transport contract between Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Toronto-based Consolidated Fastfrate, company officials said.

The two companies already offer combined rail and truck service for LTL freight throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico using “advanced information systems” and intermodal containers for the rail haul.

“Under this contract, we will give North American shippers a level of intermodal transportation with trains and trucks so closely linked that it will be hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins,” said CPR president Robert Ritchie in a prepared statement.

Shippers may now combine the long-haul efficiency of a railway and the speed and convenience of a dock-to-dock carrier with just a single call and waybill, the companies said.

The shipping information system currently employed, dubbed Steelroads, will be upgraded and improved under the deal, said CPR spokesperson Paul Thurston.

Web-based billing is one aspect of the relationship that CPR has with Consolidated Fastfrate, Thurston said, adding that Fastfrate uses Web-based billing for traffic out of Vancouver to Calgary, Toronto and Montreal on a large portion of its freight.

“What that type of technology gives Consolidated Fastfrate is that all of the elements of a bill . . . are sent except for unit number, weight and seal number. The rest are all available in drop-down menus which would simply be billing for them – it’s come a long way from paper transactions,” Thurston said.

The bill is then received immediately by CPR and the information is entered into terminal software, Thurston said. “When a Consolidated Fastfrate driver arrives at a CPR intermodal terminal, the billing information is already on our system and the unit already preloaded into a rail car,” he added.

Thurston added that IT systems such as this one are becoming the standard in the railway industry.

Fastfrate’s information systems for recording and tracking shipments are based on a Unisys platform and developed in-house, said Steve Taylor, senior developer at Consolidated Fastfrate.

Information about shipments is entered into the system throughout the life of the CPR unit and this tracking and delivery information is available to customers over the Web, Taylor said.

Leonard Wyss, chief financial officer at Consolidated Fastfrate, noted that Fastfrate has committed $40 million in new equipment inside or adjacent to CPR’s intermodal terminals.

“We made a commitment quite a few years ago on Unisys technology,” Wyss said. “We decided to remain with Unisys and we’ve been very pleasing how their new technology has helped us especially in the Web-based access for our customers.”

The two companies said the contract should lead to a 25 per cent increase in the value of LTL transportation business for the railway.

Consolidated Fastfrate annually transports more than half a billion kilograms of freight and employs more than 1,000 people in 19 offices and sites across North America, the company said.

Consolidated Fastfrate, in Toronto, is at

Canadian Pacific Railway, in Calgary, is at