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Railroad streamlines operation with CTI and IVR.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Co. (better known as The Santa Fe), serves 12 western and midwestern states from Chicago to California, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Santa Fe operates 1,600 locomotives and 31,000 freight cars handling 1.6 million carloads of freight each year over more than 9,000 miles of track. Scheduling and routing loads to meet deadlines and managing railroad resources throughout the system are major logistical problems challenging the company.

Faced with competition from other railroads, trucking companies and river barges, the Santa Fe has installed an advanced telecomm and computer system to streamline its logistical operation and improve response time to customer inquiries.

The company has four regional operating centers to dispatch trains in their area, manage train crews, and take orders for new loads. Each center employs dispatchers who maintain communications with trains, maintenance crews and yardmaster via two-way radio using more 200 microwave links.

Booking agents in the center use telephones to take orders and arrange pickup and delivery of the loads. Each regional center reports to the systems operations center in Schaumburg, Ill., where information such as load status, derailments and track washouts are kept in a computer database.

The Santa Fe has approximately 15,000 identified customers, and its customer service center is located in the headquarters building in Schaumburg. Two rows of telecomm equipment, including a Rolm 9751 CBX (computerized branch exchange) and a PhoneMail system handle nearly 5,000 calls each day.

The switch is equipped with call detail recording (CDR) software and provides records of all calls in and out of the facility. The remaining equipment consists of an IBM 3745-150 concentrator, three IBM 9274 Model 90, 12-channel, voice response units, one cabinet of digital circuit termination equipment and two IBM 3174 control units driving 32 terminals in the customer service center. The remainder of the headquarters facility operates on multiple token-ring local area networks connected to the IBM concentrator.

For voice calls, the Santa Fe's customers dial in toll-free through multiple T1 connections to Sprint and MCI and 36 direct inward dial (DID) trunks. In addition, several T1 circuits handle both voice and data connections to the Santa Fe offices and data center in Topeka, Kan.

Inbound customer calls are answered by the PhoneMail system, which provides the caller with a menu of options. When customers opt to trace a shipment or verify its scale weight, their calls are routed to an IBM voice response unit (VRU), after which they simply key in the car, container, or trailer number.

Customers can phone in inquiries, orders or changes and then send bills of lading by fax. These are stored electronically for instant retrieval by the billing agent. Some customers need to know on a daily basis the status of all their shipments, which might involve as many as 70 cars.

To provide this information by telephone would be too time-consuming, both for the Santa Fe and its customers, so the company developed a special computer application that generates the status report and faxes it directly to the customer.

PhoneMail systems are now installed at 12 Santa Fe locations for distributing information within the company, including daily reports on problems and train status. PhoneMail is not generally used to answer customer calls since they may not wish to reach a recording to leave a message.

To expedite the handling of inquiries from its customers, automatic number identification (ANI) is provided by the Santa Fe's long-distance carriers. ANI enables the system to retrieve the customer's name and display it and the calling number on the two-line display on the agent's phone.

The agent can then bring up the customer's file on a computer terminal by typing in the name. Plans are currently in place to install IBM's CallPath software and Rolm's CallBridge software, which will allow the CBX to automatically transfer caller information to the agent's screen, eliminating the need for the agent to key in the caller's name.

Further development of an automatic equipment identification (AEI) system will use trackside electronic scanners to interrogate memory chips attached to the sides of rail cars. The resultant data will be used to verify and update the database used to track cars assigned in each train, providing real-time information concerning the location of each rail car traversing the Santa Fe.

This system will augment the existing video system whereby a digitized image of each car entering or leaving the yard is stored in a computer and played back to an employee in the regional office. The employee then confirms that each trains has its proper complement of cars.

Since 1988, revenue-ton miles per employee have increased more than 43%. Modern digital communications have helped make the Santa Fe one of the most efficient and low-cost railroads in the nation. The continued aggressive use of telecommunications technology will keep the Santa Fe among the front-runners of the railroad freight business.
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Title Annotation:includes list of the latest CTI products; Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Co. uses computer-telephone integration and interactive voice response to improve operations
Author:Jim Koelper
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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