Tranz Rail puts in booking system

Tranz Rail has implemented a web-based freight booking system in line with its new business model, which operates fixed-length trains running to a pre-set schedule.

Tranz Rail has implemented a web-based freight booking system in line with its new business model, which operates fixed-length trains running to a pre-set schedule.

Until now, freight booking has been done by phone, fax, email and post.

In the first phase, the system will be implemented in-house — customers will contact Tranz Rail operators who will book consignments in for them through the web terminals. Starting about March next year, customers will have the option of logging in through their own browsers to specify consignments.

Until now, Tranz Rail has been running freight trains on an “asynchronous” basis; a train doesn’t depart until it has enough cargo. Four test trains are now running “synchronously” to a fixed timetable, and the system officially “goes live” this week with more such trains introduced. The new model will gradually be extended to the entire network.

Previously, train length varied according to the amount of freight commissioned. The new approach saves a lot of costly shunting, says IT group general manager Michael Thomas.

The web interface will ease the business of entering an order, says Thomas. The web form will be much simpler than the current paper “manifest”, which is usually faxed by the customer and rekeyed into the system at Tranz Rail. The new system also includes applications for efficient stowage, allowing train space to be used in the best way.

The technology for the system is based on IBM’s Websphere and Java, running on AIX, IBM’s Unix variant. The applications were developed, using Visual Age for Java, chiefly by Tranz Rail’s own staff but with assistance from Auckland developer Clearfield, which contributed its Amber system. This presents a graphic of a train on the screen, and allows cargo to be moved in the plan with a click and drag. A DB2 database replaces hierarchical IMS.

The new IT system and business model will be a start to Tranz Rail disposing of its IBM mainframes, Thomas says. Some systems to operate rail terminals and organise track maintenance will take longer to supersede.

The new booking system cost about $500,000 to develop, he says.

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