Q&A with Kathleen Brandt, Chief Information Officer, CSX

As CSX’s Chief Information Officer, Kathleen Brandt oversees a team that develops and deploys technology to drive the company forward. Through partnerships with other departments, such as operations, mechanical and engineering, Brandt and her team work to find technological solutions to some of the company’s biggest challenges and help identify tools that support the broader business goals.

The team develops everything from mobile applications for the workforce to advanced track monitoring technology, all with an eye toward enabling safe operations and delivering excellent service to CSX customers.

We talked with Brandt about how technology integrates with CSX’s other divisions and some of the company’s most exciting innovations.

What surprised you most when you joined the railroad industry?

Right off the bat, I was amazed to learn that CSX transports many items we depend on every day — from the automobiles in our driveways, to food and household products. I was also inspired by the dedication of CSX employees, who are passionate about railroading and about this company. I wasn’t surprised to learn that technology underpins everything modern railroads do, including moving all those goods. People often think of freight rail as a simple, sometimes archaic 200-year-old industry. The reality is so drastically different than that. We’re constantly developing new tools and leveraging various technologies to enhance safety, efficiency and improve the customer experience.

What’s it like to run a technology team at a railroad?

It’s a lot of fun, fast-paced and critical to the day-to-day operation of the railroad. Our work starts with strong partnerships with the other functions within the company. We work and often sit side by side with other departments so that our efforts align with CSX’s strategic business goals. Great technical talent coupled with field-based operational teams helps us collectively solve problems quicker. Ultimately, our greatest mission is to help advance our operating plan.

Today, we have a technology team filled with some of the brightest minds, from engineers to data scientists to software programmers. We’ve dramatically strengthened our technology workforce over the past year by hiring technical resources, both experienced as well as straight out of school, and by bringing previously out-sourced skills inside our organization. This allows us to nimbly respond to the needs of the operations team, and in turn, the needs of CSX customers.

Can you give us an example of how CSX uses technology to enhance service to customers?

At its foundation, excellent service is about safety, efficiency and reliability. We must be able to safely transport a customer’s freight as efficiently and reliably as possible, and technology enables us to do that.

Let’s look at maintenance as an example. Advanced monitoring technology — such as high-definition cameras, lasers and radar — can identify microscopic flaws in our equipment that the human eye can’t see. This is Big Data in action. It allows us to address mechanical issues before they grow more serious. On top of that, intelligent systems help us analyze patterns to pinpoint the ideal time to perform maintenance as conditions call for it. This minimizes service disruptions and allows us to safely deliver freight to its destination.

Regarding efficiency, there are several great examples. We are now using automation, cameras, self-service kiosks and mobile apps at our intermodal terminals to improve truck traffic flow and maximize productivity. Customers can complete all necessary paperwork and get a “fast pass” before truck drivers even come to our facilities. This streamlines the pickup and dropoff process, cutting down on delays, and creating a faster turnaround for assets like shipping containers. Meanwhile, remote crane operator stations enable unprecedented gains in productivity. This technology has allowed us to automate 75% of the lifting activities at our Central Florida terminal, making it one of the first rail terminals in North America to have achieved this level of advanced automation.

Another exciting example is our Trip Plan technology. Every shipment has a plan, so our customers know what to expect. Trip Plan allows customers to track shipments and expected arrival times while also ensuring CSX meets those service targets. This level of visibility gives customers the consistent and reliable service they need to run a successful business.

Technology is revolutionizing our industry. Because it’s integrated into every aspect of our work at CSX, we’re able to make rail transportation safer and more efficient, while strengthening our business.