E-Freight, E-Freight, Everybody is Hot for E-Freight

Suddenly everyone is talking about E-Freight. ICAO, IATA, US DOT, and IMO all are very excited about this new technology called E-Freight. Now you will be able to track freight containers, trace shipments, and receive arrival notices among other messages. Partners can send electronic messages back and forth automatically. All kinds of amazing things can be done.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the technology is known as Electronic Data Interchange or EDI and has been around for about 30 years. It started with a group of industry and government folks in the US. X12 as they are called started writing standards for implementation guidelines so that companies could send messages between each other or even a group of companies. This allowed for both generalized transaction messages that all modes of transportation could use and specific transaction messages for an individual mode. The UN/EDIFACT Committee is actually an outgrowth of the X12 group.

In fact, today in the US, major railroads and steamship lines send information back and forth to each other for everything including dangerous goods via EDI. I am proud to say that while I was at APL, in 1992 we started a project with the major US and Canadian railroads to permit the use of EDI for dangerous goods. Working together we came up with the standards that converted the “Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods” into an EDI transaction set. This transaction set takes into account US DOT, Canadian, and IMO regulations. APL went live with their implementation in 1994.

There are two underlying principles that you need to understand and accept if you want to use EDI for dangerous goods. The most important one is that anything required to be on the “Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods” and the “Container Packing Certificate” must be part of your EDI message. You have to take into account every set of regulations you are dealing with. The one exception that APL made is that we do not pass the certification paragraph because the messages are going between carriers. As carriers we don’t classify, package, label/placard loads. To address the issue of where the actual “Shipper’s Declaration” is in case it is needed by an enforcement agency, we have a line in the transaction set that states: “Original Shipper’s Declaration is on file at ______.” That way anyone looking at the transaction message will know who to contact to get a copy of the actual document if needed.

The second big issue is that if you go to EDI, you have to be prepared to keep updating your transaction sets. Any time there is a change in any set of regulations that you deal with you will have to implement changes to account for them. While on the international side, changes occur on a biannual basis, both the US and Canada don’t use the same schedule which can create problems. This requires annual budgeting for EDI changes.

So if you are interested in going to EDI or E-Freight, I suggest you contact the Association of American Railroads (www.aar.org). Their EDI standards are incredibly robust and probably meet 90% of your needs. Why reinvent the wheel when someone else has done all the work. Steal shamelessly, but do give credit. In today’s world we are all looking for harmonization.

Hidden Dangers
From the Hazardous Cargo Bulletin, Sept, 2008

Train, Train, Train
From the Hazardous Cargo Bulletin, 2007

E-Freight, E-Freight, Everybody is Hot for E-Freight
From LLoyd's List