Belt Railway of Chicago Goes Full Steam Ahead on Digital Transformation with BDO Digital  

December 03, 2020
Since 1892, The Belt Railway Company of Chicago has been an integral part of railroad operations in the Chicagoland area. Since then, it has become the largest intermediate switching terminal railroad in the United States, employing approximately 450 people and supporting more than 250 miles of track.

Over 90% of rail traffic in the United States travels through the Chicagoland area and 70% of that traffic goes through the Belt Railway. A disruption to Belt’s system can create a ripple effect impacting the whole rail network across the country. Belt knew that it was important to align their technology to their business priorities and they were exploring opportunities for improvement. Digital transformation in the railway industry is no small endeavor, but Belt Railway knew that they needed to use the latest technology to gain a competitive advantage.


Reaching the End of the Line on Previous Software

Belt was using AS/400 COBOL development language to support their railcar operations software and the system was manual, complex, and outdated. Supporting and maintaining the older technology was becoming expensive and accessing data and developing reliable reports was time consuming. Belt was looking for a solution to bring them into the digital age and help them grow. They were looking for a customized software solution that could scale with their growth. They needed a trusted advisor to help guide their digital transformation journey.

" "

“We needed a system that could take us into the future. A system that could be upgraded, a system that we could change and alter and add on to as time progressed.”  

- Mike Grace, President, Belt Railway of Chicago

Getting Back on Track   

The Belt Railway and BDO Digital team were able to deliver a successful implementation of a large and complex digital and cloud enabled software application using Azure Cloud technology. The implementation had minimal impact on their day to day operations and included all required functionality. This new technology reduces risk and downtime, efficiently moves cars through the Belt, increases visibility into train make-up, and highlights potential violations.

" "
"The end-users are going to be able to see what they're going to do with a rail car before it even touches the Belt Railway Company of Chicago by using the planning tools within Belt applications, built by BDO Digital. That is the biggest factor in how the software has taken us into the future."

– Mike Martinez, Director Business Technology Solutions, Belt Railway of Chicago



1. Reduction of risk and downtime
The new system has significantly reduced the amount of downtime due to rail derailments. If the system experiences a derailment, the enhanced disaster recovery process now takes only 30 minutes to recover, compared to over 3 hours using the previous technology. This improvement allows end users to get back in the system and continue business operations much faster than before.
With a modernized approach to software development through the adoption of DevOps and zero-downtime deployment patterns, Belt has:  
  • Released over 175 enhancements to the system in approximately 50 releases 
  • Required zero downtime or work stoppage to release any of the updates 
  • Delivered new features and changes in hours instead of weeks 
 2. Efficiently moving cars through the belt  
The new technology allows yardmasters to manage and outbound 2 more trains per shift, which can equate to more than 400 additional railcars moving through the railyard each day. This new efficient process has given Belt the added benefits of an increased focus on safety and reducing their risk of injury or car/freight damage. With the streamlined process, Belt has the potential to increase their revenue by interchanging a greater number of cars and reducing their costs related to damages and injuries.

3. Increased visibility into train makeup rules and highlighted violations as laid out by the other large rail carriers     
The new system can better predict, spot, and manage potential train derailments. The old system was manually managed on paper, which made it difficult to backtrack quickly with accuracy. The new system includes more robust auditing and vigor around rail rules. There are various charges for “broken rules” and derailments in the rail industry and the average cost of a trail derailment can be close to $10k. The new system gives Belt new tracking and safety tools to avoid derailments in the future and better address those that do occur.

Looking Forward

The flexible software platform will allow Belt to leverage the cloud now and as their business changes in the future. After the success of their initial modernization project, BDO Digital will begin collaborating with Belt on improving additional software systems that need to be upgraded and moved to newer technology platforms. Concurrently, BDO Digital will continue to design, build, and release ongoing system enhancements to improve business processes at the Belt Railway.

" "

“Our vision is to be better tomorrow than we are today and BDO Digital is helping us get there with technology.”
– Mike Grace, President, Belt Railway of Chicago

We’re all going through Digital Transformation, whether we’re ready for it or not. It’s no longer a choice but necessary for surviving in a competitive marketplace. BDO Digital can help you successfully modernize your business and bring it into the digital age. We can help you dream big, start small, and scale fast. Get started today. Contact us to learn more.