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

Originally published on December 3, 2020. Updated April 1, 2022.

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

Over 90% of freight rail traffic in the United States travels through the Chicagoland area and 70% of that goes through the Belt Railway. A disruption to Belt’s operations and/or the systems that support it could create a ripple effect through the entire rail network, impacting the entire country. Belt was looking within for opportunities for improvement and knew that it was important to align their technology to their business priorities. 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 an AS/400 based application written in the COBOL development language to support their railcar operations. The system was over-engineered, manual, and outdated.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 system to bring them into the digital age and help them grow. A customized software solution that could scale with their growth was a necessity. 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

Together, The Belt Railway and BDO Digital teams were able to successfully implement a complete digital and cloud enabled software application using Azure Cloud technology. The solution deployment had minimal impact on their day-to-day operations and released all necessary functionality at one time. This new technology helps reduce operations risk and downtime, more efficiently moves cars through Belt’s yards, and helps increase visibility into train make-up while highlighting 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 implemented solution significantly helped reduced the amount of system downtime. 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. More efficiently moving rail cars through the Belt

The new solution allows yardmasters to manage and outbound approximately two more trains per shift, which can equate to more than 600 additional railcars moving out of the rail yard each day. This more efficient process has given Belt the added benefits of an enhanced focus on safety and a reduced 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. Enhanced visibility into train makeup rules and automatically highlight violations

Belt’s new solution allows for rule train makeup rule configuration to adjust quickly as carriers require changes. This includes more robust auditing and rigor around train makeup. Belt can better predict, spot, and avoid potential car derailments. There are various fines and costs associated with breaking these rules or when derailments occur. The new software system provides Belt with tracking and safety tools to avoid future derailments, reducing potential overhead costs and damages by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Looking Forward

The flexible software platform allows Belt to leverage the cloud now and as their business evolves in the future. After the success of their initial modernization project, BDO Digital has begun collaborating with Belt on replacing additional legacy software systems that need to be upgraded to newer technology platforms. Concurrently, BDO Digital will continue to design, build, and release ongoing system enhancements to help improve car operations 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 are all going through digital transformation whether we are ready for it or not. It is no longer a choice but a necessity for surviving in a competitive marketplace. BDO Digital can help you successfully modernize your business by helping you dream big, start small, and scale fast. Contact us to learn more.