Faster than a speeding bullet

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – An automated system is doubling the speed at which truckers are processed into Canadian National’s (CN) new intermodal terminal in Montreal’s Taschereau Yard. CN’s intermodal operations were moved holus bolus this summer from its Turcot Yard to a roughly 230-acre site with access via Hickmore Street, accessed from Hwy. 13.

The terminal is mostly for moving containers from the Port of Montreal’s eastern and western ports and processing CN’s domestic and trans-border traffic.

A system called Speed Gate automatically photographs trailers and containers and records vehicle identification numbers. Then drivers proceed to one of seven automated gate stands where biometric technology (electronic fingerprint identification) validates their identity, activates customers’ bills of lading and issues a ticket to drivers with instructions where in the yard to take his load.

“We have seven 7/24 gate lanes. Before, the transactions were manual. Clerks entered information manually, had a manual look at the condition of the boxes,” says Donald Gagne, CN’s terminal manager for intermodal in the Taschereau Yard. About 700 truck entries a day were handled automatically in September, and that will rise as the system performance is optimized.

“The truckers will have minimum questions (asked of them) at the gate stand. The system assigns a zone in the yard where to drop off the units, based on destination; the driver gets a transaction ticket that gives him the zone information,” Gagne explains. “The ticket also serves as proof of the transaction. The system will also ask him if he is doing a pickup and where the container is. A work order is generated in the cranes and the crane operator will know that the trucker is going to drop off a load, or pick up a load.”

The average processing time from the time a trucker begins a biometric transaction to the time he leaves the gate stand is three to 3.2 minutes. In the old Turcot Yard, it took six to seven minutes. Before, says Gagne, “Our ingate capacity was 60-65 trucks an hour. (With the new system) we have done 110-115 an hour, and it will increase. Now we are working to improve (service) in the yard (to keep up with the gate service).”

Despite traffic levels that reached 1,380 inbound trucks a day in early September, and consistently hit 1,200 inbound trucks a day, traffic flow to the yard off Hickmore is reported to be smooth. More than 100 carriers use the yard. About 3,200 drivers are already pre-registered to use the Speed Gate and 25-30 more drivers are registering every day. Not surprisingly, since truckers are an independent bunch, questions arose early about the ID and fingerprint recognition process.

“There was concern amongst the trucking community about the confidentiality of the (driver ID) information. I met with several carriers and their union representatives,” says Gagne. “We don’t do a background check (and) criminal records have no bearing on (truckers’) registration. We request that companies send lists of their drivers. We verify that the driver is on the list and we perform the (registration).”

CN registers one finger from each hand for the biometrics system. Rejections by the biometrics equipment have been few, and in some cases, problems with recognizing a driver’s fingerprints has been solved by simply re-registering, according to Gagne.

“Once the information enters the system it becomes encrypted. I can’t go in and get driver ABC’s driver’s licence. Once it was explained that the biometric information in encrypted, they were completely at ease with registering. We have had a very good response from the truckers themselves,” Gagne explains.

“There was a great deal of research done to make sure we were compliant with all the confidentiality laws, and the trucking community is at ease with that. I’ll tell you something else. I’m pleased with the patience and co-operation of the truckers with the system. They came right up to the challenge of learning how the system works and using it properly,” says Gagne.

Drivers can register as working for single, or multiple carriers, so when they present themselves at the gate the system will prompt them to identify which company they are doing the transactions for. That way they don’t have to re-register for each carrier they haul for. Hickmore Street is 10 kilometres further away than the old Pullman Street entrance. Drivers can get zone maps at the terminals, and there are two help areas: one in the main building and a self-help desk. Gate operators help drivers who have problems with transactions. Instead of trying to correct transactions at the gate and block traffic, drivers are asked to pull ahead so as not to block other drivers.

“When we implemented it we had a whole team of driver trainers at the gate to assist them, but after a few weeks we pulled back from that,” says Gagne. He adds, “The whole operation is protected by generators, protecting the whole Speed Gate and office in the case of a power failure. Our backup to the Speed Gate is a handheld unit and a portable printer, in the case of a system failure.”

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