For almost 30 years now, every railcar on the continent of North America has been equipped with an Automatic Equipment Identification (or AEI) tag. Many are familiar with the concept, but less are aware of the extent of its functionality and ability to improve the processes of rail yards across the continent.

The American Association of Railroads (AAR), in an effort to create a system that would allow railroads and shippers a way to passively and automatically identify rail cars and other rolling stock, created a mandate for the RFID-enabled tags that store information like car owner and number, length, and platform codes (among other data points). This full-scale, industry-wide mandate signaled a push towards automating and digitizing an otherwise pen-to-paper, manual process, as many other supply chain-adjacent industries have done into the turn of the century.

Now, no matter the trade, new technologies can be daunting, especially when mandated in such a manner. The average rail shipper will conduct inspections, take inventory, engage in loading and offloading procedures, deal with weights and spotting, among many other potential tasks-all of which carry data points for each individual car. Research has shown that the average rail shipper will write down a railcar owner and number for one specific car up to (if not more than) 28 times a day.

So, 28 times a day, multiplied by an average of about 25 cars a day. That comes out to about 700 opportunities for a “4” to look like a “7” on a notepad daily. Shippers could be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours of time on handwriting errors per year, not to mention the time and effort of walking the entire line of cars, and then double-entering the information into a system after the fact.

AEI aims to eliminate the sunk costs of both time and money that these manual processes bog down shippers with. The industry has already seen significant strides in the advancement of technology complimentary to the acquisition of data stored on AEI tags. More and more often, you’ll see a stationary AEI reader at the entrance and exit of terminals and rail yards that passively read cars as they enter and exit the facility, that will automatically send the information into the preferred database of that terminal. The hours of walking the line, the stacks of notepads and load sheets scribbled upon and weathered by the elements, are all eliminated in the blink of an eye.

So what’s the hold up in the implementation of this technology? Besides AEI being relatively new to the scene, many shippers are still coming around to seeing the value that automating their rail yard generates. Many terminals have a process, although many times manual and both more tedious and expensive, already in place that can be difficult to tear down and replace. Despite this, the more competition moves into an automated process, the more pressure comes in changing the way the terminal operates. Moreover, some shippers simply may not be aware of the potential savings of money, time, and headaches that they could exploit in implementation of an AEI solution.

As railroads and shippers move into age of initiatives and mandates like Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), AEI technology intends to lend a hand in improving safety, accuracy, and speed at which items are shipped by rail. As technology and automation begin to creep into rail, we’ll surely see the rise of AEI-related hardware and software solutions making more of a name for itself in the landscape.

If you’re interested in more information regarding AEI solutions, visit or give us a call at (833) AEI-TAGS.