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Exploring the visibility of rail freight on real-time transportation visibility platforms!

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Transition in platforms step #5

In this post I delve into the fourth digital freight platform business model, the real time transportation visibility platform (RTTVP). The earlier posts covered the digital freight forwarder, the freight exchange and the transport management system business models.

Gartner defines RTTVP as

"platforms that provide commercial customers and consumers with real-time insights into their orders and shipments once they have left the warehouse or other type of facility of a brand owner, supplier, contract manufacturer or service provider". That these are digital platforms is in the meantime implicit.

Two questions that are of particular interest are

i)   What interpretations on visibility can be observed in digital freight platforms?

ii)  What is the extent of European rail freight visibility on the RTTVPs?

To select the RTTVPs for this purpose, different criteria for the available categories were selected in the Gartner reviews. These are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Categories and the relevant criteria for selecting RRTVPs






Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific, North and Latin America

Reviewed in

Last 12 months


Descending order in ratings

Note: *All the regions were selected as RTTVP’s appear to cater to global supply chains. The resulting list of platforms remained same with and without selection criteria

The resulting first three RTTVPs (all founded in the year 2014) are as follows

  • Project44

  • Shippeo

  • Fourkites

1. The platforms are multimodal, and the company size of these platforms, as per the data, is between 1 billion to 10 billion USD.

2. These platforms and Transporeon’s (studied in previous posts) Visibility Hub that is a part of the firm’s transport management system, are mentioned as the key competitors to each other. Examples of collaborations can also be found in other data sources.

For example, coopetition can be observed amongst Shippeo, Fourkites and Transporeon which are collaborating along with firms such as port of Rotterdam and Royal Flora Holland in a research project. On the other hand, the TMS Alpega has formed partnerships with the RTTVP’s Project44, Shippeo and Fourkites.

Interpretations on Visibility

We can look at the interpretations of “visibility” in the platforms explored thus far (in earlier posts) and in the three RTTVPs chosen now.

In the platform market, the term “visibility” has gained several connotations. Its underlying meaning, as per Cambridge dictionary is the "degree to which something is seen or known about". As per the Merriam Webster dictionary it is the "quality or state of being visible” or “capability of being readily noticed".

Examples from some of the platforms covered in earlier posts, in Table 2 below illustrate the value proposition different platforms offer to their customers/participants with regards to visibility. The platforms do so in their own business context.

3. The same term “visibility” can be used by the platforms in a variety of context e.g. in shipment visibility, real time visibility, but also market visibility.

The benefit offered comes amongst others from the platforms ability to collect and link multiple data from several sources, and varies (depending e.g. on the customer needs) between - reacting fast to disruptions- and- being ready to deal with potential (market related, operational, technical) events.

Table 2: Interpretations of the term "Visibility" in digital freight platforms


Examples of visibility

“Real time visibility provides your company with ... shipment visibility into the locations and statuses of your orders, giving you full control and live tracking on ongoing transportation operations to help you react quickly and mitigate unexpected events.”

Visibility ... of the shipment lifecycle to empower businesses to mitigate the consequences of disruptions”, based on “over 10 data sources, including carriers, pre-carriage and on-carriage partners, customs, ports, and tracking aggregators.”

“Unlock true-to-market visibility with large-scale commercial data feeding both the air cargo indexes and ocean index trade lanes”, “Monitor What’s Happening in Your Supply Chain, in Real-Time and analysis on port weather and congestion, capacity trends…”

“Enjoy 360-degree visibility on customer activities and real-time updates”

“sennder’s GPS tracking service offers shippers real-time visibility along the entire route, ... Improving supply chain visibility helps shippers resolve delivery issues quickly by spotting potential disruptions as they occur.”

The  Live Shipment Tracking feature provides the answers .., in real time. Where is my shipment? When will it arrive? ... When will I receive the shipping documents I need?”

“Visibility Hub brings real-time visibility to your in-transit shipments” by creating “precise shipment ETAs for all modes and types of transports...”

Note: Data collected from the respective websites of the platforms

Next, the term “visibility” is discussed with regards to the three selected RTTVPs. I’ve made an attempt to draw insights on the second question i.e. the extent of rail freight visibility on these platforms (in European freight context).

Extent of rail visibility on RTTVPs

A good starting point is to view the mission of the three selected RTTVPs (as shown in Table 3). The public data is collected from the related websites.

Table 3: Mission statements of the selected RTTVPs



Platform 44

“We make supply chains work. As the supply chain connective tissue, project44 optimizes the movement of products globally, delivering better resiliency, sustainability, and value for our customers”


To inspire the world’s shippers and carriers to run more collaborative, automated, sustainable, profitable and customer-centric supply chains with highly accurate, real-time operational visibility and with perfect workflow orchestration.”


To transform the world’s supply chains with the most advanced real-time visibility platform. By providing Visibility Everywhere, we give you greater predictability and insights at every point along your global supply chain. The impact is greater efficiency, resilience, and sustainability for the global business community.”

Note: Data collected from the respective websites of the platforms

4. Sustainability in supply chains at a global level is one of the key value propositions in the three RTTVPs. Nuances can be observed in their approach e.g. to inspire the world’s shippers and carriers (Shippeo), to transform the world’s supply chains (Fourkites) and to make supply chains work (Project44).

What interpretations regarding visibility can be observed, in particular on rail freight? In particular on European rail freight? On the basis of the data collected from the respective websites of these platforms,

5. The three RTTVPs in context of visibility discuss “more predictability” across the “entire supply chain “, and across “all transport modes” through “Expected Time of Arrivals (ETAs)”.

Project44, in ocean transport, creates on the basis of real-time ETAs ,“better visibility for planning, procurement, exception management, and customer transparency”; in road (FTL, LTL), “real-time tracking” through automation; and in air transport “detailed planned flight schedules, further notifications for all events.

 With regards to European rail freight in multimodal context, Project44 states its capability, to directly integrate “to all European rail infrastructure” (Global rail visibility) and to IoT data”. Further the platform “is connected to 90% of European wagon-level data –more than 7,000 trains each day.” It mentions to be able to provide its “customers more accurate rail ETAs than all rail carriers and visibility providers, normalized” into a single platform, further proactively send notifications to other systems. The platform also offers complete clarity into “scheduling, routing, shipment positioning, and train details” along with “ramp-to-ramp updates and notifications”.

Shippeo when focussing on shipper’s visibility offers to “accurately predict ETA and customize the portals in a way that creates a B2C-style “delivery experience for their B2B operations”. It confirms the changing customer behaviour observed in an article by Shippeo mentions “dynamically gathering every container related event milestone for ocean shipments”. Example of rail freight in Europe are Transwaggon  (a wagon leasing firm) and partnership with Everysens (a rail and intermodal transport management system)

Fourkites offers benefits from its visibility platform, through each transport mode. In particular with regards to rail and intermodal, it considers different cases e.g. “only on rail” and “rail being a part of multimodal journey” or “tracking empty rail cars” is in focus. From its partnership with NIC Place, the platform aims to also enhance its rail tracking features.

The insights from the data collected (in Table 4 below), can be supportive in understanding what enables rail integration on these platforms.

6. Common between the platforms is that each of them has a global focus, covering more than 100 countries. Each has comparable number of carriers as participants i.e. over 200,000. It is evident from a small set of examples, that their key customers include global businesses.

The RTTVP’s currently cater to four common industries (Food & Beverage, Retail, Consumer goods and Manufacturing) while tracking millions of shipments every year. They also appear to have their own niche in other industries in life sciences (Project44), building materials (Shippeo) and 3PL & 4PL (Fourkites).

7. The list of key customers also confirms the observation made on other digital freight platform business models (in earlier posts) that companies use more than one platform to suit their business needs. Possibly, also to keep the dependence on one particular platform low and mitigate eventual business risks that could arise from takeovers/mergers with other platforms?

Table 4:Key data on the three RRTVP’s collected from their respective websites.





Founded in, country

2014, US

2014, France

2014, US

Visibility context

Global Multimodal




Last mile


Rail and intermodal



  • Carrier

  • Paperless

  • Customer





Order Lifecycle

Yard Management

Advanced (for Fedex shippers)



Tracked 1 billion+ shipments/year

Tracking 32+million loads/yeara

Tracking 3+million shipments/dayb


Common to the platforms

  • Food & Beverage

  • Retail

  • Consumer goods

  • Manufacturing

Life sciences


Chemical, Oil & Gas


Building materials

Chemical, Oil & Gas


3PL & 4PL

Geographical network

175+ countries

110+ countries

200+ countries





Key customers (examples)



Coop Denmark


Coca-Cola HBC, Kuehne+Nagel




Strategic and technical partners (examples)







Rail context (example)

98%+ of European and North American rail networks (with expansions into Asia)



Acquires NIC-Place that will include rail carrier network in Europe.

8. To answer the question on rail freight visibility, there is higher visibility for other modes, in particular ocean, air and significantly the road transport mode. The European rail visibility in comparison, is overall at a lower level at present.

To conclude, the developments on platforms through technological innovation is ongoing with regards to European rail freight. The sector appears to be opening up to participating on the platforms. This should increase the integration of rail freight in multimodal transport chains. Whether and by what extent can the ongoing capability improvements of all different platforms (overall “platform competitiveness”) be able to help accelerate a change, is yet to be seen. In more concrete terms, such a growth should also reflect e.g. in Eurostat (European Statistics) in the coming years.

In order to keep the length this post limited, I restricted discussing several practices of the RTTVP’s. E.g. on matching mechanism (between shippers and carries), their service organization, managing stakeholders (including large number of partners) etc. But I hope to have provided a brief overview on the RTTVPs.

Finally, until now I have discussed only the independent third-party platforms in my posts. Significant developments on other platforms including private one, and also outside platforms with regards to rail freight and multimodality is taking place. This also includes another key driver to change i.e. the regulation. I aim to touch upon these in my posts in the near future.

Meanwhile do stay with me, in my following post I intend to bring in an interesting topic, more from the perspective of users of the platforms.

*Data collection: The data collected is since April 2023 and updated till 24.November.2023. The sources are mentioned above and public.

**These are author's personal views. The data collection is based on the public sources available on the internet. The author takes no guarantees for this information.

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