EDI Standards and Rail Industry Guidelines

In today's commercial world there are countless application software packages creating business documents, each constructed for the specific needs and data requirements of the company it serves. EDI slices through all these differences by providing a standard electronic "language" for the translation of common business documents.

Today there are two common EDI standards: the ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT. ASC X12 , which was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), is currently the standard used in North America. UN/EDIFACT is the international standard being developed under the auspices of the United Nations. Conversion from X12 to edifact standards is expected in North American business by the turn of the century. Union Pacific currently supports the X12 standards and Rail Industry Guidelines derived from these standards (see below).

ANSI adopts a new version of the ASC X12 standards every three to five years, but only after an intensive review process. The ASC X12 organization annually publishes releases of the ANSI standard. ANSI gives a number to its versions, and the ASC X12 gives a number to each release within a version. The version/release combination identifies the exact status of the EDI standards. For example, ASC X12 published version/release 3050 in December 1994. This publication was the 5th release against ANSI's version 3 standard, sometimes designated as version 3, release 5.

The Rail Industry Guidelines are a fully compliant subset of the ASC X12 standards, and were developed by the rail industry to speed implementation of EDI applications. The guidelines concentrate on the portion of the standards which are pertinent to the rail industry, and arrange the X12 transactions into an abbreviated and more readable format. They also represent a commitment by the rail industry to a common format for EDI. An application which can send an EDI transaction set compliant with the guidelines to one railroad can send the same transaction set to another road without special changes.

The Rail Industry Guidelines have been developed and are maintained by a railroad industry group within the National Association of Purchasing Management. This group consists of representatives from all the Class I railroads, as well as several Class II roads. The group meets every four months for the purpose of reviewing and updating the standards, in addition to furthering EDI education within the industry.