Transportation companies are developing electronic messages that will allow information to move easily between modes, slashing paperwork and boosting productivity.

Railroads are driving the campaign in response to increasingly voluble customer demands, executives said.Efforts to improve intermodal communication have been under way for some time but most of the progress has come in the last year, they said.

A committee of the Association of American Railroads called TR 37 bears most of the responsibility for development of the new message.

"In the last year the railroad industry has devoted a lot of effort under the auspices of TR 37 in trying to address the intermodal issues that have been brought to our attention by the various shipping interests," said Bob Kilgore, managing director, data systems division, AAR.

"We think we've addressed most of the major issues," said Wilson Martin Jr., director, business systems planning in Roanoke, Va., for Norfolk Southern Corp., Norfolk, Va. Mr. Martin is also chairman of TR 37

The message is known as the "Gate Transaction Set." The message's "main purpose is to notify an intermodal shipper if a trailer has arrived at the gate without proper forwarding information," Mr. Martin said.

It also is called the 622, following a numbering system set by the American National Standards Institute's X12 Committee.

X12 is responsible for creating and maintaining electronic messages used for paperless trading in the United States.

A draft of the Gate Transaction Set could be released by January 1991, Mr. Martin said.

"One of the big problems (in intermodal transportation) is when a drayman arrives at the gate with a trailer and doesn't have on his person the information for a rail carrier to move a container to its destination," he said.

"Sometimes the third party which is responsible for the trailer doesn't know the trailer is sitting there without the information," he said. "The new transaction set allows us to electronically handle that kind of situation," he said.

In effect, the 622 fills an information gap that has bedeviled shippers and carriers since intermodal tactics went into operation, Mr. Kilgore said.

The 622 "makes available to the intermodal operator (information about) the events that are happing to a chassis and a trailer while they're in the confines of the ramp," he said.

The 622 "allows us to handle a multitude of events around the handling of stack trains, chassis" and the other elements involved in intermodal transportation, Mr. Martin said.

Development of the 622 moved with exceptional speed, Mr. Kilgore said. ''It's been put to bed pretty fast," he said, with between six and eight months needed to put it together.

Traditionally, railroads have relied on messages created by subcommittees of the Transportation Data Coordinating Committee, now known as the EDI Association. EDI allows companies to conduct business using strictly standardized electronic messages instead of paper documents.

X12 is now taking over responsibility for the TDCC messages. The 622 will be used in conjunction with a number of TDCC electronic documents. Among these are computerized freight bills and invoices.

"There is some activity in the rail-to-truck area with the motor carriers who are doing" trailer-on-flatcar operations, said Doug Anderson, director of technical services, Management Systems Council, American Trucking Associations, Alexandria, Va.

"When they send their trailers on flatcars, they're getting freight bills using the 410," he said.

Intermodal operators are "doing EDI in different directions - with railroads, some draymen and with some customers," said Bill Lee, executive vice president, Rail Van Consolidated Inc., Worthington, Ohio.

"It's becoming a common way of doing business now in the intermodal industry," Mr. Lee said of paperless trading.

"We've gained a lot of efficiency" through the use of paperless trading technology, he said.

"Our company has been able to cut out roughly nine FTE (full time employees) just by virtue of the EDI system that is in place," he said.