• Flexi-Van Supported Locations

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by ExCon90
Yes, that's pretty much it. Furthermore, when double-stack technology came along, dramatically improving the economics of intermodal operations, that would have meant the end of Flexi-Van in any case. (The development of a transcontinental double-stack network is a story in itself, probably for another forum.)
  by wdburt1
I have been assembling information about the NYC 1958-1968 with particular reference to Flexi-Van. A few quick observations:

1.) This was an incredibly focused, intense, and successful push.
2.) The conclusion: In 1965 FV generated 15% of NYC's profit from 0.5% of its equipment.
3.) The competitors talked only about sales growth because (a) unlike NYC they couldn't reliably calculate intermodal profitabilty and (b) they didn't have the profits to report.
4.) The Super Van trains greatly exceeded all competition in terms of speed and coverage.
5.) FV was only part of an across-the-board modernization (that was NYC's word for it) of its plant, its equipment, and its methods of selling the service. Other examples include CTC, hump yards, multilevels, Flexi-Flo, and etc.

Some of the participants in this forum were involved in this. The thought that comes to mind is that I was born too late. I think--To be a junior manager for NYC in the early to mid-Sixties was to be young and alive. (They provided statistics showing why their management was younger than typical.)

Comments welcome.
  by Tommy Meehan
This is a very interesting thread, great exchange of information. I would love to see someone come out with a book or really extensive article on Central's development of Flexi-Van instead of yet another book about the Twentieth Century Limited or Grand Central. :-)

The little I can add is this- I recently did some research into the brief William White era on NY Central, roughly 1953 through mid-1954. White was planning to start a piggyback service on Central and even ordered some piggyback flats which were delivered, iirc, in late summer 1954. The service was to be provided on certain lines with the New York City terminal on the old West Shore at North Bergen.

By the time the flats arrived the Young-Perlman team had taken over, in July 1954, and the piggyback service was one of the first things they reviewed. During a press tour at Weehawken around September 1954 Perlman told the media the piggyback plan was under review and would not start as scheduled. When asked why, Perlman said they wanted to "make sure we offer the best service we can," or words to that effect.

In discussing this with a longtime industry person, from the marketing side, he told me he thought Perlman didn't like piggyback because Central had too many low-clearance routes where TOFC would not be able to operate. One important route with a major clearance problem was the Hudson Division into New York City. Thus they came up with Flexi-Van which could be offered to all of Central's shippers, unlike TOFC which would have been available on only certain routes.

In this person's opinion, what was sold to the public and the industry as a great innovation, a better way of hauling trailers, was really borne of necessity. That Flexi-Van solved Central's clearance problems and the road put the best possible face on it.

FV did reduce weight and wind resistance, and if you go back and look at Perlman's public statements he always emphasized that. But true enough, at least in public, Central never mentioned TOFC wouldn't fit on some of their routes. I guess they were too smart to do that. So there was a lot of salesmanship involved too.
  by Tommy Meehan
One other thought I would add, it was Penn Central's decision to discontinue Flexi-Van operations that killed it, not so much market forces. At least people I know who worked for Penn Central have said that. (PC's decision was reported in a Trains Magazine news item around 1970 I think.)

Why PC made that decision, whether it was Red Team vs. Green Team infighting -- or something more rational -- I don't know.
  by wdburt1
I have spent some time today going through four of the NYC annual reports from the Flexi-Van period, making notes, and combining them with notes from other sources I have. Responding quickly to Tommy Meehan:

1.) The business about Perlman's canceling piggyback in 1954 is well covered in David DeBoer's book Piggyback and Containers. DeBoer, who joined NYC's marketing department in the early 1960s, attributes this to "the new broom sweeps clean" (i.e., the plan was associated with William White's) and a severe cash shortage at the time. The TOFC plan required an investment of $10 million that the NYC simply did not have. I don't think DeBoer gives that figure but it's in the NY Times. Possibly, Perlman also was not in favor of the aspect of the plan that involved partnership with existing motor carriers, what would later be called Plan I, wherein they controlled marketing and the NYC would just haul the trains between the terminals. The plan's promoter, Gene Ryan, promptly knocked on the PRR's door and by 1955 they had launched dedicated Chciago-Kearny Truc Trains TT1 and TT2. Ryan and his motor carriers--Spector Freight is the best remembered today--also set up shop on the EL in 1961. Clearances were not the issue with Ryan's plan. He and his company had come up with a depressed-center flatcar. At least it is called that. From the photos I would say that the sides of the flatcar, where the trailer's tires would rest, were lowered, but the center sill and deck were at normal height. It's not a bad-looking design. Apparently it cleared the NYC's low bridges on the Hudson Division.

2.) FV service in certain fast freight trains commenced in April 1958. Dedicated Super Van service between NY-Chicago was launched April 1960. The SV network grew fast thereafter.

3.) FV van loadings were 41,725 in 1960 and over 150,000 in 1966. Estimate 175,000 in 1967--info is sketchy because the annual report for that year was published by Penn Central. But that figure is close, based on published growth to 9/30/66. It was still growing at 17% annually on the eve of Penn Central.

4.) NYC began moving TOFC in 1962 or earlier, ironically on behalf of motor carriers under what appears to be Plan I arrangements. It took a mighty confident organization to set that up alongside a thriving Plan II (NYC controls everything) system.

5.) In 1965 FV equipment was less than 0.5% of NYC equipment but generated 15% of the company's net income, up from 11% in 1964. Any way you look at it, FV was a tremendous success.

6.) FV continued for quite awhile into Penn Central. I don't have any real info on this but I have understood that the Post Office was the last bastion of support. No one seems to want to explain its demise but from working with one of its architects in past years and discussing this at length, I would say that FV was undone by the fact that shippers wanted to interline with other railroads (i.e., standardization was necessary), some customers wanted to use their own trailers, and yes PRR was married to trailers. It might have been a different outcome if we had had trancontinental railroads.

  by H.F.Malone
Regarding the "transcon" aspect, and the "other railroads" aspect, didn't The Milwaukee Road also use Flex-Vans? Yes, they were the weakest of the transcon roads, but did connect w/ NYC at Chicago (didn't they?). Was there any interchange of FV traffic there with MILW?

Most of the USPO FV traffic moved on passenger-equipped (steam and signal lines) FV flats, moved in then NYC mail trains along with baggage cars and REA express cars. 30th St--USPO Morgan Station on the West Side was a major destination.
  by Tommy Meehan
H.F.Malone wrote:Was there any interchange of FV traffic there with MILW?
I'm almost certain there was FV interchanged between NYC-MILW at Chicago. Freight possibly via IHB? I've seen photos from the 1960s of NYC yard engines bringing mail on Flexi-Van flats through Union Station on the bypass track, to Western Ave. I believe.

Illinois Central also handled Flexi-Van so Central could've reached many markets (and undoubtedly did).

The mail FVs also used to be handled on main line passenger trains and get cut on or off at Harmon. From there transfer runs or M&E trains would handle to the Morgan Annex. I recall riding the Empire State Express in June 1967 and eastbound there were two flats (four vans) carried from Buffalo to Harmon. They were placed on the head end and the car inspectors at Harmon cut them off with the diesels during the power switch.
  by Tommy Meehan
Below is a photo taken by Bob Zimmerman (and posted with his permission) at Fairport NY in July 1972. The original Flexi-Van service has been discontinued and the trailers are being used in ordinary trailer-on-flatcar service.


In some ways this is one of the saddest photos I've ever seen. :(

Per the information provided by WDB, in 1965 FV was providing 15% of NYC's net. On the eve of the merger it was still growing at a robust 15%+ rate. By 1972....? All gone. Damn!
  by wdburt1
NYC must have acquired some trailers labeled "Flexi-Van" before the merger. Could you ship a Flexi-Van on its highway bogie, on the flatcar? I haven't seen any photos of that. DeBoer says that NYC got into trailers earlier than is generally appreciated, and it seems that is true. No doubt, part of the reason for SV-11 and SV-12 from and to North Bergen was that the pig traffic didn't have to contend with the low bridges on east side of the river. That, and other advantages to being on the Jersey side--like finding westbound backhaul.
  by wdburt1
I should add that this scenario was repeated when Conrail bought a half interest in Triple Crown for $30 million. For awhile, there were ex-CR containers running around with Triple Crown's name on them. I can't speak for Triple Crown management, but I understand that the attempt to force Triple Crown to market Conrail's retail container service was viewed as a travesty by those closest to the action.
  by Tommy Meehan
wdburt1 wrote:Could you ship a Flexi-Van on its highway bogie, on the flatcar?
I not only think you could I think they did. I showed this photo to a former NY Central (then PC, then TrailerTrain) equipment designer and he responded....

Man! I don't remember exactly. That's embarrassing. :-)

I do recall this gentleman saying the trailers pictured looked like they were from one of Central's last equipment orders. That by the time PC discontinued Flexi-Van he was no longer with them but he was under the impression they were able to use the old FV trailers in TOFC service.

I saved his emails and I'll look them up.
  by Tommy Meehan
Once in a while a blind hog finds an acorn.

Found the email I mentioned from the former NYC equipment engineer very easily. Don't want to mention the man's name or directly quote him though I think he told me in the past it was okay.

Anyway, in 1971 he was involved in a project (unsuccessful, I think) to convert the older hydraulic turntable FV cars for TOFC service. He said at the time the Mark III, IV, and V cars were still running in Flexi-Van service.

Despite the failure (or what I believe was the failure) to convert the flats for TOFC service, PC was able to reuse the FV trailers.

He was still with PC in July 1972, the date when Bob Zimmerman took the photo I posted several messages back, and thought true Flexi-Van service could very well have still been in operation at that time. He says the trailers pictured are obviously several years old and their construction looked right to him for being Flex-Van trailers. He suspected, in fact, that's what they were: "...Flexi-Van vans running with bogies attached as trailers on a conventional Trailer Train TOFC car."

Btw, he also mentioned that as he recalled it, FV was ended in late 1972 or possibly in 1973 since in the latter year PC offered his new employer (Trailer Train) the wheel trucks from the remaining Flexi-Van flats as they were all out-of-service.

He didn't say whether TT bought 'em.

He also mentioned that he did not believe Red Team vs. Green Team shenanigans were responsible for ending FV service. It was a business decision brought about by all other railroads ending their use or acceptance of FV cars in interchange. It had become a pure PC operation and just was no longer profitable for that reason.
  by 3rd out nuthin comin
A few months ago, Dieter asked,
Anybody recall how long and short a Flexi Van train was?
Well, I had a six car SV-13 one morning. Not much work for three GP-40's. That's the shortest van train I ever saw. I can't tell you anything about how long they could get.

There was still some Flexi-Van service (on Flexi-Van flats) in 1973 on the NEC, but it was limited, as far as I recall. The flats were being taken out of service pretty rapidly that summer for what I was told was center sill cracking. (Maybe true, maybe not, but that's what I was told.) I was also told that a member of higher management had seen the FV's pass his PCA commuter train at speed and was horrified at how much the flats flexed and wanted them off the railroad. (Also maybe not true.)

The last 100-odd flats (MFVX, NYC (and PC) 9800's and 9900's) had been through Despatch in 1963 and 65-66. One of the guys in Engineering at 30th Street said the MF's had been reinforced in their conversions. That would seem to run counter to the 'too much flexing' story and perhaps explain the cracking.

(The double entendre in the MF reference was probably intentional on the part of the Engineering guy.)

  by vegaman19760
I am trying to locate New York Central Flexi-Van car count data for car series NYC 9902-9923. These 84' 6" Mark II cars were built by Strick in 1958. The earliest info I have is 22 cars in January of 1960. The last data I have is 14 cars still in service in 1966.

I am hoping someone can shed some light on some car count data before 1960 or after 1966.

If you have other car count data on any other NYC Flexi-Van cars I would appreciate that also.

  by Tommy Meehan
vegaman19760 roster information on the Flex-Van equipment was linked in a message on the previous page. The post is just over three years old but the link seems to still work:
Dieter wrote:Here's some info I found online you may enjoy;

http://members.surfbest.net/intermodal@ ... EXIVAN.HTM

Also, Flexi Van is alive and well in the chassis leasing business these days;