• 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 Dieter
Someone in the Scale Model Railroading board asked how SMALL a space he could get away with in modelling an Intermodal facility on a size-restricted layout.

That brought to mind Central's Flexi-Van service. Does anybody know how SMALL a location or customer was which received direct service? Along the lines in New York State, which locations had the vehicles for loading/unloading the trailers from the spine cars? I remember seeing them in either Yonkers or Hastings in the very early 1960's. Greatful for any info. Thanks!

  by lvrr325
The old Flexi-Flo which became the van site at Dewitt for years ain't all that big, I think you could represent it in a corner space or on a 2x4 module fairly convincingly. When it was the van site the yard job working it usually had a main track tied up so he could double back and forth from one of the two tracks to the other.

I presume it handled Flexi-vans since as late as 2000 or so there was still a Flexi-Van body down in there, although to see it up close pretty much requires tresspassing, I drove through once in the car and noticed it then.
  by eddiebehr
A Flexi-Van could be loaded or unloaded just about anywhere where there was access along the tracks for a tractor and a set of wheels for the box. In the early Flexi-Van years, late 1950s early 1960s, I saw one unloaded in Framingham, Mass. Framingham was not advertised as a Flexi-Van location. The location was along Waverly Street (Route 135) where the Flexi-Flo yard was located for a couple decades. However, the freight house, the late 1850s former passenger station (Dutch style) was still standing at the time. The tractor driver had a set of wheels with him and a long rod or crank that he hooked up to the flat car and started cranking and turned the box to a 90 deg. angle from the flat onto the wheels. And away he went. See if you can find some old TRAINS magazines from the era I mentioned. NYC used to run ads and show that Flexi-Vans needed very little special loading and unloading devices and could be routed almost anywhere.
I worked for the Boston & Maine 1968-86 in the General Office in Boston and every now and then someone would relate the story of how a Flexi-Van got billed to a B & M destination. It caused a great deal of agita as no one could fathom how to handle it. It was eventually unloaded but it was an event no one wanted to repeat.
  by Dieter
Sounds like a revolutionary idea that just didn't catch on. Conrail didn't perpetuate it. Must have been due to incompatibility issues with foreign roads. Thanks for the info, guys!

  by erie2937
Keep in mind that while the NYC was developing the Flexi-Van the PRR was working on the Truc-Train. After the PC merger the PRR Truc-Train became the standard. The Flexi-Van was discarded. That is my understanding. H.T. Guillaume
  by ExCon90
I know it was complicated to match up chassis with vans. There were times when more vans would arrive at a midwestern terminal, especially on a Monday morning, than there were chassis on hand to put them on, putting the diplomatic skills of the terminal manager to the test when dealing with expectant consignees. I was told at one point that the NYC had 5 chassis for every 4 vans. Also, the only other railroad using Flexi-Vans at the time was the Milwaukee, which restricted the number of long-haul interline movements they could have. The Pennsylvania (!) had some Flexi-Vans dedicated to mail service, but not for freight.
  by Dieter
Recalling the PRR's Truck Train, was that what became the RoadRailer?

Years ago someplace I saw a company film about the Flexi Vans, illustrating how EASY it was to unload a trailer with a strange vehicle resembling a wide fork lift. I wonder if any of those vehicles still exist anywhere? Models are presently available of the Flexi-Van also in MLW, ATSF and Burlington. Any Flexi Van trains I ever saw in the east were solid CENTRAL consists.

  by ExCon90
Flexi-Vans had a unique design which did not require them to be lifted. It's been so long since I saw it done that I've forgotten the details, but the process involved swiveling the van on the flatcar in such a way that a two-axle assembly of highway wheels could be attached to the rear of the van, which had to be specifically designed to work in that way. (In my earlier post I used the term "chassis" because I couldn't remember what they were called; I now remember they were called bogies -- strictly speaking, a chassis extends the entire length of the container, while a bogie was simply attached to the rear end of the van.) TrucTrain [sic] was simply the Pennsylvania Railroad's "trade name" for conventional piggyback service in which ordinary highway trailers were used. The device you saw in the film may have been a "PiggyPacker" (registered trademark) used to lift trailers and containers bodily on and off flatcars. It was developed when it became apparent that traditional "circus loading" was too slow for high-volume terminals; moreover, it did not require all trailers to be loaded facing in the same direction, as they had to be for circus loading (if a car arrived from a connecting railroad facing the wrong way the car had to be turned on a wye before it could be unloaded). Overhead cranes accomplished the same purpose, but PiggyPackers are cheaper and can be easily moved to different places in the terminal. PiggyPackers have an interesting origin; they were developed by a company in the Pacific Northwest which built them to move huge logs in lumbering operations. Somebody figured out that with appropriate modifications it could be used to lift containers and trailers.
  by ExCon90
This is for Dieter: I completely forgot that your question also involved RoadRailer. RoadRailer was invented by Alan Cripe (I forget what company he was with) as a means of dispensing with the flat car altogether and making the container an integral part of the train. I believe it was first used by the C&O to haul mail (?) on the rear of its passenger trains between Detroit and Grand Rapids, which puts it back before 1971. After that the concept languished until the Norfolk & Western became interested in it for hauling truckload freight. They formed a "brand name" as a separate operation called Triple Crown (Thoroughbred -- get it? get it?) to run solid trains of RoadRailers, each of which has its own attached rubber-tired wheels and flanged steel wheels, either of which is retracted when not being used. At some point after 1976 (memory is getting hazy here) Conrail's trucking subsidiary, Pennsylvania Truck Lines (inherited from the PRR) began participating in Triple Crown as well. I believe that since the Conrail split Triple Crown is again exclusively an NS operation. The distinguishing feature of RoadRailer is that the container travels on its own flanged wheels and all train forces (braking, up- and downgrade, etc.) are transmitted through the trailers; thus it has no connection with either Flexi-Van or TrucTrain, and is fundamentally different from both.
  by H.F.Malone
Alan Cripe developed the C&O Roadrailer about 1959-60. I think the first use was in the early 60s on those C&O (ex-PM lines) trains hauling US Mail.

Cripe also designed what became the United Aircraft Turbo Train. There was a very early design concept for it in a 1959 or 60 special issue of Trains Magazine, "Who Shot the Passenger Train?"

The later (1979-83) iteration of the Roadrailer used High Bridge Yard as the NY City terminal. After the service was suspended, the unused trailers and bogies were stored at the yard for a while, before MNCR took over the property in the 80s.
  by Dieter
On a Montreal bound Turboliner (around '78) I saw the Triple Crown RoadRailers at HighBridge, they were also in a lot hat has more recently been used for Yankee Stadium parking. If my dimming memory serves me right, the RoadRailers were problematic, the source of some messy derailments in the south. A friend had a slew of them in HO gauge and someone commented that they behaved the same way in scale as they did on the road, what with a problem of swaying.

Flexi-Van survived well into Penn Central, I was in Elizabeth NJ one day when a string of them went by and that was pretty late. 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;

  by Dieter
Scanning for Flexi Van info, I came across this from Wikipedia;

"On June 8, 1967 a joint run using New York Central's Flexi-Van container cars traveled from New York City to Los Angeles in 54 hours, 21 minutes. The train's cargo typically consisted of such high-priority items such as auto parts and electronic components; the United States Post Office was a consistent customer."

I found that ditty under SUPER C FREIGHT TRAIN;
"The Super C was a premium, high-speed intermodal freight train operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway from 1968 to 1976. Dubbed the "World's Fastest Freight Train," the all-TOFC (trailer-on-flatcar, or "piggyback") and container train's route ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California on a 40-hour schedule."

Reading in TRAINS some years back, New York Central performed an experiment with Santa Fe in the 60's, they had the fastest freight train coast to coast. Santa Fe dabbled in Flexi Van technology, hence the train.

Anybody recall how long and short a Flexi Van train was?

  by wdburt1
The original RoadRailer was invented in the late 1950’s (?) by Alan R. Cripe and Ken Browne for C&O. It was originally known as RailVan. The name was changed to RoadRailer while still operated by C&O. Principally it was operated on the hind end of passenger trains on former Pere Marquette lines.

The RoadRailer Mark III was the creation of Alan and Gene Hindin, both working for Bob Reebie's Bi-Modal Corporation. Reebie had been Vice President-Planning at NYC under Perlman and was associated with the creation of its marketing department and the launch of such initiative as the SuperVan trains, multilevel auto racks, and Flexi-Flo. His understanding of the interplay between marketing and engineering was unusual in the rail industry. Gene was formerly with Strick Trailer and was involved in the design and construction of the Flexi-Van. Alan’s son Chris also made important contributions as a design engineer. The prototype units were built in 1978. They tested at Pueblo in late '78. From early 1979 to mid-1980 the company had to address the fact that the equipment was incompatible with certain provisions of federal law, notably coupler height and braking system (the Mark II had a two-pipe braking system wherein one line transmitted the signal and the other operated the brakes, a system that was superior to conventional braking). Bob Reebie finally secured the support of Sen. Russell Long for an amendment to the law that allowed the FRA to grant a waiver. By the fall of 1980 they were doing show and tell events at Potomac Yard.

Reebie convinced Wayne Hoffman, CEO of Tiger International (Flying Tiger Airlines) and formerly a high-ranking operating official and colleague of Bob's at NYC, to fund construction of 250 units. The money was advanced through Tiger subsidiary North American Car, which took Bi-Modal stock in return. The units tested on the Seaboard Coast Line in 1981. On one test run in conjunction with UPS, a 45-trailer TOFC version of SCL’s top intermodal train, Richmond-Jacksonville 175, was operated, followed by a 45-RoadRailer second section using the same locomotives. That test demonstrated 55% fuel savings vs. TOFC. At the end of the tests the Illinois Central Gulf then took the RoadRailers on a one-year lease to do an experimental operation between Louisville and Memphis, 398 highway miles. The operation was generally successful but the corridor was very imbalanced and too short to be profitable. ICG did not want to expand it to New Orleans because it had an existing TOFC service to that market.

Subsequently, the Burlington Northern operated several test trains between Chicago and Seattle. By mid-1982 Bi-Modal had negotiated a deal with Conrail to operate Buffalo-Rochester-NYC trains for Bi-Modal's account. The Buffalo terminal was built as an addition to the existing small TOFC terminal there. The deal happened mainly because top management at CR wanted to repair relations with New York State, which was very eager to see intermodal service to NYC. The Rochester terminal—a last minute idea when everyone realized how imbalanced the Buffalo market would be—was carved out of the north side yard at Goodman Street and built with new welded rail on Stanley Crane's explicit orders, since NYS was paying. High Bridge terminal was reopened to serve NYC. Conrail did a fine job operating the trains 1982-1984. They had a 10 ½ hour schedule between the end points. Bi-Modal sold the service. Eastbound trains were filled mainly with Buffalo flour for Entemann’s bakery in NYC and various manufactured products out of Rochester. The latter market was better balanced and more profitable load by load than Buffalo—RoadRailers ranged far down into New Jersey to find backhaul, illustrating one reason why High Bridge did not survive as an intermodal terminal.

During the 1982-84 period Bi-Modal rolled out the RoadRailer Mark IV with a detachable, two axle bogie. Alan Cripe always contended that the Mark III was a perfect design from a rail perspective—the single axle was located right under the point at the units were coupled, eliminating any tendency to hunt. But the Mark III carried 3,500 lbs. of rail gear out onto the highway, where it limited what you could carry. Worse, from a highway weight distribution perspective it was cantilevered out on the end of the trailer, past the rear tandem. With heavier loads the rear tandem tended to be the first thing that came up against the legal limit, so anything that put more weight back there was a real limitation. The Mark IV became the wave of the future.

Tiger International was in financial difficulty from about 1983. North American was eventually placed into bankruptcy, and its subsidiaries ordered sold. The Buffalo-NYC operation was not making money, and Conrail refused to allow it to expand to Chicago, so it was shut down. Norfolk Southern had sent teams to study the Buffalo-NYC operation, however, and subsequently leased Bi-Modal’s fleet to launch Triple Crown, which eventually blanketed their system, which in pre-Conrail system days had many short to medium-haul lanes. Eventually NS wanted to expand to the New York market, and Conrail bought in, paying IIRC $30 million for half of what NS had built.

I may have the timing wrong, but prior to the startup of Triple Crown, there was a brief joint BN-GTW Detroit-St. Louis RoadRailer operation handling mainly General Motors parts. BN was a circuitous way to get to St. Louis, so that operation migrated to NS. There was also a brief period in which RoadRailers operated on both NS and CSX, again driven by GM’s interest. IIRC, you could see them on the same joint trackage north of Cincinnati.
  by wdburt1
A correction: RoadRailer Mark IV was a "spread-tandem" design that moved the permanently-attached rail bogie between the two highway axles, in an attempt to shift the weight distribution forward. Spread-tandem trailers are fairly common and involve increased difficulty in turning and scuffing wear of the tires. Introduced during the Buffalo-NYC operation, the Mark IV was not a success. The detachable bogie RoadRailer was the Mark V. It was largely the result of Chris Cripe's work, although Alan eventually got on board.
  by Otto Vondrak
Thanks WDB for the detailed info!

NYC had a good thought that was more or less the precursor to the intermodal shipping container we know now. NYC's idea with Flexi-Van was that the same cargo carrier could simply be lifted off its chassis and placed on a flatcar, on a boat, or onto a truck. It had many advantages, and a few other railroads picked up the idea, too. "Other roads showed some interest in the system, including ATSF, CB&Q, IC, MILW, WP and more. Although intended for most types of freight, the system eventually proved quite popular for handling mail." The Flexi-Vans could also be handled in passenger trains, making them ideal for express and mail shipments.

I think as F-V was getting some traction as a viable concept, you had other emerging technologies... Early TOFC did not require complicated machinery and specialized tractors... all you needed was a ramp and TTX flatcars with tiedowns. Early TOFC were loaded "circus style" using ramps, not cranes. The trailer manufacturers later developed bodies strong enough that could be lifted by special cranes (these are the trailers with "Z" in their reporting marks), negating the need for "circus" ramps.

TrucTrain was PRR's trade name for TOFC service, as far as I know... I dont think there was anything special except trailers and flatcars.

http://kc.pennsyrr.com/freightops/truct ... erview.php

RoadRailer seemed like a great concept, as outlined above. Seems like it never got traction outside of the Conrail-Norfolk Southern partnership. Sure, you didn't need flatcars or cranes or a lot of real estate for a terminal... but you did need an adapter bogie, and the RoadRailers had to operate in dedicated trains (or it was preferred that way). Amtrak for a while had some RoadRailers that carried mail and express, but that experiment ended.

Once the standardized international shipping container/trailers came on the scene, and once the railroads figured out how to handle the service, that pretty much spelled the end for Flexi-Van and its specialized flatcar with the pivoting base.

Am I close?