• LCL freight service today

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by carajul
I was just reading an article on LCL service when years ago, the RRs had freight stations in the towns where you could drop off packages and local deliveries were made to stores. Let me ask this... in towns (let's say Phillipsburg, NJ) where there is still a team track, what would happen if a group of store owners wanted rail service for LCL packages. Would NS 1) gladly say sure we'll do it or 2) tell them sorry buzz off.

Was it the RRs themselves who discontinued LCL service? I know several trucking companies who do LCL. They stuff the back of a trailer with hundreds of small parcels then zig zag all over the country dropping them off.
  by Otto Vondrak
Railroads are not interested in single-car moves, nor are they interested in coordinating the national network needed to handle individual packages. Years ago, that network existed as there was an agent in every town along the railroad, now operations are centralized.

Who needs LCL when you have UPS and FedEx?


  by R36 Combine Coach
If there's one person or issue to blame on the downfall of LCL freight, it would probably be Eisenhower and the creation of the Interstate system in the late 1950s. Since then, practically all LCL/LTL shipments have traveled by road and the big five freight companies: UPS, FedEx, YRC/Yellow-Roadway , ABF and USF control the market with large trailers, often using double and triple units. By road, freight is much cheaper and cost-effective with central hubs and terminal points.

LCL service by rail would probably be too inefficient to be done on a mass scale today, although Amtrak still has express service for national LTL between all major points. Switching boxcars onto local freight sidings is time consuming as well.
  by Cowford
Railroads are not interested in single-car moves
Not so. But the question is about LCL...

Railroads still handle an enormous volume of "LCL" (now parcel and LTL) traffic. The only differences between the small rail shipment of yesterday and today is that it is moves in a trailer or container ON a rail car, instead of IN a rail car. That, and the shipment cannot be picked up at a rail station.

With the exception of FedEx, the LTL carriers mentioned earlier (YRC, UPS, ABF and others including Estes, Old Dominion, Saia) use rail extensively in their long-haul markets.
  by Otto Vondrak
R36 Combine Coach wrote:If there's one person or issue to blame on the downfall of LCL freight, it would probably be Eisenhower and the creation of the Interstate system in the late 1950s.
While truckers were always an option as highways improved through the 1940s and 1950s, I think the real competition-killer was the advent of commercial jet aviation. Jets took away the mail contracts from many railroads, and the LCL traffic soon followed. As the national network of agents shrank across the country (in other words, as passenger routes and depots were closed), a company like REA lost its built-in network and customer interface. Think of how much FedEx and UPS have invested in opening "retail" locations just so you have an agency to ship your package from? A new railroad LCL service would have to do the same.

I always thought it would be a natural for UPS to have locations at each staffed Amtrak station across America, but with fewer trains carrying baggage cars and the dismantling of the Amtrak Express system, I don't see how it could work. As much as we'd like to see "express" and LCL traffic return to the rails, I'm not sure there's an advantage to putting your shipment on the rails versus jetting it across the country? Plus, UPS and FedEx offer door-to-door or dock-to-dock service. How would you facilitate that kind of service on the rails today?

Railroads also maintained extensive warehousing and trucking operations at major hub cities to support LCL traffic. While merchandise LCL traffic may have been lucrative enough to offset these costs, could a railroad like CSX or BNSF offer such a service and still compete with ABF of the other LCL truckers?

  by Cowford
As much as we'd like to see "express" and LCL traffic return to the rails
Otto, to reiterate: "LCL" traffic IS on the rails. Do you know how many trailers and containers UPS ships by rail each year? Granted, they don't use rail to ship packages short distances anymore (and nor should they), but long-haul (1,000+ miles) is well used by parcel and LTL truckers. A substantial amount of US Mail also moves by rail. Look up NS's TDIS subsidary. Just because it doesn't move in a box/express/baggage car doesn't mean it doesn't move by rail. Heck, grain doesn't move by box car anymore, but I'm pretty sure the railroads still handle it.
I think the real competition-killer was the advent of commercial jet aviation
Air cargo was- and is- simply too expensive for typical, mundane LTL/parcel freight. The simultaneous decline of the national passenger network/infrastructure, along with the advent of the interstate highway system is what did in the LCL business. And today, it is interesting to note that UPS stores are franchises, not company-owned.
  by QB 52.32
One "modern day" case study of how well railroad network economics meshes with LTL network economics was UP's late-80's purchase of national LTL trucking company Overnight. Doesn't appear that there were many synergies in combining the rail and LTL networks in this case except for the typical pattern where an LTL carrier will use intermodal for peak loads to a greater degree, and base loads to a lesser degree. IIRC, UP ended up selling Overnight in the late '90's/early 2000's.

I believe that railroads have had greater success with UPS and USPS (predominantly 3rd & 4th class mail) because both of those organizations built part of their distribution network around the rail industry's high-density/premium service intermodal lanes as opposed to the LTL carriers who did not. That could be changing though I've seen no evidence it is (ie., new LTL terminals or networks designed to support intermodal usage).
  by carajul
And you know when you ship UPS ground or USPS parcel post that your package was on the train. Because when the box, especially if large, finally arrives, it looks like it's been thru a meat grinder. In fact we don't ship UPS anymore since they either lost or totally destroyed 50% of our ground packages...then said it was our fault and refused to pay on the insurance.
  by QB 52.32
There's nothing inherent in today's rail intermodal handling characteristics that would give it a poorer ride quality than over-the-road. Intermodal shipments, especially UPS and USPS traffic, are not humped and encounter minimal enroute switching and ride on trains with little slack given the modern flatcar fleet. Too many other factors have to be considered before laying the blame on rail intermodal ride quality as the source of your problems.
  by 2nd trick op
It would be interesting to learn a bit more about the final days of LCL. According to statistics furnished by the AAR and published in the trade journals, as late as 1975, the railroads were still handling a couple of hundred carloadings listed as LCL each week, all of them in the Western District.

What I suspect was happening here would be a "split load" a carload with two or three "end customers" and part of the load transloaded into a second or third car at a major hub. A letter in Trains back in the early 1960's made mention of one such move using one of the Pacific Northwest transcontinentals, GN or NP.

Tom Taber also had an extensive description of the arrangements for handling LCL traffic on the Lackawanna in his comprehensive two-volume work, "The DL&W in the Twentieth Century", focusing on that road's Scranton breakbulk. Unfortunately, it could provide no data on the practice at individual stations, but I can recall that my home town of Berwick, Penna. usually had an express car, and several REA trucks parked at its freight house until some time around 1957. The line had terminated its passenger service on the Bloomsburg Branch some four years previously.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by Cowford
I happened upon an interesting passage in The American Railroad Freight Car, by John White. It talked of LCL in the late 1800s, and how the railroads didn't like the LCL business even then. It wasn't until the turn of the century that forwarding companies were formed and the railroads were relieved of the "direct involvement with small shippers and the hassles of LCL shipments."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  by FormD
Amtrak tried LCL and had they stuck with it and Ed Ellis they would have done well. The Problem is the Railroad retirement and Unions that they had a higher cost of labor then LTL trucking co like St. Johnsbury and Consoladated freight. There were a number of Railway Express strikes that made direct involevment by railroads cost prohibitive. As I Recall Norfolk Southern had as intrest in Mayflower moving co.
  by Otto Vondrak
Cowford wrote:Otto, to reiterate: "LCL" traffic IS on the rails. Do you know how many trailers and containers UPS ships by rail each year?
I think the original poster and I were discussing the viability of an LCL service operated by the railroads, not the mere carriage of LCL shipments in trailers that the railroad is carrying. For instance, I have a receipt from the Erie for a mattress shipped by Gimbel's department store in New York City to a cottage in Greenwood Lake on the Erie Railroad. That mattress somehow made it from the store to an Erie train by truck, then was delivered to the train station at Greenwood Lake where the cosignee picked it up. What you are describing is having that same mattress be loaded into a trailer with other LCL shipments, and have that trailer be carried by the railroad somewhere with about 200 others.

Did I completely misunderstand? I think we're talking about two different things.

  by ExCon90
Cowford is correct that UPS is the effective successor to rail LCL. That mattress almost certainly shared a boxcar from New York (likely a carfloat-served freight station on the North River in Manhattan) to Greenwood Lake with a number of other LCL shipments. A typical operation of that time would have had that boxcar set off today by the local freight at an intermediate station and spotted on the house track where a shipment or two for that point would be unloaded by the station agent, then picked up tomorrow by tomorrow's local freight and dropped at another intermediate station, and so on until the car finally arrived at Greenwood Lake with the mattress, by this time possibly unaccompanied by anything else (unless local shipments were picked up en route). For the time (awhile back, if the Erie was still running to Greenwood Lake), it was possibly the best way to get it there, and certainly the cheapest, but how much money the Erie made on that shipment is another question. Just out of curiosity, are the freight charges shown? Today that mattress would probably move UPS -- and a lot faster than it could get there in a boxcar on a local freight.