• Local intermodal?

  • 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 MattW
I know most intermodal trains are point to point, they run from a port, to an inland yard in a city where the trucks will pick up the containers and distribute them. Has any railroad ever given thought to running intermodal trains the way current mixed-freight traffic is handled? I'm going to use an Atlanta-Augusta example simply because I'm the most familiar with this line. For instance, instead of Q197 blasting through, it stops in Lithonia and drops off and picks up a few intermodal cars. Then when it reaches Social Circle, it does the same, and does this at the bigger cities on down the line like Greensboro, Thomson, and Augusta (I don't think Augusta has intermodal facilities so 197 is currently a through train as far as its cargo is concerned). The advantage I see is reducing truck travel, and increasing the time the load spends on the rails. But the reason for this topic, is I'm curious if it would even be cost effective. I know it would require more infrastructure than typical industry sidings, even just one large container-handling forklift would cost considerably more than the little forklifts used to say, unload a boxcar.
  by ExCon90
That pretty well covers it. Equipment necessary to load and unload containers to and from flatcars is expensive, and not cost effective unless there's enough traffic to keep it busy. In the early days of piggyback -- the 1950's and -60's, roughly -- circus loading was typical, requiring only a sloping ramp from the car end down to the ground. The first piggyback ramp on the PRR in Baltimore consisted of a retired 40-foot flatcar (fully depreciated by then, I'm sure) with the trucks removed and a stack of old ties placed under one end to raise it to car-floor height; it was still in use as late as 1963, although by then augmented by a few additional ramps of a more permanent nature. The extremely low cost of such facilities led to the establishment of terminals at every town big enough to be a county seat, resulting in over-the-road transit times about as slow as those of a typical local freight, which often handled TOFC traffic destined to such places. As volume grew, and circus loading was proving too awkward and slow, mechanized terminals became the rule, and any terminals too small to generate enough traffic to justify the much faster and more efficient mechanical handling equipment were closed. Three further disadvantages of small terminals are 1) an entire train is delayed to pick up or set off 2 or 3 cars while the other 50 or 60 cars are sitting there, 2) unless there is an adjacent running track, the train is tying up a main track with a switching operation while delaying who knows how many other trains that need to get through, and 3) moving TOFC and COFC in a succession of through and local freights necessitates humping, which is better avoided on shipments in trailers and containers.
  by Desertdweller
At the time I worked on the Milwaukee Road in Madison, WI in 1973-74, we used the former coach yard for TOFC. Three former coach tracks alongside the turntable were fitted with end ramps for circus-style loading and unloading. Much of the business was in cars operated by subsidiary Milwaukee Motor Transit.

At that time, Madison (former division point on the original Chicago-St. Paul main line) handled no through trains, so time spent switching the TOFC tracks did not add to transit time of trains. Usually, trains 161 and 162 (Chicago-Madison) would handle the trailers.

The coach yard tracks were used for other purposes than TOFC. Since they were near the scale track, they would also hold cars waiting to be weighed.
Typical loads weighed at Madison were scrap iron (from two local scrapyards); sand (from Edgerton); and pulpwood from the upper Wisconsin River Valley (off the branch running to Wisconsin Rapids north from New Lisbon).

  by Backshophoss
If a town or city is big enough to become a hub for UPS and/or Fed-X Freight,having the the thru-intermodel
Block Swap at a yard near the ramp makes sense.
ABQ is the statwide hub for UPS,Fed-X Freight,ABF,and Yellow/Roadway,there are regular "shuttle" runs
between ABQ and Belen connecting the local ramp to the thru intermodels.
In some cases major trucking fleets,needing to move lots of empty trailers west to San Berdoo or the LA area for loads
heading east,will fill unused space on the cars to be swapped into LA(west)bound trains.
  by Cowford
Matt, another challenge in your scenario: Say a car is set off in Social Circle with a containerized load destined for that town. A chassis is on-hand at the Social Circle ramp to allow the dray carrier to deliver. The driver makes his delivery and the box is made empty. Unfortunately, there's no load available today in Social Circle to take back to the ramp... in fact, the nearest load is in McDonough and it's going to Indianapolis, so the trucker drives empty to McDonough, picks up the load and delivers it to the Atlanta ramp. Tomorrow, another load arrives Social Circle. The problem is there's now no chassis to make the dray pick-up.

Chassis supply imbalances are challenging enough with the limited terminal network we have today. (If you ever see a JB Hunt box moving as TOFC, chances are it's a chassis repositioning move.) It would be impossible to efficiently manage chassis fleets spread over hundreds or thousands of terminals.
  by ExCon90
That was a chronic problem on the NYC in Flexi-Van days; trainloads would arrive at a Midwestern terminal over the weekend, but there weren't enough chassis in the right places on Monday morning to allow prompt unloading. I was reliably informed that toward the end the ratio of chassis to vans systemwide was 5:4 -- an unfortunate consequence since one of the selling points of Flexi-Van was that you didn't need as many chassis as vans since the chassis didn't travel with the vans.
  by Backshophoss
Starting around 2005 or so,the RR's got out of Owning the containers,only providing the chassis at the ramp,
JB Hunt was the 1st to buy/own the containers,Swift and Schneider started buying containers,but used RR provided
chassis to move the containers over the road(the domestic 53 ft type)UPS has bought 28ft containers for US use,
along with some of the LTL carriers(American Freightways).
From time to time,4 chassis will be strapped together and the RR moves them on a open spot on a train to where needed.
  by Cowford
With respect, that's not quite accurate. Railroads continue to own significant container fleets, which are used by non asset-based or "asset-light" intermodal retailers. Many of these containers are in joint pools, so the containers are not branded for a particular railroad, but for the pool itself. Attached are links to two pools in which UP participates:

https://www.uprr.com/customers/intermod ... ndex.shtml" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

https://www.uprr.com/customers/intermod ... ndex.shtml" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Also, the 28' container never caught on for a variety of operational reasons and, to my knowledge, was never even trialed by LTL carriers.
  by Backshophoss
Having been in the BNSF IM yard at Willow Springs,that doubles as a UPS Super Hub for their Intermodel services,
the 28 ft "can" lives,and in service,still see them at the statewide hub at ABQ as well,2-28 ft fit in a 53 ft well car(bottom of car).
UP shared the EMP containers with NS,but that patnership was broken up and the containers sold off
BN(and BNSF)shed 90% or more of their container Fleet as they "aged out" of interchange service,
and did not buy new to replace. There are some leasing companies out there,that built their own containers,
along with some logistics companies.
Other than CSX investing in containers(53 ft domestic use),it's the major trucking fleets buying containers,
the RR's are buying chassis.
NS is the last RR using the Roadrailers,buying up Amtrak's and Swift's Roadrailer fleets
  by Cowford
* The 28' cans are still around, but move on chassis as TOFC

* Math will show that two 28s DO NOT fit in a 53' well (if you don't believe me, look at the length hash marks on a well... there ain't 1.5 ft between the 53' hash mark and the well end.)

* You are correct in stating that BNSF shed their container fleet. You have to supply your own box to ride on them, but the opposite is true with UP... Different marketing/operating strategies at work.

* If you think EMP is not around anymore, you need to ask yourself why do both NS and UP advertise it on their websites?