• Norfolk Southern Less-Than-Carload Service (Thoroughbred Freight Transfer Service)

  • Discussion relating to the NS operations. Official web site can be found here: NSCORP.COM.
Discussion relating to the NS operations. Official web site can be found here: NSCORP.COM.
  by Shortline614
 
NS is dipping their toes back into a market that railroads abandoned long ago, less-than-carload boxcar service.

From Trains Magazine:
NS launched the door-to-door service this month as an experiment in the Chicago-Atlanta-Miami corridor. Trucks pick up small loads and deliver them to a rail-served warehouse where the shipments are cross-docked into waiting boxcars. The boxcars then move in intermodal trains. The process is reversed at the destination, with trucks making the last-mile delivery.
At a recent meeting of the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers (MARS), NS VP of Industrial Products Ed Elkins described the new service. It is a true LCL freight service with pallets of freight moving in boxcars which are transloaded to trucks at each node. They are experimenting with Chicago-Atlanta, Chicago-Miami, and Atlanta-Miami (those last two in conjunction with the Florida East Coast) corridors but want to expand the service to more lanes.

I think this is a great idea with a lot of potential, especially when combined with the Rail Pluse GPS-tracked railcar technology that NS is working on with G&W and Watco. There is a massive amount of traffic that could be wrestled away from trucks, especially in short to medium-haul corridors like Atlanta to Miami. Perhaps in 20 or so years boxcars will become a common sight on the back of intermodal trains.

I especially like this quote from Elkins:
NS has an experimental mindset and a willingness to fail when it tries new ways to tap the flexible freight market. “We think experimentation is incredibly important,” Elkins says.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying,” he adds.
Great mindset to have, but it remains to be seen if NS fully adapts this mindset. If it does, this service will succeed.
  by ExCon90
 
The railroads did that for many years, with merchandise trains operating on hot schedules similar to intermodal trains today. Many railroads assigned sales representatives to the LCL market exclusively, and it took a significant number of them to contact individual shippers directly; NS management will have to recognize that some individual attention to small as well as large shippers will be needed, although a well-constructed telemarketing program may be able to do the job using today's technology, which was undreamt-of back then. Also, the use of rail-served, rather than rail-owned warehouses should help keep costs under control with pallets and forklifts replacing hand trucks, one man to a truck.
  by QB 52.32
 
This is an interesting attempt at a boutique service, but, the long-term opportunity for LCL competing with LTL (or other distribution strategies) will very likely be restricted to the niche of highly imbalanced markets within the heaviest commodities above 30 lbs. cu ft density, perhaps within some segments of the paper market or for canned goods or other heavy food products. Obviously, they must see some potential and I like their philosophy of giving it a go, but, I wouldn't give it long-term strong odds of success and think a serious attempt of more fully entering the the LTL market would be better served by just using containers riding on those intermodal trains. I wish them success and look forward to seeing how it works out.