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The "Iron Highway": A pointer to future methods of handling TOFC?

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, March 19, 2017 7:32 PM

RME
If you're detaching the tractors, after you've parked and hitched the first 'through' trailer on an Iron Highway/Expressway, the following tractor(s) can't drive through it to escape,

Of course. I should have realized but my old brain must have had a $@#$ moment. Thanks for the catch. It was amemorable fun trip to ride in the motorhome on the train. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, March 19, 2017 7:46 PM

tree68

How did RBBB do it?

RBB is drive on - drive off.  Train is swtiched at destination to facilitate the drive off.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

RME
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Posted by RME on Sunday, March 19, 2017 8:14 PM

It's possible to design trailers so they can be sidelifted or forked, but a very substantial number of vans can't be so handled -- there is no structure to back up hardpoints for lifting even if you had a consistent way to load and dun for longitudinal and lateral balance.  You need to lift a trailer as it is supported on the road - via the bogie at the back, and the kingpin or landing-gear supports at the front - and this involves some interesting purpose-built equipment both for 'overhead' intermodal-style loading or sideloading.  I spent considerable time in the '70s designing a portable version of a Letroporter-like vehicle that could be carried on a train and deployed at any point where a van might need to be side loaded away from a ramp or other specialized loading or transfer point.  There are some interesting ways to accommodate vans on angle-loading trains like the British CargoSpeed (not the Adtranz system that used that name, which incidentally I think is the system Sam was thinking of earlier) or extreme spine flats with low kangaroo pockets.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 20, 2017 10:29 AM

One of my "Someday I'll get around to it" projects is to contact CP and see if I can get access (escorted and with all the releases and waivers &etc. signed, of course) to the Expressway operation to photo and video the loading/ unloading operation/ process, and perhaps write an article about it.  

Especially the 'break' and 'make' of the segments and disassembly/ lowering of the ramps, and then raising and attaching them and reassembling the segment.  As far as I know, that process - shown in any detail - is not in the easily-accessible public domain anyplace.  It'd make a good YouTube video, don't you think ?    

- PDN.   

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
RME
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Posted by RME on Monday, March 20, 2017 10:37 AM

I for one would like to have the 'word' from the CP people in operations as to how they decided on the 90-minute 'processing time' between last trailer drop and train time, and if this determines how many segments the train is divided into, how the switching is done and costed, and how many yard tractors are required to optimize the time to 'turn' the train.

It might be interesting to see if they load the train in "modules" of 5, 10 or whatever, to keep trailers for certain destinations or zones 'first off' regardless of the time they were dropped off differentially, or if they have considered 'dropping' modules of 5 flats at intermediate points to extend the benefits of Expressway service to relatively small ramp locations.  I suspect they have considered the latter, but concluded that the costs do not justify the advantages (as, I think, is the case for almost all small-ramp TOFC operation in the United States so far).  Here an interview with the 'sales guy' nominally in charge of Expressway might be particularly enlightening...

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Posted by MarknLisa on Monday, March 20, 2017 1:02 PM
Anybody else remember loose-car TOFC? I recall watching CNW mixed freights picking their way through the weeds between Wahoo NE & Lincoln. There'd be one or a few TOFC's mixed in between the boxes, hoppers and gons. They'd flat switch at a little yard between the Journal-Star office and the downtown USPS sorting facility. They'd bump the TOFC flats against an old wood plank ramp and unload circus style with a worn out POS day-cab tractor. Must have been about 1978-'79ish..
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Posted by greyhounds on Monday, March 20, 2017 2:41 PM

RME
Do you actually think that people in the industry have forgotten the advantages of TOFC over COFC and that some magic day they will 'come to their senses' and embrace widespread circus-type loading of switched-out rakes of an 'iron highway' consist? Both 'the market' for equipment and the folks in the industry who pay for its operation have consistently rejected these drive-on, drive-off facilities in most lanes, even where local initiative provided suitable physical facilities such as ramps adjacent to suitable yard space.  I have looked forward to adoption of a number of these continuous-roadway systems over the years, including some that lowered the deck under the road wheels to get the effect of 'fuel foiler' spine-car pockets while preserving RoRo operation.  I even waited for drop-in or raise-up decking for well cars that would convert them to through-drive use.  To date, we have Expressway in its lane, and it appears that no one else (yet) thinks that building more of the specialized cars, or operating them in existing intermodal consists or operations, makes enough financial sense.

I'm going to say that they've more than fogotten, the people today have not been really exposed to much TOFC at all.  They simply don't give it serious consideration becuase they really don't know much about it.

But first I want to deal with the hitch reliability issue brought up by RME.  Here's the report on the incident from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

http://www.bst-tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/rail/1997/r97h0008/r97h0008.asp

As may be seen, the incident happened almost 20 years ago.  A new type of hitch was in use, a type not approved by the AAR.  The AAR requires a double lock on a hitch which would have prevented this incident.  Since the incident the rail equipment used in the service has been replaced.  Trailers no longer stradle two platforms.  All in all, this incident happened almost 20 years ago on equipment no longer in use.  It has no relevance to the current operation or to consideration given to use of such equipment in other operations.  

The hitch failure is something simply thrown out to shut down further consideration of Expressway type operations.

As to the effects of the Staggers Act on TOFC/COFC, the effects were tremendous.  And for the good.  Staggers in 1950 would certainly have been better than Staggers in 1980.  But Staggers should never have been necessary.  The government never should have taken on the powers and role that it did.  As well stated in the book "American Railroads: Decline and Renaisance in the Twentieth Century":

"A central theme of this book is that railroads, throughout their history, were so important to the US economy that politicians could not leave them alone, and when governments did intervene in transportation markets, they usually made a mess of things. Government regulation distorted consumer choices, found awkward and costly ways of subsidizing competing modes of transportation, taxed or regulated away profits needed for reinvestment and capacity expansion, and— while generally contributing to greater safety— typically fell far short of stimulating optimal safety performance for all transport modes."

 

Gallamore, Robert E.. American Railroads (Kindle Locations 470-474). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

I worked in intermodal marketing and pricing both before and after Staggers. Things were a whole lot better in the "after time".  Examples include, but are not limited to:

1)  We were freed to establish though rates from the shipper's freight dock to the receiver's dock.  This dock to dock pricing is critical for intermodal profitability.  We could do dock to dock only on a very restricted basis prior to Staggers.  With Staggers we could greatly expand our service area and compete, with TOFC, for much more freight.

2) The inane "Two Trailer Rate" went away.  A main reason TOFC cars were built to carry two trailers was that the ossified regulators pretended to determine rail costs by the carload.  They would not allow a railroad to charge less than the average (read "Includes Overhead Allocation") cost per carload.  So, to get the pretend cost down to a truck competitive level we had to charge two trailers to a flatcar.  Now few customers shipped in two trailer groups so middlemen developed to "mate" trailers from one terminal to another.  These middlemen did little but took a fee.  Please know that the two "mated" trailers did not have to physically move on the same car, or even actually go to the same destination.  But the paperwork had to show a two trailer shipment.  Dumber than All Hell.

As to RME's false claim that early TOFC trains didn't run very fast, he's wrong.  Where the government rules allowed TOFC to work fast transit times were produced.  Pennsylvania Railroad Truc-Trains did New Jersey-Chicago in 24 hours.  And that was truck competitive.  My favorites were Santa Fe 188 and the C&NW/UP Falcon Service.  Both were Chicago to Los Angeles in 50 hours with TOFC.  When allowed by the government, TOFC could be, and was, truck competitive.

I'll wrap this long winded post up with some thoughts on why the Expressway concept hasn't expanded.  Basically, market research and development are glaring weak spots for our railroads.  They simply don't do those things well.  Some do it better than others, but generally it's a pronounced weak point.  If someone shows up with shiploads of containers, or an oilfield, or a large grain terminal, the railroads can deal with it.

What they have great trouble with is a market consisting of numerous smaller shippers.  The total volume may be there in aggregate but the railroads don't have the marketing chops needed to put things together.

Finally, guys such as RME will come out of the woodwork with reasons that any new development just won't work.  Some of the objections will be real problems that need to be worked through.  And some, such as the nonexistent hitch issue, will be red herrings used simply to knock a new idea down. 

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by Ulrich on Monday, March 20, 2017 4:27 PM

MarknLisa
Anybody else remember loose-car TOFC? I recall watching CNW mixed freights picking their way through the weeds between Wahoo NE & Lincoln. There'd be one or a few TOFC's mixed in between the boxes, hoppers and gons. They'd flat switch at a little yard between the Journal-Star office and the downtown USPS sorting facility. They'd bump the TOFC flats against an old wood plank ramp and unload circus style with a worn out POS day-cab tractor. Must have been about 1978-'79ish..
 

 

At one point CN made an effort at bringing TOFC to small and intermediate sized towns back in the 70s and early 80s by building simple ramps all over the place. For some reason loose car TOFC never really caught on here.. likely due to lack of proper marketing. 

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Monday, March 20, 2017 8:57 PM
Loose car TOFC suffers all of the speed and switching disadvantages of loose car railroading. In addition, many TOFC loads are/were not secured for the rigors of loose car railroading, slack action and switching impact. One of the major advantages of unit container trains is huge reduction in slack action and elimination of high impact switching. This translates into almost no blocking and bracing of loads and near elimination of longitudinal impact damage to equipment and lading, which is a big, big deal.
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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, March 20, 2017 10:01 PM

In the pre-Staggers era, my carrier did a lot of short haul TOFC.  Cities like Cincinnati, Akron, Pittsburgh had service to/from Baltimore & Philadelphia.  Once Staggers was enacted and understood - these services were costed against their revenues and were found to be money losing operations and these location were abandoned.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

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Posted by Victrola1 on Monday, March 20, 2017 10:33 PM

MarknLisa
Anybody else remember loose-car TOFC? I recall watching CNW mixed freights picking their way through the weeds between Wahoo NE & Lincoln. There'd be one or a few TOFC's mixed in between the boxes, hoppers and gons. They'd flat switch at a little yard between the Journal-Star office and the downtown USPS sorting facility. They'd bump the TOFC flats against an old wood plank ramp and unload circus style with a worn out POS day-cab tractor. Must have been about 1978-'79ish..
 

The Rock Island Lines did TOFC 60 years ago. 

A little town in Iowa. A grain elevator. One farmer Bar in a two block Main Street business district. A depot. 

Down by the depot, a pile of dirt and planks made an inclined plane at the end of a stub track. Towering above it all the grain elevator. An old flat car butted up to the top of the ramp. Weeds growing around and under the flat car.

The flat car waited for TOFC business that never came. 

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Posted by Miningman on Monday, March 20, 2017 11:10 PM

Victrola1- Geez what a sad tale..could only happen to The Rock. 

Well I may be right 

And I may be wrong

But you're gonna miss me

When I'm gone

RME
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Posted by RME on Monday, March 20, 2017 11:44 PM

Where did I ever say that TOFC trains were "slow" - either in early days or late?  The fun with absent back transition on E units in PRR freight service came about when fast power was needed for pig trains.  The early designs of high-speed-stable articulated spine cars were all for TOFC.  Even Flexi-Van could be thought of as essentially TOFC in the sense we're discussing.  I brought up the Apollos not to disparage their speed, but to point out that even high speed and good train dispatching and operation did not give the service a market-recognized advantage.

The issue I was addressing comes when the higher speed on the main  is wasted in the handling or other logistics needed for the full shipper-to-destination trip that is competitive with or superior to the economics, or the perceived value of service, of just 'one-seat-ride' driving the load by road.  And I do think it is fair to include improvements in OTR efficiency, like computer-assisted multiples, in discussing the potential profitable, or societally beneficial/socially subsidized, uses for good TOFC and its lightweight equivalents.

and I am a strong believer in the use of trailer intermodal for any genuine service niche -- I'm just trying to indicate that its use "to save oil" or "to get trucks off the Interstates" isn't a business model that has worked historically, is unlikely to be adopted as compelling by any for-profit entity any time soon, and is not terribly effective if implemented  as a many-point-to-many-destination service using a bunch of local ramps to access some magic low-cost efficiency of steel wheel friction reduction.  

Where there are realizable advantages to carrying trailers by rail -- as we have heard given for Expressway in this thread, or as executed by operators like J. B. Hunt and (I hope and have been promoting for years) FedEx Ground, believe me I'm a positive supporter.

mdw
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Posted by mdw on Monday, March 20, 2017 11:57 PM

You saw those things the same time I was at UNL.  I most often saw cars in the small CRI&P yard just east of the university City campus.

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Posted by CandOforprogress2 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 4:25 PM

The lack of out of the box thinking kills any new ideas at the railroads---

We have been doing this for a 100 years why change now-Famouse Last Words of any Industry,

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Posted by greyhounds on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 4:37 PM

Well, here's an Expressway train on the CP last year.  I counted 105 trailers which is a very good sized TOFC train.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lLNqZLhzeQ

I like it.  I like it a lot.

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:35 PM

greyhounds
Well, here's an Expressway train on the CP last year.  I counted 105 trailers which is a very good sized TOFC train.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lLNqZLhzeQ

I like it.  I like it a lot.

Insulated joint sounded like it was taking a real pounding.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

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Posted by schlimm on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:58 PM

With the likely increase in automated trucks:

1. The driver shortage will become a surplus;

2. Automation of the loading/unloading process is quite possible.

C&NW, CA&E, MILW, CGW and IC fan

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:01 PM

greyhounds
Well, here's an Expressway train on the CP last year.  I counted 105 trailers which is a very good sized TOFC train.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lLNqZLhzeQ

I like it.  I like it a lot.

Thanks for sharing that.  Very nice video, considering it was at night.  The crossing flashers really stand out.

Anybody know how many "elements" were in this train ?  The link in the Original Post - http://www.railmotive.net/23theironhighwayinter.html -  says (3rd and 4th paras) "each capable of carrying 20 full length highway type semi trailers . . . Up to five elements can be coupled to form a high capacity train."  Further down (8th para, 2nd from the bottom) it says "A normal piggyback train would move about 100 trailers, and to provide this capacity requires five IH elements.

EDIT:  Well, there seem to be 5 "platforms" to each car (where there are 2 trucks at the coupler), each platform with 1 trailer on it.  

Where/ which were the "split ramp loading platform"/ cars at the center of each element ?  I couldn't pick them out. 

EDIT: Now it occurs to me: The ramp cars would be where the trailers change direction, right ?  That's at 0:43, 0:56, 1:10, etc. - seems to be about every 15 trailers - 3 cars of 5 platforms.  But there doesn't seem to be an empty ramp car between them ? (How are one of those loaded ??)  

- PDN. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
RME
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Posted by RME on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:30 PM

Here is the thing -- and to me it is a very important thing -- Expressway is operating with different equipment from "Iron Highway", and with a much more carefully evolved operational model.

My original comments on Iron Highway (and, evidently, PDN's current view) involved this equipment:

This is extreme-low-floor equipment articulated over multiple single steered axles, with only partial road decking to give extreme reduction of tare weight, with no intermediate loading plates between cars or units required.  In my opinion you can see a pronounced width reduction giving equipment width only very slightly wider than the track of the van trailer bogies.  You can also see the very long backing length required to load these units 'circus-style' and the special end-unit equipment -- does this make it difficult or impossible to load or unload from that end of a unit?

Expressway, on the other hand, uses five-unit articulated flats, presumably easily 'separable' between the 5-car 'rake' units just as stack-trains can be.  In the video provided you can readily see that different five- or ten-car sets were loaded in opposite circus directions to give the consist we see.  You can also see that, similar to container experience, the apportionment of 'one trailer to a unit' makes much of the loading and securement easier for the yard crews; in my opinion there is much less visible 'wasted space' than between trailers that have been secured to the Iron Highway hitches.

There has been considerable thought given to the expedient operation of the trains in the current lane.  Whether this is due primarily to David Clyne is a question I think PDN should ask ASAP, as someone has thought very carefully about a great many things that optimize TOFC operations in very reasonable ways.  As far as I can tell, sideloading the Expressway flats ought to be reasonably easy, either with Stedman-style equipment or newer types of equipment, even if the visible stressed-skin-beam flatcar rails stick up above the deck by some number of inches that would interfere with forking chassisless containers through their bottom slots.

Also noted is the wide range of trailer types evident in the tight consist we saw in the posted 105-trailer video, showing I think that the 'take rate' is much larger than for historical Iron Highway operations.  That again says to me that someone very astute is in charge of the marketing and promotions, and of the ways that good 'execution' fulfils the expectations of customers who responded to the marketing.

I like it a lot, perhaps even more than greyhounds does!

 

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Posted by schlimm on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 10:41 PM

RME
Also noted is the wide range of trailer types evident in the tight consist we saw in the posted 105-trailer video, showing I think that the 'take rate' is much larger than for historical Iron Highway operations.  That again says to me that someone very astute is in charge of the marketing and promotions, and of the ways that good 'execution' fulfils the expectations of customers who responded to the marketing. I like it a lot, perhaps even more than greyhounds does!

If the technology and marketing hold up, this could be just what the rails need to gain new business to replace declining bulk and unit trains.

C&NW, CA&E, MILW, CGW and IC fan

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Posted by greyhounds on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 7:16 PM

Before this thread goes off into oblivion, I'd like to express my admiration for the people at Canadian Pacific who made this happen.

I'm sure they faced a virtual wall of naysayers.  People who wouldn't even consider an intermodal operation on a lane of only 340 miles.  People who produced bogus cost numbers (it happens) "proving" that the trains would never cover their cost.  People who were just flat out uncomfortable with, and therefore against, change and innovation.  

It's easier (and safer) in the face of such naysayers to just go back to your desk and forget about it.  But some folks at CP had the tenacity (and courage) to get this started.  They were literally putting their careers on the line.

When the original equipment had problems, I'm sure the long knives came out for the back stabbings.  "I told him/her this wouldn't work, but he/she wouldn't listen to me."

But people at CP just fixed the equipment problem and did not abandon the market.  They deserve recognition for that.

So, whoever you are, or were, at Canadian Pacific;  You did a good job. 

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.

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