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Reefers

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Reefers
Posted by greyhounds on Saturday, January 30, 2021 3:24 PM
As many of you probably know, I’m a big advocate of railroads increasing their participation in the movement of temperature-controlled foodstuffs in North America.  It’s huge long-distance market that is now truck dominated.   Much of the diversion of this business from rail to truck was the result of grievously misguided government economic regulation.
 
For example, the interstate truck movement of fresh fruits and vegetables was never subject to economic regulation.  Rail rates were strictly regulated.  It’s not surprising that the trucks took the business.  Killed chicken, now the #1 consumed animal protein, was originally regulated.  But the US Supreme Court ruled it deregulated, for truck movement only, in 1956.  The court reasoned that chicken was an agricultural commodity and if ag commodities moved by truck were not subject to economic regulation then chicken was certainly included.   The railroads were still regulated and largely kissed their chicken business goodbye.
 
The railroads now have a lot of freedom from economic regulation (It never made economic sense.) but they must claw their way back into the market.  They are doing so, but it’s a slow process.  They’ve lost their expertise and infrastructure for moving this freight.  Developing the knowledge and experience required is what is taking the time. 
 
So, the question is:  What equipment is best suited for this freight?   I see three possibilities:  1) double stack refrigerated containers, 2) TOFC trailers and 3) refrigerated boxcars.   Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. 

 

1)      For rail movement, from intermodal terminal to intermodal terminal, double stack cannot be beat.  It’s fantastically efficient and low cost.  It does free up track space in intermodal terminals, something that is critical.  But…  It does incur a weight penalty on the highway portion of the intermodal move.  A container/chassis combination will weigh more than a trailer.  Highway weights are limited.  You can get some of the weight back by using a light-weight day cab tractor.  But you’re still going to lose some payload.  This loss must be compensated for by reducing the terminal-to-terminal rail charge.

 

2)      The TOFC trailer.  Obsolete right?  Not just yet.  TOFC trailers will eliminate any meaningful payload loss.  They’re also a lower investment risk since they can be used in over the road service if intermodal doesn’t work out.   Their disadvantages are:  a) increased train weight, b) increased train length and c) reduced terminal track capacity.

 

3)      The refrigerated boxcar.  Don’t even think of using these in conventional carload service.  Spotting a car at a cooling shed, picking it up with a local, moving it to a yard, putting on a train to another yard, etc., etc., etc. will rarely, if ever, be competitive.  Use them in intermodal service.  Truck the freight to and from central terminals (think of them as intermodal terminals).  Locate such terminals near shippers and receivers to keep drayage costs down.  Get the cars on existing Z trains as soon as possible.  This is a low cost method.  Disadvantages include difficulty in finding return loadings, tons per operative brake issues, the need to switch the cars somewhere en route (maybe more than once), and the need to construct new terminal facilities. 

 
I know, the UP tried option #3 with its RailEx and Cold Connect operations.  They screwed things up by only having one terminal to serve the entire northeast and one terminal to serve the Pacific northwest.  Too much trucking expense.   They also tried to shove the business into a less than daily unit train which couldn’t really work for perishables.
 
Any thoughts?  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"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 Randy Stahl on Saturday, January 30, 2021 3:53 PM

I'm an advocate of recapturing lost market share but the simple fact is the railroads don't want it....

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Posted by jeffhergert on Saturday, January 30, 2021 3:55 PM

I think RailEx was working fine.  The screw up was UP buying it and then getting way from the original premise.  As soon as they had it, cost containment instead of providing service became the focus.

The original separate Z train service, your unit train, was RailEx's idea.  Once UP got hold of it, they first started combining the California and Washington sections when possible.  Then filling out with nonperishable foodstuffs.  Finally, putting reefer blocks into intermodal trains.  Usually the K stack trains seemed to be the ones with reefer blocks. 

Now with PSR, intermodals are either Z or I.  And the I can be filled out with any manifest traffic that needs to move.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Saturday, January 30, 2021 11:39 PM
 

greyhounds
 
 So, the question is:  What equipment is best suited for this freight?   I see three possibilities:  1) double stack refrigerated containers, 2) TOFC trailers and 3) refrigerated boxcars.   Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. 

 

1)      For rail movement, from intermodal terminal to intermodal terminal, double stack cannot be beat.  It’s fantastically efficient and low cost.  It does free up track space in intermodal terminals, something that is critical.  But…  It does incur a weight penalty on the highway portion of the intermodal move.  A container/chassis combination will weigh more than a trailer.  Highway weights are limited.  You can get some of the weight back by using a light-weight day cab tractor.  But you’re still going to lose some payload.  This loss must be compensated for by reducing the terminal-to-terminal rail charge.

 

2)      The TOFC trailer.  Obsolete right?  Not just yet.  TOFC trailers will eliminate any meaningful payload loss.  They’re also a lower investment risk since they can be used in over the road service if intermodal doesn’t work out.   Their disadvantages are:  a) increased train weight, b) increased train length and c) reduced terminal track capacity.

 

3)      The refrigerated boxcar.  Don’t even think of using these in conventional carload service.  Spotting a car at a cooling shed, picking it up with a local, moving it to a yard, putting on a train to another yard, etc., etc., etc. will rarely, if ever, be competitive.  Use them in intermodal service.  Truck the freight to and from central terminals (think of them as intermodal terminals).  Locate such terminals near shippers and receivers to keep drayage costs down.  Get the cars on existing Z trains as soon as possible.  This is a low cost method.  Disadvantages include difficulty in finding return loadings, tons per operative brake issues, the need to switch the cars somewhere en route (maybe more than once), and the need to construct new terminal facilities. 

 
Any thoughts?  
 

 
A combination of the three is the best fit in my opinion.. Reefers would be best geared toward heavy perishable items such as; Seafood, wines, melons, pears, apples, butternut squashes.. just to name a few. Containers would be a good match for hauling frozen foods. Trailers would only be used for perishables with very short shelf life like; berries, peaches, grapes, avocadoes, and dairy products.
 
Ideal use would be to assign the three based on shelf life and weight of the product. Perhaps the railroads need to develop "cold parks" that can load COFC/TOFC, and Reefers within their own IM ramps. Logistics Parks already contain cold supply chain. Why not expand the concept in some form to IM ramps.
 
Now for the reefers backhaul... Get some talent to develop a market for the backhaul of recyclable product be it; cardboard, paper, or even plastic. E-commerce is driving paper production backup, and the paper industry loves boxcars!
 
 
 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by greyhounds on Monday, February 1, 2021 2:50 PM

SD60MAC9500
A combination of the three is the best fit in my opinion.. Reefers would be best geared toward heavy perishable items such as; Seafood, wines, melons, pears, apples, butternut squashes.. just to name a few. Containers would be a good match for hauling frozen foods. Trailers would only be used for perishables with very short shelf life like; berries, peaches, grapes, avocadoes, and dairy products.   Ideal use would be to assign the three based on shelf life and weight of the product. Perhaps the railroads need to develop "cold parks" that can load COFC/TOFC, and Reefers within their own IM ramps. Logistics Parks already contain cold supply chain. Why not expand the concept in some form to IM ramps.  

I really like your "Cold Park" concept.  But I wouldn't assign equipment.  I'd let the customers choose.

Of course, their choice will be greatly influenced by the railroad's pricing policy.

"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 MP173 on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 3:55 PM

Regarding the UP-CSX moves which previously went by unit train, coincidentially just last night I discussed these moves with a former CSX engineer who handled the westbound movements several times and his recollection was the westbounds moves were nearly 100% empties.  He recalled one move had 3 loads, but for the most part - empties.

 

How much would that play into UP dropping the service?  Long empty move.

 

I think you could experience the same issues with TOFC.  But, anything to make the chicken moves to Popeyes any easier or cheaper is fine with me.  That is excellent chicken.  Had a four piece recently (3 meals).  Still have a little left.

 

Ed

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 6:38 PM

When they ran the salad shooters, it was at RailEx's behest.  It was after UP acquired RailEx that it started carrying other nonperishable foodstuffs and eventually the reefer traffic disappeared into intermodal trains.  I would guess the cost of the empty moves back would've been built into the rate RailEx paid.

There's still a lot of reefers moving east to various points.  I imagine most return empty has well.  The difference is they now move in the manifest network.  RailEx may have been willing to pay to ensure a steady supply of cars.  UP, not so much especially during the prePSR program to cut the operating ratio called G-55+0.  

I remember seeing once that one of the westbound salad shooters showed a load.  I looked it up out of curiosity.  Frozen fish.  I wouldn't say all the westbound loads were that, but I did see that a time or two when they showed having a load.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 8:18 PM

But Ed, they dropped dirty rice!!

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 10:59 PM
 

greyhounds

 

But I wouldn't assign equipment.  I'd let the customers choose.

Of course, their choice will be greatly influenced by the railroad's pricing policy.

 

Agree on the customers choosing the best box for their movement. Maybe reefers can take back some more market share with this securment system below..

Here's a presentation, and video below for Watco services in moving perishables from the PNW

The tools exist for a healthy efficient perishable market on rails. Perhaps it's time to let shortlines become the 3PL's for the nations carload network. The C1's can handle the line haul they covet so much.

 

 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by tdmidget on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 11:09 PM

SD60MAC9500

That's perfect!!!! YES!! Let's put evrything on rollers so that it can slam back and forth with every velocity change of the train!!! What a concept. Haul it once, NEVER again!!!

 

 

 

 
greyhounds

 

But I wouldn't assign equipment.  I'd let the customers choose.

Of course, their choice will be greatly influenced by the railroad's pricing policy.

 

 

 

Agree on the customers choosing the best box for their movement. Maybe reefers can take back some more market share with this securment system below..

Here's a presentation, and video below for Watco services in moving perishables from the PNW

The tools exist for a healthy efficient perishable market on rails. Perhaps it's time to let shortlines become the 3PL's for the nations carload network. The C1's can handle the line haul they covet so much.

 

 
 
 

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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 12:29 PM

tdmidget
That's perfect!!!! YES!! Let's put evrything on rollers so that it can slam back and forth with every velocity change of the train!!! What a concept. Haul it once, NEVER again!!!  

 

Your posts always bring a much-needed perspective to the threads you contribute to. You've been away far too long. Star

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Posted by greyhounds on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 4:00 PM

Convicted One
tdmidget That's perfect!!!! YES!! Let's put evrything on rollers so that it can slam back and forth with every velocity change of the train!!! What a concept. Haul it once, NEVER again!!!     Your posts always bring a much-needed perspective to the threads you contribute to. You've been away far too long. 

Just so we're all on the same page, load securement systems in boxcars have been common for decades.  I'm sure they've got a way to hold the racks and pallets in place.

"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 spsffan on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 4:48 PM
With all the states legalizing weed, we could have reefers hauling reefer!
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Posted by Backshop on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 7:32 PM

spsffan
With all the states legalizing weed, we could have reefers hauling reefer!
 

That would giving new meaning to the old phrase "chill out"...

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Posted by ericsp on Thursday, February 4, 2021 12:17 AM

greyhounds
 
SD60MAC9500
A combination of the three is the best fit in my opinion.. Reefers would be best geared toward heavy perishable items such as; Seafood, wines, melons, pears, apples, butternut squashes.. just to name a few. Containers would be a good match for hauling frozen foods. Trailers would only be used for perishables with very short shelf life like; berries, peaches, grapes, avocadoes, and dairy products.   Ideal use would be to assign the three based on shelf life and weight of the product. Perhaps the railroads need to develop "cold parks" that can load COFC/TOFC, and Reefers within their own IM ramps. Logistics Parks already contain cold supply chain. Why not expand the concept in some form to IM ramps.  

I really like your "Cold Park" concept.  But I wouldn't assign equipment.  I'd let the customers choose.

Of course, their choice will be greatly influenced by the railroad's pricing policy.

Except railroads seem to want to minimize the amount of intermodal terminals. UP and BNSF have closed all of their central and northern California intermodal terminals except 2 and 1 respectively. I have been told UP's Oakland terminal handles international container exclusively.

"No soup for you!" - Yev Kassem (from Seinfeld)

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Thursday, February 4, 2021 8:48 AM
 

ericsp

 

 

They want to eliminate low margin traffic. Shortline companies which do well with local traffic. Might just provide a way for low margin IM traffic to return to the rails. Just two examples for instance. WATCO and GW could build a network of small IM ramps in partnership with somebody like Centerpoint. Such partnerships can lead to better volume growth than the C1's can provide at the moment.

 
 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, February 4, 2021 10:15 AM

Sounds like a good idea on paper but the interchange issue doesn't get addressed.  Unless the shortline can get restricted trackage rights to an IM hub, the cars are being interchanged at a point located halfway to nowhere which can kill the transit time.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Thursday, February 4, 2021 11:31 AM

greyhounds

 

 
Convicted One
tdmidget That's perfect!!!! YES!! Let's put evrything on rollers so that it can slam back and forth with every velocity change of the train!!! What a concept. Haul it once, NEVER again!!!     Your posts always bring a much-needed perspective to the threads you contribute to. You've been away far too long. 

 

Just so we're all on the same page, load securement systems in boxcars have been common for decades.  I'm sure they've got a way to hold the racks and pallets in place.

 

Plus it isn't like air freighters haven't already solved the problem.  Their routine operation has acceleration and deceleration far in excess of the normal operating envelope of a train, combined with steeper operational angles.  When all of the cargo boxes slide to the back of the plane, it doesn't damage the cargo: you lose the aircraft and crew.

Just crib what they're doing.

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Posted by BostonTrainGuy on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 8:24 AM

Those loading system videos are great.  I remember seeing a video on the Chelsea produce center in Massachusetts.  The trucks were being easily and quickly unloaded by forklifts utilizing pallets.  The railcars were stuffed floor to ceiling with boxes containing potatoes.  They had to be loaded and unloaded by hand box by box.  No wonder the rails can't compete.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 1:59 PM

What was/is RailEx?

(When I Google I find a company that makes conveyor equipment for the garment industry.)

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 2:05 PM

Lithonia Operator
What was/is RailEx?

Was.  Dedicated reefer service between the west coast and Schenectady, NY.  Unit trains ran from CA and PNW to the east.  UP bought them out.  You still see the reefers, but not in solid blocks.

 

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 3:48 PM

By dedicated do you mean that the empties were sent directly back on the route used eastbound? (Well, I guess you'd try to get loads for any that you could. I have no idea how much perishable food travels from the NE to the west coast.)

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 5:03 PM

Lithonia Operator

By dedicated do you mean that the empties were sent directly back on the route used eastbound? (Well, I guess you'd try to get loads for any that you could. I have no idea how much perishable food travels from the NE to the west coast.)

AFAIK, they're sent back empty.  I'll gladly stand corrected.

Not reefers, but the "Coke Express" cars through Deshler go west loaded and east empty.  The same principle is true for all of the coal and coke trains, not to mention the potash trains out of Florida.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 7:56 PM

Thanks, Larry.

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Posted by greyhounds on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 10:37 PM

Lithonia Operator
I have no idea how much perishable food travels from the NE to the west coast.

You could assume "None" and you wouldn't be very far off.  Maybe some frozen shellfish?

But don't limit the possible westbound loads to perishables.  Grab anything you can get.  (OK, toxic waste in a reefer is a bad idea.)  A reefer can well handle dry freight.  The refrigeration is needed for the eastbound load.  It may, or may not, be needed for the westbound load.  

For example, Campbell's has its largest production facility in Napoleon, OH.  Some of that V8 Juice and soup goes out west.  Get it.  Tell your sales/marketing people that they better have a damn good excuse if one truckload of that plant's output goes over the road to the west coast.  Tell your operating people that they best not loose business by failing to make a switch, or any other such failure that wasn't caused by an Act of God or a safety concern.  And, with great importance, tell your cost accounting people that it's the marginal costs that count.  If they show up with average costs have them escorted off the property.

Get every damn case of Jameson Irish Whiskey, every case of Heineken beer, every case of French wine, and everything else coming in from Europe and going "Out West."

Do not loose to a trucker on price on a long haul move!

"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 zugmann on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 10:48 PM

Are there enough reefers to be sidetracking them to load them up and use them to deliver non-reefer needed items without screwing the people that need reefers?

Plus some of those reefers are huge.  May not fit in some places.  

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 8:55 AM

To get to the morbid side...if reefers are surplus

Use them to store Covid bodies pending mortuaries being able to provide the proper rights of burial or cremation in cities where their infrastructure for such is being overtaxed.

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Posted by greyhounds on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 1:36 PM

zugmann
Are there enough reefers to be sidetracking them to load them up and use them to deliver non-reefer needed items without screwing the people that need reefers?

There will be enough refrigerated rail equipment (trailers/containers/rail cars) to meet the demand.  Unless the government gets involved and screws things up.  The supply of reefer equipment is not fixed.  We're talking about growing railroad reefer traffic so more equipment will be needed.  It can be acquired.

Supply and demand will balance and clear the market absent government interferance.  

Some folks may chime in and say this won't work with health care.  OK, I don't know enough about health care to comment on that.  What I do know is that we're not talking about health care.  

Transportation is an economic activity and the market will allocate resources as needed just fine.  There will be occasional problems with capacity mismatch.  But these will be temporary and be worked out.

 

"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 greyhounds on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 1:48 PM

BaltACD
To get to the morbid side...if reefers are surplus Use them to store Covid bodies pending mortuaries being able to provide the proper rights of burial or cremation in cities where their infrastructure for such is being overtaxed.

Something like that did happen about 25 years ago in Chicago.  We can go though tough winter weather here and loose around 3-4 people to weather realted deaths.  

25 or so years ago it got real hot, over 100, for days on end.  People died like flies. The mayor reached out to a buddy of his who ran a local trucking company with reefers.  10 reefer trailers were sent to hold bodies that could not be accomodated in the morgue.

The public reaction was strong.  People didn't want to eat food carried in a trailer that had been used to store human remains.  The trucking company wound up donating the trailers to the city.

"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 zugmann on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 3:02 PM

greyhounds
Transportation is an economic activity and the market will allocate resources as needed just fine.  There will be occasional problems with capacity mismatch.  But these will be temporary and be worked out.

What's the cost to build a reefer vs. a regular boxcar?

 

Sounds like we are going to end up building a fleet of reefers that are never used for reefer purposes. 

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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