Auto Train review from Motor Week perspective

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 11:19 AM

n012944
 
charlie hebdo 
n012944 
charlie hebdo

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut.  

Again, running the train father north would require to have Amtrak have at least 3 sets of equipment to cover the schedule vs the 2 sets the current train needs.  Assuming the train would be the same size as the current train, that is an extra 150 cars for 3 sets of equipment.  Would Amtrak be able to charge enough of a premium on a New York train to cover that cost?  I doubt it. 

Not a northern section joining in Lorton but two separate trains.   

I understand that.  The current schedule for the Lorton train permits 7 hours on either end to turn the equipment.  Amtrak can turn the equipment in that time, so the inbound equipment can be used for the outbound.  Only two sets of equipment are needed to maintain the current schedule.  To operate farther north would take longer, around 4 hours added each way.  That would give Amtrak only 3 hours on either end to turn the equipment, which I don't think is possible. Therefore in order to maintain the schedule, at least one extra set of equipment would have to be maintained to provide on time service.  That would raise the cost quite a bit.   

Furthermore using single level auto racks cuts the auto hauling capacity by 2/3rd.  On a train that is limited by rule to 50 cars, that would be a huge cut in revenue. 

The current Auto Train makes money because it has decent asset utilization, lowering costs.  I don't think Amtrak can charge enough of a premium on a northern train, to offset the increase cost of the additional equipment required to meet the schedule, along with the decrease in revenue from hauling less people.

One drawback of running only two sets of equipment on Auto Train - if a set gets seriously delayed - four hours or more.  Future departures of that set of equipment will continue to originate late until that set of equipment can be run, serviced and turned to be ready for On Time departures again.  The other option, and it has been used, is to cancel a trip for BOTH sides of the operation so a On Time starting point can be generated for both sets of equipment.  Neither option benefits Amtrak's customer service image.

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Posted by n012944 on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 10:43 AM

charlie hebdo

 

 
n012944

 

 
charlie hebdo

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut. 

 

 

 

 

Again, running the train father north would require to have Amtrak have at least 3 sets of equipment to cover the schedule vs the 2 sets the current train needs.  Assuming the train would be the same size as the current train, that is an extra 150 cars for 3 sets of equipment.  Would Amtrak be able to charge enough of a premium on a New York train to cover that cost?  I doubt it.

 

 

 

Not a northern section joining in Lorton but two separate trains.  

 

I understand that.  The current schedule for the Lorton train permits 7 hours on either end to turn the equipment.  Amtrak can turn the equipment in that time, so the inbound equipment can be used for the outbound.  Only two sets of equipment are needed to maintain the current schedule.  To operate farther north would take longer, around 4 hours added each way.  That would give Amtrak only 3 hours on either end to turn the equipment, which I don't think is possible. Therefore in order to maintain the schedule, at least one extra set of equipment would have to be maintained to provide on time service.  That would raise the cost quite a bit.  

 

Furthermore using single level auto racks cuts the auto hauling capacity by 2/3rd.  On a train that is limited by rule to 50 cars, that would be a huge cut in revenue.

 

The current Auto Train makes money because it has decent asset utilization, lowering costs.  I don't think Amtrak can charge enough of a premium on a northern train, to offset the increase cost of the additional equipment required to meet the schedule, along with the decrease in revenue from hauling less people.

 

 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 9:29 AM

n012944

 

 
charlie hebdo

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut. 

 

 

 

 

Again, running the train father north would require to have Amtrak have at least 3 sets of equipment to cover the schedule vs the 2 sets the current train needs.  Assuming the train would be the same size as the current train, that is an extra 150 cars for 3 sets of equipment.  Would Amtrak be able to charge enough of a premium on a New York train to cover that cost?  I doubt it.

 

Not a northern section joining in Lorton but two separate trains.  Once western LD routes are trimmed,  there will be surplus equipment throughout the system.  Additional single level cars will be freed up when the Midwestern consortium equipment is available for those state routes.

Change is coming,  meaning Amtrak should focus on building on its successes,  not its dismal money pits. 

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Posted by n012944 on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 9:12 AM

charlie hebdo

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut. 

 

 

Again, running the train father north would require to have Amtrak have at least 3 sets of equipment to cover the schedule vs the 2 sets the current train needs.  Assuming the train would be the same size as the current train, that is an extra 150 cars for 3 sets of equipment.  Would Amtrak be able to charge enough of a premium on a New York train to cover that cost?  I doubt it.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 8:57 AM

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut. 

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 8:51 PM

Jim200
After offloading, should the train wait for a 6:00 PM departure with 10:00 PM arrival back in New York City? Also should there be a second train which leaves Lorton about 11:00 AM with arrival in New York at 3:00 PM, followed by a departure at 6:00 PM and back to Lorton at 10:00 PM? Maybe you should start with one train and if the demand is great enough, then start a second train.

The planning I did presupposed that efficient equipment utilization (most significantly minimizing the number of cars required to run the service and the time required to 'man' the means used for switching and staging) would be more significant than either travel time of the 'bridge' section or convenient timing at the New York end.  That would imply 'connections' within a convenient window of time with the scheduling of the 'prime' train between Lorton and Sanford, and delaying the connecting train 'outbound' for the arrival of the northbound, whether or not this would complicate turnaround and return timing.

Remember that the alternative for drivers who don't like the timing is the default case of driving between their homes and Lorton or vice versa; there's no reason they have to patronize the extension 'both ways'.

If (when might not be too strong a word) the demand fully develops for a New York/suburban Virginia automobile ferry or bridge, you could calculate the cost of multiple trains on days that demand warrants, but there's going to be a temptation to run one train 'long' each way rather than pay all the costs to run two shorter ones, either of which might be 'well' below capacity on a particular day, unless better equipment balancing can be achieved that way.

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Posted by Jim200 on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 4:43 PM

Previously I wrote about a northeast corridor bilevel autorack that would take cars with 60" height on the lower level, and SUVs and pickup trucks with 81" height on the upper level, with 4" extra. Further investigation shows that all common pickup trucks, including 400+ hp heavy duty diesel duallys, even those 10 years old, are under 81" height. Therefore, it would be better to add the 4" to the lower level so that it could take taller cars with 64" height, which would now include the Nissan Leaf and Kia Niro electric cars, among others.

There could be a case for a few single level autoracks to handle oversized vehicles, vans, boats, trailers, and stretch limousines, but the charge would need to be near double. 

Although there have been several suggestions on where to locate the New York City autorack terminal, the one that caught my attention on google maps was Amtrak's Durant Yard in north Elizabeth, NJ. It is near to the Newark Airport and I-95, but there doesn't seem to be any information on what looks to be a big open space.

It would appear that it will take about 4 hours to reach Lorton, VA, which means a schedule of about 9:00 AM for leaving New York and about 1:00 PM arrival in Lorton. After offloading, should the train wait for a 6:00 PM departure with 10:00 PM arrival back in New York City? Also should there be a second train which leaves Lorton about 11:00 AM with arrival in New York at 3:00 PM, followed by a departure at 6:00 PM and back to Lorton at 10:00 PM? Maybe you should start with one train and if the demand is great enough, then start a second train.

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Posted by Jim200 on Thursday, December 12, 2019 4:53 PM

It wouldn't take much to put a northern entry into Lorton, but probably the classification tracks for unloading the vehicles would need expansion, something a little planning could sort out.

As to using single level autoracks; it works, but it is not the most efficient and is operationally more costly. If train #1 has 30 single level autoracks, then you are moving 150 autos. If train #2 has 30 bilevel autoracks, then you are moving 300 autos. Thus, train #1 needs 60 single level autoracks to do the same job, and might have to run as two trains using more locomotives, rail cars, and personnel. Since train #1 needs twice as many autoracks, the upfront costs are also higher, nearly double.

The autorack starts out as a flat car weighing about 38 ton, to which a rack is added, which now weighs about 50 - 55 ton empty. You need to move and stop all of this dead weight, which wears out wheels, brakes and roadbed. With 60 autoracks, the locomotives on train #1 are burning more fuel.

These days, most of the autoracks are bilevel or trilevel, which are even more efficient. The trilevel, however,  can not take most SUVs and pickup trucks, There is an autorack which can convert from trilevel to bilevel and back, but it takes a few hours, and is probably only useful to  the auto industry.

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Posted by Dmac844 on Thursday, December 12, 2019 4:43 PM

Interestingly when Auto Train was first started (as a private company) in 1971 the idea was that people would want to drive toward their destination for a while before hopping on the Auto-Train regardless of where they lived, thus the Lorton terminal was born. But of course traffic congestion is far worse now than it ever was in the 1970s, if Auto-Train was a brand-new concept now perhaps a terminal farther north would be the option taken, assuming a route that has the proper clerances could be worked out.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, December 12, 2019 1:54 PM

There are always insurmountable obstacles in archaic institutions. No wonder someone had to try PSR for all its faults (could some be sabotage in the original Luddite sense of the term?) to shake out the deadwood. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, December 12, 2019 1:46 PM

charlie hebdo
 Why on earth should combining the northern section with an already-loaded, ready-to-go Lorton section take hours? 

It would be a split pickup where combined and a split setoff where separated.  Passenger cars with passenger cars and autoracks with autoracks.

Such pickups and setoffs are not simple procedures, require more than a single crew and will require the entire train to receive at Class 1 Brake Test at the combining point before departure.  Wherever the combination takes place there will need to be a track arrangement that will facilitate such a operation - that track arrangement does not exist at Lorton at present.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, December 12, 2019 12:09 PM

Overmod: I was referring to now or the future for an east coast auto train,  not some historical what-if.

If single deck auto carriers work fine on some auto-train-type routes in Europe,  why not here?  Why on earth should combining the northern section with an already-loaded, ready-to-go Lorton section take hours? 

 

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Thursday, December 12, 2019 12:02 PM

a big "IF"  Once the new Gateway tunels are built and the new east river tunnels get built  (2050?) then maybe 2 car height auto carriers could (?) fit through .  That is if all other clearance problems are solved such as Newark station clearances.  

Anyway then maybe you could have a auto train terminal somewhere east of New Yrok City ?

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 12, 2019 10:26 AM

BaltACD
Correct - and those medical emergencies, had they happened while the individuals were driving on I-95, would likely have ended in some form of automobile incident.

But not been at least potentially (given deep-pockets legislation) with financial consequences now Auto-Train's or Amtraks, and the individual accidents, no matter how severe, wouldn't have impaired the trip of everybody else on the train.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 12, 2019 10:24 AM

n012944
 Extending the train farther north would require at least one extra set of equipment to make the longer schedule work.  Would Amtrak be able to command enough of a higher ticket price with the new location over what it charges now to cover the increased cost of the extra equipment?  I doubt it.

Personally, I agree with you, and that is why my proposed alternatives all involve 'feeder' service, with the racks being staged and switched as cheaply as possible (perhaps with more of the proprietary purple-trucked Baldwins back in the day, or as I noted with ex-PRR trackmobile equivalents sourced from Jersey City or Baltimore).  The scheduling uncertainties represented in any likely route the Auto-Train Company could get performance guarantees on, alone, would make scheduling the 'whole enchilada' the whole way near-impossible, let alone the necessity of providing multiple trainsets to keep the 'sailings' from both origins to Florida workable on a daily basis.

It would be nice to shoot the Auto-Train north from Ivy City on the blocks of something like my Rainbow Train, taking full advantage of the progressive rebuildings of the Northeast Corridor, but those wouldn't provide you either a sensible 'gathering point' somewhere, likely, in Connecticut or Rhode Island accessible to 95 or perhaps 15, or any kind of practical fast loading of cars once you got the train there.  (The Rainbow Train hinged in no small part on the existence of at least the perception of effective methods to parallel-transload a full train's worth of containers in no more than about three minutes; admittedly there were more programmed stops enroute but you'd never do that with automobiles even if you had Cadillac-style modules to park them and then 'dun them in' carefully enough.  (Watch a few of the clips and you'll figure out why Cadillac dropped that clever approach to loading! Surprise)

In the early Seventies, any practical alternative to the Northeast east of a line following the course of the Hudson involved either a restoration of service on the Poughkeepsie Bridge or some connection via the Castleton Cutoff to get across the Hudson.  Dave Klepper could now weigh in on what the likeliest 'regional access places' accessible to either of these routes might be.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 12, 2019 10:15 AM

charlie hebdo
Start a section from the NY or Boston area using single-level carriers.

I thouroughly agree that the northern extension would be just that, a 'feeder' to the Auto-Train.  The problems (at least in historical context) involve that tunnel or cat restrictions (what is the overhead clearance from Edgemoor, say, through the Baltimore tunnels?) but much more importantly the nature of the Auto-Train company itself.

There was, and is, no particular freight market for single-level enclosed automobile carriers, just as there wasn't for monolevel car carriers in the era when bilevels went to trilevels where clearances permitted.  As far as I know, no one here ever seriously costed out a train-ferry service using HPIT or Iron Highway, or involving more than slow speed or perceived necessity (as in the tunnel in Alaska).  Even if they had, the capital cost of 'buying the equipment new' and then negotiating the likely teething troubles and insurance costs of untried technology wouldn't have been practical unless the revenue from sales was truly staggering.  (There are some approaches to get around this, but none are particularly intimate with classical Western notions of "integrity"....)

If you look through the story Vince linked (probably from Mike originally) you can see how little Auto-Train was willing to pay for the cars it needed.  He needed to go to Canada to find any in the first place, and one at least wonders how he was able to secure the necessary cars 'from Canada' so cheap -- or how much the net cost to retruck them (if I remember correctly, with trucks from passenger cars retired in or after the runup to Amtrak Day) cut into available acquisition capital or credit.

One also wonders how much of the reason for the original Auto-Train going belly-up after the wrecks might have been associated with relative inability, in that era, to find replacement cars that would have been 'cheap enough' to make the trick work.

I thought, therefore, that any route to a northern 'gathering point' would have to involve at least double-level cars.  And here comes the kicking technical issue: how do you find passenger trucks with the necessary 'low profile', or adapt them to have it, to allow the double-height carriers to ride at proper clearance height?  Many modern cars use smaller wheelsets, and perhaps dished bolsters, to get the absolute ride height as low as possible; at least one of the European train ferries (admittedly with grossly smaller restricted hard clearances, but with generally smaller cars) went as small as 16" in multiple-axle truck structure.   

Not that there's anything really 'wrong' with taking a few extra hours in the trip between our passenger Thule on the north end and the connection at Lorton.  As with the CZ, a combination of 'cruise-train' amenities (or the perception of them) and relatively nice, smooth riding is likely to be more significant than Johnson-era high-speed mass transit type performance.  The issue is that pre-Staggers there weren't too many parallel routes of practical length that could provide that reliably (Bednars and others are wholly free to dispute this!)  I'd have to at least think that ROW and dispatching capable of running, say, Apollos or Alpha-Jets could accommodate a modern mixed with nominally better truck stability...

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, December 12, 2019 9:35 AM

Overmod

 

 
243129
 
CSSHEGEWISCH
 
Envision living in Baltimore and having to drive to North Jersey to catch the Auto Train to Florida and you'll understand the point.

 

 

That's  obviously the idea, except keep it a strictly FL train.  Start a section from the NY or Boston area using single-level carriers.  Run it to Lorton, where the already-loaded, double-deck carriers and passenger cars are added. Reverse the process southbound.  If the demand is great enough,  run as two separate trains. 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 12, 2019 9:25 AM

243129
 
CSSHEGEWISCH
 
Envision living in Baltimore and having to drive to North Jersey to catch the Auto Train to Florida and you'll understand the point.

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Posted by 243129 on Thursday, December 12, 2019 7:45 AM

CSSHEGEWISCH
Envision living in Baltimore and having to drive to North Jersey to catch the Auto Train to Florida and you'll understand the point.

Imagine driving from Boston to Lorton, the most congested, tedious and expensive part of the trip.

The drive from the D.C. area south is the easiest and cheapest part

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, December 12, 2019 7:15 AM

JGK suggested that Lorton may have been chosen since it gave the passengers the illusion that they were headed to Florida when they left home to drive to the terminal.  Envision living in Baltimore and having to drive to North Jersey to catch the Auto Train to Florida and you'll understand the point.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 12, 2019 3:40 AM

Jim200
Trinity Railcar, who makes autoracks, did a study and found that 45.6% of cars and trucks are less than 60" in height (in 2008).

I wouldn't use that as data any more.  Tendency is increasingly toward 'crossovers' and smaller SUVs, to the point that some automakers aren't even offering sedans at all domestically.  A study taken today might not reflect that low an average height.

Motor Trend magazine shows that 2020 pickup trucks and SUVs are less than 81" in height, although we should remember that older trucks could be higher. 

Thing is, they're making specialty models that are 'pre-jacked-up' to have more appeal.  I rented a half-ton Ram from Budget that, as delivered to a rental company, wouldn't fit through our parking garage door portal.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 10:06 PM

They have a bunch of new baggage cars and diners that are just sitting around right now....

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 9:37 PM

Is there such a thing as single level auto carrier that's covered and protected from rock throwers and thieves?  If you have to build them new then that's a huge disadvantage. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 8:47 PM

charlie hebdo
Are you saying that CSX has a limit of only 64 cars on freights? 

Single level racks, even if requiring a second section, are cheaper than raising the  vertical clearances,  obviously.

The limits for Auto-Train only apply to Auto-Train.  Auto-Train uses passenger train brake schedule that allows for a partial brake release.  Freight train brake release is a full release only.  

Before CSX established their limits they were having braking issues with trains that were longer than the limits that were set.

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Posted by 243129 on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 6:53 PM

charlie hebdo

 

 
243129

 

 
charlie hebdo

Why not just have single deckers?  Loading and unloading would be faster. 

 

 

 

Best idea so far! No clearance issues.Yes

 

 

 

I'm sure someone will find it flawed. 

 

A more northern locale such as the confluence of Interstates would become available

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 6:52 PM

It's not so much a length limit on the train itself, it's how much space is available in a dedicated terminal for that particular train.  

Again, I'd be surprised if single-level carrier cars weren't considered back in 1971, and then rejected for various reasons that made sense at the time.

Sometimes there just aren't any perfect solutions, just compromises.

Still, in my humble (and inconsequential opinion) I'd have tried any solution to get that train as close to the major market for its services as possible. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 5:49 PM

Are you saying that CSX has a limit of only 64 cars on freights? 

Single level racks, even if requiring a second section, are cheaper than raising the  vertical clearances,  obviously.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 4:21 PM

243129
 
charlie hebdo

Why not just have single deckers?  Loading and unloading would be faster.  

Best idea so far! No clearance issues.Yes

Would require the terminal to have twice as much track space to handle single level 'racks' and would also create a much longer train for whatever the passenger/vehicle load would be.

Last time I looked at Auto-Train past one of CSX's Car ID scanners I believe there were 14 passenger cars and 25 auto carriers.  As I recall, when I checked WAS NOT peak snowbird season in either direction; snowbirds would max out the CSX limited train length.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 4:16 PM

243129

 

 
charlie hebdo

Why not just have single deckers?  Loading and unloading would be faster. 

 

 

 

Best idea so far! No clearance issues.Yes

 

I'm sure someone will find it flawed. 

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