Flatbed Trailer Intermodal Service - Have you seen it?

On a recent Amtrak trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, I noticed one or two flatbed trailers on intermodal railcars.  I saw them about 10 - 20 miles west of LAUPT on BNSF.  I was not aware that anyone was using flatbeds in intermodal service.  Does anyone have information about this?  Was this experimental or are they moving regularly now?  Are the trailers specialized for bottom-lifting?  I am a railcar and flatbed truck shipper and this could open up opportunities, especially with the proposed NS Crescent Corridor intermodal facility in the Knoxville area.  Any insight you could provide will be appreciated.

  • KnoxvilleShipper,

    The big issue with flatbed intermodal shipments is load securement.  It is critical the load be absolutely secure, and in many cases highway flatbeds do not have bulkheads.  Many railroads require a bulkhead on the trailer in the direction of the trains travel so that in a quick stop, the load does not shift.  This requirement also requires careful attention to loading at the terminal to make sure the trailer faces the correct direction on the train.  Did you see empty trailers or loaded trailers?  Empty trailers, of course, don't have these restrictions.

    That said, don't hesitate to contact the railroad.  Railroads are hungry for business.  See what they have to say.

  • The Florida East Coast Railway has TOFC flatbeds which they operate on the NS and their railroad.  The Union Pacific had 150 48-ft. flatracks which they operated as their FlatTainer service though exited the business in 1997.  Those containers are now owned by Sunbury in New Brunswick, Canada and are operated on the CN to and from Toronto.  The BNSF evidently has a customer who wants their flatbeds moved TOFC though does not own or provide flatbed trailers to their customers.  You can lease 40 and 45-ft. flatracks for COFC movements from container lessors such as GESeaco.

  • Did the flatbed have rail wheels on it?  Was it orange and similar to a flatrack but appeared to be flatbed?

  • I get asked this question quite often, if you can put loaded or empty OTR flatbed trailers onto railroad flatcars.

    My response is: No, there is no service from railroad intermodal terminal to railroad intermodal terminal because there is no way for the overhead or side loaders to pickup an OTR flatbed.

    However you can ship OTR flatbed trailers on flatcars if your request a flatcar to be spotted at a siding where a transloader/warehouse can run the flatbed up a ramp onto the flatcar or use a forklift or overhead crane to put the flatbed up onto the flatcar.  This is not typical intermodal service and runs on railcar pricing.

    Maybe this explains seeing the OTR flatbeds on railroad flatcars.  If anyone out there knows of trucking companies who regularly put OTR flatbeds on trains, please let me know so I can refer these shipper requests to the those trucking companies. I can also add a category to the LoadMatch Directory  www.loadmatch.com/directory/search.cfm

  • Lift machines with arms can pick up flat bed trailers.  Bobcat used to do this in the Midwest.

    Issue is proper lift pads on the flatbeds, the bulkhead issue that Jason mentioned, or customers loading the lading in overhanging position preventing lift machines from getting properly under the lift points.

    Rail wheels have been shipped this way.

    Again as Jason stated the flatbed requires bulkhead on kingpin end of unit to prevent shifting forward.  Facilities have to load these in direction the train is moving.

    JB Hunt is beginning to repo chassis on "chassis" racks that can appear to be flatbed looking.  The unit sits on their chassis then they can load 3-4 chassis in the shipping unit to save $.  Also saves on railcar equipment as well.

  • Shipping flatbeds via rail is not new and as noted in some of the other commentary, it is really a matter of cargo tie-down on the flatbeds that is the big issue.

    Years ago I worked for a company that shipped about 50 to 75 flatbed loads of coil steel a week from Chicago to the Twin Cities on the Milwaukee Road "slingshot" trains.  It was a matter of economy, nothing more.

    The final issue is one of pricing.  RARELY will railroads allow you to ship intermodally unless there is some SERIOUS volume attached to the move.   Even then, the railroads will not necessarily deal with you but rather some 3PL who has a volume contract with the railroad and frankly, pays the railroad on time.    In today's market, most railroads just send a demand invoice to a bank account number of the 3PL and get their money almost instantly.  The railroads don't want to "play around" waiting for your money.  

    One serious issue to watch for......railroads will send carmen to inspect loads.   You have to remember that these guys are there to protect the railroad....NOT YOU.   Work out a CLEAR AND ACCEPTED tie down procedure between yourself and the railroad - DOCUMENTED AS ACCEPTABLE BY BOTH PARTIES.   Once this is done, you can have your own folks, the trucking company and the railroad just "review" the final tiedowns when shipped.    

  • If you are interested in moving flatbeds on the rail I will work with you. I have done this for other shippers.

    Send me an email at:dheis@interdompartners.com

  • Several items - tie downs are critical and not always capable or resisting the movement forces of rail shipping.  Also center of gravity can be an issue as most flatbed freight is heavy in many cases the distances that flatbed freight moves does lend itself to intermodal - 700 miles or less.  Also, many users of flatbed trucks are not located close to ramps and dray costs erode any potential savings.

  • You may want to take a look at a company called RailMate for your shipping.  Information can be found at www.railmate.com

  • In regards to loading of flatbed trailers with lifting machines, AAR Specification M-931 (Trailers for Intermodal Service) has specifications for flatbed trailers that incorporate lifting pads and a front bulkhead.

    Section 7 of the AAR's Open Top Loading Rules covers loading requirements for flatbed trailers and flat rack containers.

  • Railroads (some)will move flatbed's in intermodal service under "one time" deals to allow shippers getting the equipment from a mfg that may be located at great distances and not econimocal to truck to a location.

  • There are very few railroads that are moving this type of equipment.  However, the one I work with moves from intermodal terminal to intermodal terminal.  If you want information on how we do it I can help with it, but we are in Alaska so I probably can't help you with lower 48 movement information.

  • I'm responding to your siting of a flatbed on the rail.   your posting is quite old and I am new to the community.  Up until 2012 they didn't exist.  Now there is a 53' aluminum flatbed deck that can be mounted on a standard chassis and has a set of arms that lower to get full loading capacity then raise up to allow the railroad facility cranes to load via the 4 point and can also be double stacked or  empty we can stack 4 saving deadhead.  I've got 50 trailers already approved and used successfully by BNSF,  and exclusive agreement to produce more. These are a true game changer. If your interested in learning more feel free to give me a call Scott at 314.681.7101.