Can railroads run autotrains with passengers in the their vehicles?

In Europe there are a couple of auto trains that passengers stay in their cars. Could that be done here? I was thinking of a RV and truck train where they would be inside the Auto racks for high speed or overnight trips

54 Replies

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to railroadpostoffice1:

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                The European style auto service would not be appropriate for the United States. Most people do not understand that the entire continent of Europe is about the same size as our state of Texas. The distances traveled by the public are not anywhere near as great as those traveled here in the U.S.  They can get away with leaving people in their vehicles for an hour or so trip, but, the longer trips in the U.S. would necessitate sanitary facilities being available – at the VERY LEAST - not to mention the safety and liability concerns relative to a general public that would sue for their own stupid actions.

                However, about a decade ago, Amtrak was looking into adding auto carriers to the Pacific Coast Starlight (and , if successful, to other L.D. trains, too). There would have been boarding and detraining of autos at the major cities along the line. There was concern regarding how much additional station dwell time would have been needed to facilitate the switching at those stops. However, that was another project shelved due to Amtrak only receiving only subsistence funding. The main impediment for this becoming a wider service offering is the necessity of nearby and convenient auto loading facilities.

  • The current fleet of auto racks are enclosed cars with end door that need to be closed and locked before the railcars are moved. So assuming the current designs are used people inside their vehicles would be unable to get out of the railcars once the railcars are secured for movement. This would be an unacceptable safety issue to both the FRA and the railroad industry. I cannot imagine that either the railroads or the FRA would consider allowing occupied motor vehicles moving aboard regular open flatcars either.

    To another respondent's point, there is not enough room inside an enclosed auto rack to allow vehicle doors to be fully opened. So large individuals, people with children in car seats, and people with disabilities would have difficulties getting out of their vehicles, especially if they needed to get out quickly.

    Existing auto rack railcars do not have any way of allowing people to move from one deck to another inside the railcar. Another major safety concern.

    In addition, American vehicles are of a size now where the only auto rack that could do the job would be the new "Unilevel" railcars. We're at the point where even some pickup trucks and conversion vans have gotten too big to fit into bilevel railcars. The new breed of enormous SUVS can only move on Unilevels, when they move by rail at all.

    And finally, what would be the market for the service? Amtrak does appear to have a steady flow of customers for the Auto Train in the Northeast. But back in the 1970's the original Auto Train Corporation tried a Chicago to Florida route, which would seem to be a great idea. Customers stayed away in droves and Auto Train dropped the service. Commercial trucking concerns would rather just move the box with the cargo in either TOFC or COFC service rather than letting a half-million dollar tractor and a $30 per hour employee go along for a non-productive ride. You might fit one complete tractor-trailer rig inside a Unilevel, whereas the same 89 foot rail platform could give you two trailers or four containers.

    We can do anything, as long as someone is willing to use the service and pay for it!

  • In reply to DisprBJR:

    If the intermodal trains would have passenger cars for the truckers the cargo would not have to wait for the driver and there would be a ready supply of drivers at end of  the line. I wonder if we go back to circus ramps for TOFC if that would be faster then the crane or piggy packer. Now only renforced trailers can go intermodal.

  • In reply to railroadpostoffice1:

    The cost to move a tractor-trailer rig and a driver in a passenger car would be prohibitive.  With the gains in railroad intermodal business generated by the big dry freight truckers and intermodal marketing companies like Hub Group and Alliance Shippers, the customer has lower cost options to consider vs. long-haul trucking which becomes more expensive in winter months where snow and ice are an issue.

  • In reply to marc6850:

    I'd suggest there are a couple of exceptions.  One is household goods moves.  It'd be a small niche market, but I think its out there now on a couple of runs.  Whether it would last would be another question, too.

     

    All of this presumes that the effective subsidy of heavy trucking continues; when enough automobile owners  wake up to that, all bets are off.

  • In reply to railroadpostoffice1:

    As so railroads are suppose to build intermodal facilities everywhere so that trucker that hit's his HOS he has a place to get loaded??

    One of the more ridiculous suggestions I've seen.

    Like the concept, but not realistic at all.

  • In reply to anmccaff:

    My folks retired from Chicago area to Nowhereville, VA several years ago.  Believe it was Atlas 53' Intermodal box was dropped off and loaded.  Moved via CSX to VA where it was picked up and delivered.  Very little damage to the contents as well.  Haven't seen anything on west coast trains though.

  • In reply to BacktotheFuture:

    BacktotheFuture

    My folks retired from Chicago area to Nowhereville, VA several years ago.  Believe it was Atlas 53' Intermodal box was dropped off and loaded.  Moved via CSX to VA where it was picked up and delivered.  Very little damage to the contents as well.  Haven't seen anything on west coast trains though.

     

    There's still a surprising amount of volume where one driver or team loads and unloads, and stays with the goods all the way.

     

  • In reply to railroadpostoffice1:

    Why don't you reinvent the wheel next, Railwaypostoffice1?  Intermodal was a money-losing proposition when the railroads all used circus ramps.  That wasn't why they lost money, but it was a significant contributor to lousy service and that was why they lost money.  Intermodal grew to its current status when the railroads went to consolidated yards and terminals with modern loading and unloading equipment that made double-stack work.  That was when railroads began to make money in intermodal.  May they continue to do so far into the future.

    As for you, Railwaypostoffice1, why don't you try to read some half-way decent histories.  Then you might be able to participate intelligently in these blogs and forums.  As it is now, and sorry to be churlish, but if you knew half as much as you think you do, it still would be twice as much as you really do.

  • In reply to Larry Kaufman:

              Come on, Mr. Larry. You don't have to agree with everyone's post, but would it hurt you to NOT be insulting.

              As for information from a person that has experienced a career in both freight and passenger, I can tell you first-hand that Intermodal was NOT a money-losing proposition before; it is just MUCH more cost-efficient using the loaders. Yes, it did take longer to unload the trailers using the old system AND stack containers can be a MUCH better use of haulage space availability. So, the modern methods make a lot more money for the railroads than the older way. Do you really believe that, if railroads were losing money on Intermodal, they would have continued to pursue improvements to better their profit margins? If they were truely losing money, they would have tried to shed that type of service as they did with the passenger services.

              Perhaps, as you suggested to Railwaypostoffice1, you should "read some half-way decent histories." before to chastise someone for not "paticipat(ing) intelligently in these blogs and forums. (Followed by another needless insult)". I was there. I ran those freight trains. I participated in revenue setting meetings. I lived that history.

              Now, if your previous posting is indicative of what can be expected as a response, go ahead and flame me. I know what is true, and I can state my case based on actual experience and without the insults. Have a good evening.

  • In reply to amtk52:

    amtk52

                As for information from a person that has experienced a career in both freight and passenger, I can tell you first-hand that Intermodal was NOT a money-losing proposition before; it is just MUCH more cost-efficient using the loaders.

    You think that every early intermodal run on every line was a moneymaker? Or are you saying that it made money overall?  Either way, you think that it all made as much as other use of railroad resources?  (i.e., was the ROI high enough?)

    amtk52

           . Yes, it did take longer to unload the trailers using the old system AND stack containers can be a MUCH better use of haulage space availability. So, the modern methods make a lot more money for the railroads than the older way. Do you really believe that, if railroads were losing money on Intermodal, they would have continued to pursue improvements to better their profit margins? If they were truely losing money, they would have tried to shed that type of service as they did with the passenger services.

    You are saying that a company should abandon any service that's losing money -even when they see how to fix it?  I hope that isn't what you meant, but it seems to be what you said.  The railroads could see how to do intermodal profitably, but couldn't see how to make money on passengers.  Big difference there.

    You also might want to make a short list of writers who've covered recent railroad history and see what names you come up with.  Perhaps you can recommend some really easy readying for him.

     

     

     

  • In reply to amtk52:

    No amtk52, I have neither desire nor need to "flame" you, as you put it.  Insulting to railroadpostoffice1?  Undoubtedly, I was.  If you have followed the blogs here for any length of time, you would know that railroadpostoffice has presented a number of inane comments.  No, I don't have to be insulting, but politesse hasn't worked with this guy - who really doesn't know much of anything but doesn't let that deter him from sharing his lack of knowledge with others. 

    "As for your comments, I, too, have been around the railroads for many years and not just as a writer about them.  Intermodal was a money-losing proposition but a good cash generator.  I had occasion one day to ask the head of intermodal marketing and operations why the railroad was in the business if it lost money.  He explained to me that no one would reinvest in the business when the existing cars wore out, so it contriuted to positive cash flow while still losing money.  That was a radical concept and it wasn't until after deregulation that operating departments began to think like real businesses.  So, I don't agree with your comments.  I don't know when you were in the freight and passenger businesses, but I'll wager it wasn't before deregulation in 1980, based on your comments. Shedding passenger service was a good decision for the simple reason that prior to Amtrak's creation, the ICC required each individual train to go through a regulatory procedure before it could be elminated.  There were cases where the ticket revenue didn't cover crew salaries, but the train still had to be operated.  When Amtrak was created, the industry was able to "buy" its way out of the passenger service obligation by contributing two years worth of passenger losses, in cashy or equipment, to Amtrak.  Polite enough for you? 

    OK, so you were there and you attended revenue setting meetings.  This industry went through one of the greatest transitions that any industry ever has gone through when Staggers was passed.  It is almost completely different today than it was in 1979 before Staggers.  Most of the operating executives back then did not understand costing and business principles the way they do today.  They sure did know how to run trains, and considering the bankruptcies, it's fairly obvious that they didn't know how to make money.  I've kept this reply to you reasonably polite.  Why, I don't know.  You do appear to have a thin skin - and on behalf of someone else who'se track record is that he really doesn't know much but doesn't let that stop him from posting. 

  • In reply to Larry Kaufman:

    amtk52:  You may not be aware of it, but before double-stack was developed - largely by American President Lines and the SP - the railroads had a large fleet of flat cars for which they had no business.  The beauty of intermodal then was the ability to use equipment that was largely depreciated and which cost very little.  That's why you could have positive cash flow (revenue in excess of operating expense) and lose money at the same time.  I hate to break it to you, but the ICC prescribed the railroads' accounting systems and they did have to record charges for such things as depreciable rolling stock.  And before this turns into a debate over making money or not, I'll point out that double-stack allowed railroads to offer intermodal products that customers were willing to use and to pay for.  This is what leads to profitability for any business, regulated or not.  I was fortunate to work for and with some very bright people most of my career.  At my principal railroad, the marketing and operating people didn't hold revenue setting meetings.  They tried to find out what customers wanted (post deregulation, of course) and then figure out how to meet that demand profitably.  Happily for all, they were successful.  Pre-deregulation, the ICC and its ability to suspend rates largely prevented railroads from competing with motor carriers for business that was available.  That, happily, is no longer so.  This ends today's lesson in basic economics.

  • In reply to anmccaff:

    Mr. anmccaff,

    Re.: your first set of comments:

               No, I didn't say that they were all moneymakers. I didn't claim that they were high ROI. I said that there was enough profit potential for the railroads to look for ways to make it more profitable. So, it depended on the type of accounting method(s) used as to their profitability at any given time. In the earliest days, there was income, but not enough to expand fleets. Just like any new business strategy, there is a start-up time and costs to be absorbed. I said that Intermodal did not lose money.

    Re.:your second set of comments:

              I never advocated that any business should abandon anything. I said that is how the passenger service was handled. Yes, I know about Amtrak in 1971 - but even then railroads that WERE making passenger service profitable - whether monetarily or for PR purposes (Southern and the D.& R.G.)  KEPT their passenger services. The Southern kept the Southern Crescent well into the 80's, IIRC. So, some railroads DID see how to make money on passengers.

     

              However, all that aside. The main point of my post was to try and keep these posting amicable and to gently let Mr. Larry know that ALL of his facts were not necessarily true. He did make some very valid points.

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