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Conrail Technical Society - Conrail's Autoracks

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Conrail Technical Society

Conrail's Autorack Fleet

by John Krattinger

Conrail is one of the largest class-one railroads in terms of multi-level autorack fleet size. In fact, Conrail is third trailing only CSX Transportation and Union Pacific. The seemingly endless strings of these cars however are not owned by Conrail, they are in fact owned by TTX Company. TTX Company, formerly known as Trailer Train owns all 5,721 cars in the Conrail fleet. TTX Company is in turn owned by U.S. railroad companies and their affiliates. Over 99% of TTX's outstanding capital stock is owned by the railroads, which includes Conrail. At the end of 1993 Conrail owned 11.4% of the company.

Trailer Train was incorporated in Delaware on November 9, 1955. In forming the company, railroads recognized the benefits of having a shared pool of reliable, well-maintained equipment. It was a big cost saver, both short term and long term. It reduced their equipment investment overhead and risk, giving that responsibility to Trailer Train. In addition, the pooling operation promoted high utilization with cars in revenue service over 90% of the time, on average. Overall, the move was seen by the industry as a better way to meet the changing technology and competition of the freight marketplace, particularly in intermodalism where strong and steady growth has been facilitated by Trailer Train.

On July 1, 1991 the company changed its name from Trailer Train Company to TTX Company to better reflect the broadened nature of the company's business. The letters "TTX" had been the reporting marks on the company's equipment since inception, and by adopting TTX as the corporate title made for a convenient and congenial recognition of these circumstances. The current mission of TTX Company is to provide standardized railroad equipment and related services to the nation's railroads at the lowest car hire rates while providing for proper maintenance, allowing for growth and modernization of the fleet and permitting financing of equipment on reasonable terms. At the end of 1993 the fleet totaled 87,174 cars. The fleet consists of over 40 distinct car types and has over 200 car classes. The fleet comprises of three major equipment types; intermodal equipment for carrying highway trailers and containers (55% of fleet capacity), multi-level autorack cars which carry new automobiles and other light vehicles from points of manufacture to points of distribution (31% of fleet capacity), and special use cars designed to carry a variety of commodities such as lumber, finished building products, pipe, and agricultural equipment (14% of fleet capacity). TTX Company also has two smaller subsidiaries, Railbox Company which has a fleet of 13,094 standardized boxcars, and Railgon Company which has a fleet of 1,188 gondola cars.

The company is constantly upgrading its fleet and research and development is a priority. During the last decade TTX Company has invested more than $1 million annually to improve car design, operation and maintenance. That factor, together with creative management controls, has enabled the company to reduce rental rates for the use of its cars by the railroads. TTX Company is one of the largest users of the Transportation Test Center at Pueblo, CO which is operated by the Association of American Railroads. Rather than retire portions of the fleet, TTX cars can often be modified or have new components added to convert or adapt the car to a new type of service. TTX has also developed several programs to re-engineer or re-equip older cars to accept a different lading or, in some cases, to simply perform better. Some older autoracks and intermodal flats undergo major modifications, including side sill reconstruction, so that the modified cars will accept newly designed, wide-body bi-level or tri-level autoracks. In a concerted effort to improve the ride quality of the multi-level autorack fleet, improved truck assemblies are being installed to reduce high-speed truck hunting. Improved end-of-car cushioning devices to reduce slack action are also being installed by TTX.

TTX company has over 1,900 employees, with about 300 based in Chicago, IL and the balance at a number of field maintenance centers strategically located around the United States and at four major car repair and maintenance facilities. These major shops are in North Augusta, SC, Jacksonville, FL, Mira Loma, CA, and Drayton Plains, MI. There is also a materials distribution center at Wood River, IL.

Four companies produce cars for TTX Company; Bethlehem Steel, of Johnstown, PA, Gunderson Inc., of Portland, OR, Thrall Car Manufacturing Company, of Chicago Heights, IL, and Trinity Industries, of Dallas, TX.

Since the early 1960's with the introduction of multi-level autorack structures which transport automobiles and other vehicles on flatcars, railroads have gained substantial market share from highway carriers. Railroads purchase the rack structure which is applied to a flatcar provided to that railroad. The racks are built to carry either two or three levels of vehicles, depending on rail clearances and the heights of vehicles being transported. Auto sizes and industry requirements have changed over time and rack designs have evolved from simple, open frames to complex, fully-enclosed structures. As a result there are now several different flatcar types in this service, all of which have hydraulic end-of-car cushioning.

Standard height flatcars are used primarily for bi-level autoracks. A low level design car was developed to accommodate the taller tri-level autoracks which were introduced in the mid 1960's. When fully enclosed autoracks were introduced in the 1970's a flush deck design car was required. As open or screened autoracks are removed from older cars, they are modified to accommodate the newer, wider, enclosed autoracks.

As of February 17th, 1995 TTX Company operated 38,598 autoracks, of which 5,721 were assigned to Conrail. The following is a breakdown of assignments by individual railroad and separated by reporting marks:

TTX Rack Ownership Breakdown by Reporting Marks February 17, 1995
Alaska 0 1 0 0 0 1
ATSF 1301 0 1477 20 0 2798
BN 835 6 1116 50 0 2007
CN 185 0 115 0 0 300
CNW 579 0 640 35 0 1254
CP 152 3 414 0 0 569
Conrail 2872 0 2753 69 27 5721
CSXT 4069 38 4676 160 0 8943
DRGW 254 0 306 0 0 560
FEC 122 0 9 0 0 221
GTW 454 0 508 0 16 978
IC 65 0 24 0 0 89
NS 2649 0 2217 299 0 5065
RLOD 0 0 1 0 0 1
SOO 458 3 606 0 0 1067
SP 355 0 232 0 0 587
TTX 0 2 0 0 0 2
UP 4192 28 3870 345 0 8435
Total 18542 81 19054 878 43 38598

Of the 5,721 cars assigned to Conrail the majority fall into two large groups. The largest group on Conrail with 2,872 units are the cars with ETTX reporting marks, this is the second largest group in TTX Company's fleet with 18,542 total units. These cars are a 89'4" long flatcar equipped with a railroad-owned, wide-bodied, fully enclosed, tri-level autorack. Each tri-level rack is capable of transporting fifteen to eighteen vehicles. The second largest group on Conrail with 2,753 units are the cars with TTGX reporting marks, this is the largest group in TTX Company's fleet with 19,054 total units. These cars are a 89'4" long flatcar equipped with a railroad-owned, wide-bodied, fully-enclosed, bi-level autorack. Each bi-level is capable of transporting ten light trucks and vans or other vehicles.

Thrall Car Manufacturing Company has become the primary autorack producer in North America. Over the years vehicle delivery by rail has increased. A major contributor to the market share gain has been the steadily improving quality of delivered automobiles. The most visible change to multi-level cars has been the complete enclosure of the rack with steel roofing and sides. Enclosing racks has had a dramatic impact on product quality, protecting vehicles from vandalism and theft as well as reducing exposure to the elements. Additional improvements have been made to new and rebuilt autoracks to bring them to their current high level of operating quality and efficiency. For example, the size of openings in doors, roofs, and sides have been reduced and doors have been stiffened to discourage unlawful entry. Chock securement systems have been developed and refined that utilized the automobile's own suspension to reduce damage during transportation. Autorack end doors have undergone significant evolution with current radial end doors providing a combination of security, due to very little open space and ease of use based on the fact that the new doors swing smoothly on a track that is easier to operate and maintain than previous systems. Other smaller improvements to multi-levels over years have included placement of additional drain holes in the autorack's platform to reduce moisture and the selective use of epoxy paints to reduce rust and paint fall-out. A new ramp design now allows dust and sand to be more readily cleaned from the rack during the cleaning and painting process. Additional developments have included a new lightweight plastic version of the Thrall wedge chock system, this system utilizes a single strap and a low profile winch for faster and easier operation and a fully galvanized, rust-free environment. Thrall Car's Winder, GA plant is home of the Thrall autorack. This plant is one of only 102 suppliers that have been certified as a "Conrail Certified Quality Supplier" by Conrail. Conrail recognizes those suppliers who have met or exceeded stringent criteria that ensures quality products. Thrall's Winder, GA facility has been certified every year since 1989. To become certified suppliers must prove that management and all employees are committed to working together to continually improve quality. To remain certified, quality must continually improve. When Conrail asked for easier door operation, Thrall redesigned its autorack door and injuries went down. When Conrail customers said the paint finish on new automobiles had to be showroom fresh, Thrall improved its paint system to reduce the chance of rust fall out. Quality might be an overused buzzword, but it still has meaning at Thrall.

Conrail has also taken its own steps to improve the delivery process. Conrail instituted a dedicated network of multi-level autorack trains in August 1992. This was designed to speed new vehicles to local distribution centers and for the most part, keep the multi-levels out of the hump yards. The hump yards were notoriously rough on the new vehicles and anywhere that it is possible multi-levels are now flat switched to reduce damage. Other recent improvements include agreements with Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific for the handling of connecting traffic. A cooperative venture between Conrail and Norfolk Southern began in September 1994 and is known as the "Joint Multi-Level Network". This program is designed to improve the delivery of vehicles from midwestern and southern assembly plants located on Norfolk Southern to regional distribution centers located on Conrail. Conrail has also been involved with Union Pacific's multi-level strategy in regards to the Chicago, IL gateway. The following is a listing of Conrail's dedicated multi-level trains:

Conrail's Multi-Level Trains
ML-401 Doremus Avenue, Newark, NJ to Toledo-Stanley, OH
ML-403 Metuchen, NJ to Columbus-Buckeye, OH
ML-405 Doremus Avenue, Newark, NJ to Selkirk, NY
ML-411 Wilmington, DE to Buffalo-Frontier, NY
ML-415 Baltimore, MD to Enola, PA
ML-417 Enola, PA to Chicago, IL
ML-420 Buffalo-Frontier, NY to Wilmington, DE
ML-421 Niagara Falls, NY to Chicago-Gibson, IL
ML-433 Framingham, MA to Sterling, MI
ML-438 West Springfield, MA to GTI/Ayer, MA
ML-439 GTI/Ayer, MA to West Springfield, MA
ML-440 Sterling, MI to Newark-Doremus Avenue, NJ
ML-441 Detroit-North Yard, MI to Chicago-Gibson, IL
ML-450 Columbus-Buckeye, OH to Cleveland-Collinwood, OH
ML-451 Marysville, OH to Chicago-Gibson, IL
ML-452 Columbus-Buckeye, OH to Selkirk, NY
ML-453 Elkhart, IN to Columbus, OH
ML-460 Indianapolis-Avon, IN to Cleveland-Collinwood, OH
ML-470 Toledo-Stanley, OH to Cleveland-Collinwood, OH
ML-480 Cleveland-Collinwood, OH to Newark-Doremus Avenue, NJ
ML-482 Cleveland-Collinwood, OH to Framingham, MA
ML-486 Cleveland-Collinwood, OH to Newark-Doremus Avenue, NJ
ML-488 Cleveland-Collinwood, OH to Selkirk, NY

Photo ©1997, Jeffrey A. Lubchansky