Analyst: RoadRailer a 'missed opportunity' for industry

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Brian Schmidt
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – A leading intermodal analysts says that Norfolk Southern's decision to scale back use of its RoadRailer trailer trains is a “missed opportunity” for the industry.

Earlier this month, NS discontinued most of its RoadRailer trains and is incorporating traffic that was once moved by its Fort Wayne-based Triple Crown Services into its general intermodal services. The railroad will continue to use the RoadRailer train between Kansas City and Detroit to move auto parts. NS made the decision to “restructure” its Triple Crown subsidiary back in September. About 200 people will lose their jobs because of the change.

“This change is a natural evolution in the business,” said Alan H. Shaw, NS executive vice president and chief marketing officer, back in September. “We want to retain the best of TCS in specific, markets, with efficient door-to-door logistics and award-winning customer service.”

RoadRailers were specialty trailers that could easily be moved from the highway to the rails without having to be loaded onto a flatcar. The technology dates back to the 1950s but didn't become prominent until the 1980s. In 1986, Conrail NS started Triple Crown Services, eventually growing to serve Toronto, Minneapolis, Detroit, Dallas, and Atlanta. During its first year, NS moved 5,000 trailer loads but by 2007 it was moving 294,000 loads annually. Amtrak, BNSF Railway, and CSX Transportation also used RoadRailers at one time or another.

Larry Gross was involved with RoadRailer since the 1980s and calls himself a “true believer” of the technology. Today he is a private consultant. Gross says that while RoadRailer may not have worked in the western U.S. – where intermodal hauls were often long journeys – he says it was ideal for the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast, where the routes were shorter. RoadRailer is especially ideal for moving things like auto parts, which it will continue to do for the time being. What doomed the technology was that railroads are more interested in hauling longer, heavier trains and that RoadRailer was an outlier, Gross says.

“NS was not comfortable being the only RoadRailer operator in my opinion,” Gross tells Trains News Wire. “Had other railroads maintained it maybe the story would be very different.”

He says he's said to see NS scale back its RoadRailer service but is proud to have played a role in its nearly 30 year history.

“RoadRailer had a hell of a run,” Gross says.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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BNSF Railway's Willow Springs Intermodal Yard 


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