Freight Car Friday – Pool Cars

9 08 2013

A nice relaxing pool sounds pretty good on an August Friday! Actually, railroad pool cars are anything but wet. Equipment pools come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not the type of car but how they’re used that makes it a pool.

How They Work

f box

TTX proudly and justifiably states its pooling expertise on its FBOX boxcars. These are the modern equivalent of earlier and smaller boxcar pools and can be found anywhere in North America.

A freight car pool is set up so that a number of participating railroads have access to the cars they need for a specific service whenever necessary but without having to front the costs of purchasing all of the cars on their own. Sometimes the cars are purchased by the participating railroads directly. Other times a car leasing company is used to supply the rolling stock. Or it could be a combination of both.

Let’s look at a few common examples for a better understanding.

Auto Parts

With “just in time” delivery demands, auto manufacturers can’t be kept waiting. If the railroads want to secure this business from trucks they can not afford to risk the delays often associated with handling individual car orders like we’ve discussed in last month’s operating blogs.

auto parts

Large autoparts boxcars are commonly assigned to dedicated pools serving specific routes.

To help insure a consistent and constant flow of cars, railroads will pool equipment for specific service routes. It helps that most auto parts movements are repetitive. Each railroad which is part of the delivery chain between two assembly plants will contribute cars to the pool. Most pools of this nature include two or three railroads. And each railroad, indeed each assembly plant, may be involved in multiple pools of this nature.

The number of cars contributed is relative to the amount of miles they carry the cars. (Freight charges are also based on this mileage.) The road which carries the car for the longest haul contributes the most cars. A small terminal railroad delivering the cars from a local yard may only contribute one or two cars, meaning you may not see each railroads’ cars on every trip.

It is not uncommon for a car to stay in the same pool for years, making repeated round trips between plants. This is a nice bonus for modelers as seeing the same car on the same train over and over is perfectly prototypical,


Trailer and container cars in intermodal service represent the largest pool and a completely different look to the operation. Here the pool is nationwide, not confined to specific routes.

New Image

TTX owns the largest fleet of intermodal cars and has become a leader in the design and evolution of specialized cars for this service.

While some railroads do contribute cars to the overall pool, it is not based on the number of cars they use. In fact, some of the largest railroad intermodal fleets are rostered by shortline companies that may not even have an intermodal terminal. These cars earn money in much the same way as the “per diem boxcars” of the 1970s – fees paid back to the owner by others for the use of the cars.

The largest contributor to the intermodal pool is TTX. TTX Corporation (originally Trailer Train) was started by the railroads for just such a service. Although it is an independent company, its largest shareholders are the railroads themselves. Today the company’s services go far beyond the intermodal market and include box, gondola, flatcar and other specialized equipment.

The efficiency of the pools like this is in simplicity. There is an ever-present supply of cars wherever needed and that supply can be easily moved from one region to another if there are economic changes in traffic patterns. Operations are simplified by just sending the cars to wherever they are needed next. Cars are tracked and the owners billed appropriately for use.

Finished Autos

Finished automobile traffic is worthy of note as it represents a combination of both of the above examples. Indeed, most auto racks share both leased and railroad-owned parts themselves.

auto rack

Finished autos travel in a pool that offers its own unique blend of railroad and private owner cars.

Railroads traditionally own the autorack which is placed on a flatcar leased from TTX. In some cases the railroads choose to own the flatcar too. The pool is nationwide like the intermodal pool, but railroads supply a number of racks based on their participation. That is, their fleet is based on the number of loads they receive or ship at their online customers and terminals.

Their cars are not bound to their terminals, but are used in the general movement of finished autos across the continent. Railroads which serve more ramps will own more cars in the pool. This is somewhat different than the mileage based arrangement common with the auto parts, but the effect is much the same. It also results in some wonderfully varied and colorful consists on trains all across North America.

The use of pools to move freight is by no means limited to the examples listed here. It is just one more way railroads have learned to cooperate to provide better service for customers and in the end, better revenues for all. And that is a refreshing thought!

Freight Car Friday – Everybody Makes Mistakes!

3 05 2013

Mistakes happen. We’ve certainly made a few errors on our models over our 100 year history – some of them are now highly collectible. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

ETTX 909823

Something’s not quite right…

You have to wonder how this car made it out of the paint shop… At some point, the Norfolk Southern autorack attached to ETTX 909823 went into the car shop for some repairs. The replacement panels show up clearly.

But take a closer look at that NS logo… or is it “SN?”

Put this one in the “a prototype for everything” category and give yourself a break the next time you wind up scratching your head at one of your own “oops” moments.


Even the prototype has a bad moment now and then.

Of course by now some of you are probably already thinking of how you could model this car for yourselves. Aside from some differences in the rack itself, our new bi-level autoracks would be a great place to start.

Add a little weathering, some silver paint for the fresh panels, and a new Norfolk Southern decal (applied upside down like the prototype) and you’d have a very interesting conversation car on your layout. Imagine the look on your friends’ faces when you show them the prototype!

Freight Car Friday – The Strange and Unusual

5 10 2012

If you love trains, you’ve seen your share of boxcars and gondolas and covered hoppers. But every great once in a while you see a car that makes you stop and scratch your head. This week we’ll take a look at a few of those.

QUAX 88966

At first glance this looks like an ordinary flatcar, but then you look a little closer and have to wonder what all of those extra parts are on the deck. The car itself was originally built to carry a tri-level autorack. This gives the car a very low deck height.

QUAZ 88966

From finished automobiles to broken rail cars – this flatcar has had an interesting life.

Now this flat is a car-hauler of a different sort – damaged rail cars. The two heavy beams on the deck support the car in place of its own trucks. The one seen on the left is fixed and the other can be moved to handle cars of any wheelbase. The trucks can then be strapped to the deck in the guides seen on the right side of the car, or simply loaded in a gondola.

This car makes it easier and much safer to transport damaged rail cars to a car shop for repair than trying to move them on their own wheels. These cars may have some body damage or simply problems with the trucks or brakes. Most cars with extensive structural damage will simply be scrapped in place, but if the car is worth saving the railroads will find a way to get it back in service.

The reporting marks, which sound like something a duck would say, belong to Redstreak, LLC.

SWFX 1658

An American Car and Foundry Centerflo hopper – what’s so unusual about that? Well nothing, if it had a roof! Despite building tens of thousands of Centerflo covered hoppers, only 82 of these open-top hoppers were ever built.

SWFX 1658

Centerflo hoppers are nothing rare – but this variation is.

Most were sold to Southwest Forest Products and operate regularly over BNSF and the Apache Railroad. Car 1658 is seen here at the interchange. Additional cars were built for Burlington Northern.

The Centerflo design remains popular for loads requiring the protection of a covered hopper, but the concept never adapted well to the open design, partly due to limited weight capacity. The roof is actually an important part of the design of the Centerflo, and without it the strength of the carbody is greatly compromised.

Norfolk Southern 907627

NS 907627

This odd-looking car caries switches.

So far the cars have all at least had a passing resemblance to traditional rolling stock – not so for this special piece of equipment!

This odd-looking car is used to transport sections of pre-made track switches to work sites. Switches are pre-assembled at a maintenance of way base speeding work out on the line. And you thought only model railroaders used premade track sections!

panel track

Just a few feet from where the empty switch car was seen at a later date, a portion of a prefab replacement switch is eased into place.

The panels have to be transported on an angle because of their excessive width. Two or more panels are needed per switch depending on its length. Hoists mounted on the center beam are used to help raise the panels into position on the car and then they are strapped into place.

Once the panels are delivered, heavy construction equipment puts them in place and workers connect the rails and ensure everything is in proper alignment. A crew can replace a switch in a single day. Such was the case in this other view where workers position the frog portion of the switch while yard traffic continues to move only a few feet away!

Southern 599000

articulated rack

This Southern car was ahead of its time.

This experimental articulated autorack rolled out of the Southern’s innovative freight car design tables. It is one of only two, built in September of 1973 by Greenville Car Co. The Southern was a leading innovator in freight car design and utilization in the 1960s and 1970s. Cars like the “Big John” covered hoppers literally changed railroading. Other experiments included articulated hoppers and this auto rack.

SOU 599000

A closer view of one section gives a better look at its unique wheels and articulation.

Decades before today’s articulated racks, this car showed a concept but never progressed any further. The three-part car features just two axles per unit. This same concept was applied to early spine cars for intermodal service at about the same time. The articulation gave the long car a much shorter and more flexible frame than conventional 89′ autoracks, but one as to wonder about the quality of the ride.

The car is seen here preserved at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in 2007.

When it comes to the strange and unusual, we’ve only just begun! Do you have any favorite odd freight cars you’d like to share?

Freight Car Friday – Bi-level Autoracks

14 09 2012

This week we take a closer look at the prototypes for our forthcoming scale autoracks. These modern enclosed cars have been part of the railroad scene for decades and now you can add them and their operations to your layout.


The enclosed autorack has become a fixture on North American rails. This car is very close to the Lionel model.

Autoracks come in two basic configurations. Bilevel racks have a pair of decks (including the floor of the flatcar itself) and can haul two rows of taller vehicles like vans and trucks. Trilevel racks have an extra deck and can carry three rows of conventional automobiles. Up until the 1990s, trilevel cars were far more common, but with the rise in populuarity of the SUV, the number of bilevel cars has grown quickly over the past 20 years.

Early History

For many years, automobiles were carried in boxcars like other freight. The relative light weight of the cars for their size meant that these boxcars reached their volume capacity far faster than their weight limit. Loading cars through the side doors was also challenging and inefficient. End door boxcars helped with the loading, but could still only be loaded one at a time.


Notice the slots in the end doors on this car which line up with the upper loading deck.

New racks fixed on flatcars began to appear in the 1960s. These cars were longer and taller so they could carry more vehicles and make full use of the weight capacity of the cars. These cars could also be loaded “circus style” like piggyback trains. A string of autoracks was spotted on a siding with a ramp at the end. Bridge plates could be lowered to connect the cars and the entire cut loaded from that one spot.

These first cars kept the weight of the rack low by making it just a skeleton frame welded to the flatcar. Damage to finished vehicles in transit however prompted railroads to begin applying side panels and eventually roofs and end doors to the cars for protection. These not only added to the weight of the final car, but especially in the case of the roof, added to its size as well. Many routes in the country could not handle the enclosed cars due to low tunnels, bridges, etc. Still today, there are some branchlines that can not handle them.

Lionel’s Prototype

Canadian National

Canadian National owns both the rack and the flatcar on this car. The remnants of grafitti seen here are just one of the reasons for the enclosures.

There have of course been many variations in these cars’ designs over the years. Some of the details are smaller like the style of side panels, roof or doors. The racks have also been fastened to many different types of flatcars.

The vast majority of cars feature racks owned by and painted for different railroads added to flat cars leased from TTX (Trailer Train.) In some cases, the railroads own both the rack and the flat. The racks can remain attached to the flatcar for decades – often for the entire life of the car and the rack.


BNSF also owned both flatcars and racks, most inherited from the Santa Fe.

Flatcars from different builders have been used. The Lionel car is based on a prototype built by American Car and Foundry (ACF) – one of the more common prototypes. Cars used for trilevel racks often have a lower deck to accomodate the additional row of vehicles without excdeding clearance limits. Although you can’t see the deck itself from the outside, these cars usually have a lower external profile as well. Both types of cars can be seen together in trains depending on the operations.

For TTX cars, you can easily distinguish between the two types of cars by their reporting marks. Bilevel cars will have “TTGX” beside the roadnumber. Trilevels are grouped in the “ETTX” series. Racks for these cars have come from many many railroads and operate in a collective pool.


Thanks to the pooling arrangements for autoracks, these trains can be quite colorful. Railroads supply racks to the North American pool based on the number of annual carloadings they deliver in their yards. Consequently, railroads that serve large automotive markets have more cars in the pool than smaller operations.

Union Pacific

Union Pacific has the largest fleet of autoracks. The “We will deliver” slogan was added to many in 1996 and 1997.

Union Pacific currently opperates the largest pool, thanks to the quantity of transcontinental shipments. Conrail, which served more assembly plants than any other railroad, held the number two spot until its fleet was split in 1999 between Norfolk Southern and CSX. At the other end of the spectrum are the 10 cars contributed by the Providence and Worchester.

Cars of all of these railroads travel freely between lines. There is no need to route cars back to a “home” terminal for loading or unloading.

Shipments may be as small as a single autorack. More commonly, blocks of cars are gathered and moved between hubs as solid trains or as dedicated blocks in other trains. Railroads try to keep these cars out of hump yards where general freight is sorted. These gravity-fed switching operations can damage the cars if couplings are made too hard. Consequently, you’ll often see autoracks traveling on expedited schedules with intermodal trains or in solid trains of their own.

Santa Fe

Some railroads opted for logos on the ends rather than panels of the car, like this Santa Fe rack. Even among cars of the same line, you’ll often find lots of variations on logo placement.

Modeling an unloading terminal can be an interesting operation. Since it was much easier to drive the vehicles onto and off of the racks going forward, the train was turned on a wye before being delivered. Wyes were often located near auto terminals for just such a purpose.

The facilities themselves are often rather simple and include a large parking area, ramps to unload the cars, a small office, and ample room for the trucks to load. For security, fencing, gates and ample lighting are a must. We’ve already covered paving roads over railroad tracks and will soon cover making your own fences in our current modeling blog project. A small regional delivery area would be a much easier project than a sprawling assembly plant or port.

Whether your delivering cars for the local dealers or just watching these big colorful beasts roll by on the mainline, the new scale autoracks are sure to be a hit on your railroad.