Freight Car Friday – The Many Faces of Trailer Train

4 05 2012

If you stand trackside anywhere in North America, it is hard to miss the bright yellow cars of Trailer Train – now TTX Corporation. What originated as an equipment pool for new “piggyback” business has grown into a multi-faceted company serving the railroads’ needs for freight cars of all shapes and sizes.


brown flatcars

A few cars from the brown Trailer Train era survived into the next millennium - this one lasting long enough to be given a quick makeover with the newest logo in 2009.

Trailer Train Corporation began in 1955 as an independent railroad leasing company owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Norfolk and Western and Rail-Trailer Corporation. These companies were all exploring the concept of Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC) or “Piggyback” trains to haul less-than-carload and express traffic in truck trailers aboard flatcars. One of the biggest drawbacks to starting the new service was the cost and risk associated with a major capital investment in new equipment. Although it was a separate company, the Pennsylvania contributed heavily to the corporation both in finances and staff. As time marched on, additional railroads bought into the company.

centerbeam flatcar

Along with a bold new color, Trailer Train continued to grow and diversify its business in the 1970s and 1980s

By creating a separate company, the individual railroads reduced their debt loads and risk while at the same time creating an even and efficient pool to simplify the car movements and improve service overall. The first Trailer Train cars were 75 foot flatcars designed to haul a pair of trailers. The cars, like the majority of freight equipment of the era, was painted a shade of “boxcar red.” There were of course many varieties on this reddish-brown color among railroads, and operating conditions and age also played a tremendous role in determining the color of the paint.



Trailer Train expanded into the car carrying business in 1961. By then, only 10% of finished automobiles were moving by rail.

The piggyback business proved succesful, and Trailer Train continued to grow. Intermodal traffic is still at the heart of the company’s business today. Like the flatcars which started it all, today’s TTX roster is always on the forefront of innovative rollingstock. Now well and spine cars have largely replaced the standard flatcar in intermodal service, but there is no shortage of flatcars in the fleet.

Double Stack

From flatcars to doublestacks, TTX has always stayed on the edge of the always-changing intermodal industry.

In addition to growing to support the burgeoning intermodal business, Trailer Train expanded its services greatly in the 1960s and 1970s. Flat cars for new autocarriers were a natural expansion. Railroads could purchase their own racks and mount them on a Trailer Train flatcar. The cars then operated in pools just like the intermodal equipment to simplify billing and car utilization.

Additional flatcars were soon added to the roster including shorter general service cars, bulkhead flatcars, cars used for construction, farming and military equipment, and specialized heavy-duty and depressed-center cars for oversized loads.


Trailer Train started Railbox service in 1974 - the bright yellow boxcars have been a fixture ever since.

In 1974, in response to a national shortage in boxcars, Trailer Train created Railbox to ease demand. The national pool operated like their flatcars on whatever railroad needed the car next. Five years later, Railgon was created for a similar problem with general service gondolas.

Changing Images

The most noticeable change in Trailer Train’s image from trackside started in 1970 when

New Image

TTX continues to stand for modern quality service everywhere.

the company began painting its cars in the now-familiar yellow and black paint scheme. The bold colors greatly improved the visibility of the cars and the company.

In 1991, Trailer Train became TTX Corporation. This created a change in markings but the color and operating plans of the equipment and company remained the same. Another logo change happened in 2009, and the new red TTX logo has begun showing up on well cars, autoracks and boxcars.

TTX remains a major player in the freight car market, and will be for decades to come. For more on the company’s history and equipment, check out the history page of their website.

Freight Car Friday – Double Stacks

21 10 2011

The idea of intermodal transportation dates back to the Nineteenth Century. Trailer on Flat Car (TOFC) service as we recognize it today began its surge in the 1950s. But it was the rise (literally) of the double-stack container cars in the 1980s that propelled intermodal to the number 2 spot in railroad revenue earnings – where it has remained ever since.

Rockville stack train

The face of railroading today - a Norfolk Southern stack train crosses the famous Rockville Bridge.

Shipping containers offer the utmost in flexibility for transport and storage. They can be loaded on ships, trucks or trains, and stacked to save space. Although many different sizes and options are available, there is enough standardization in the industry to allow easy interchange. Without any need of mechanical systems (except for refrigerated units,) containers are cheap to build and maintain.

BN Husky Stack

Both Burlington Northern and Santa Fe were important intermodal operators even before the BNSF merger.

Since containers require less vertical clearance and offer a lower tare weight than trailers, the flat cars designed for TOFC service weren’t as efficient for containers (COFC). The Southern Pacific worked with American Car and Foundry to design the first car that would more than double the capacity of the car by stacking containers 2-high. By lowering the floor of the car closer to the rail, the double stack was able to clear more tunnels and bridges. This also greatly lowers the cars’ center of gravity. By building multiple well cars sharing articulated trucks, weight and friction are further reduced.

tank container

Although the overwhelming majority of intermodal shipments are carried in conventional boxes, some bulk liquid shipments are moved in 20 ft tank containers.

Initial designs used large bulkheads to hold the upper containers in place. Within a few years it was determined that the same interbox connectors (IBC’s) used on board ships would also hold the containers on rails. The elimination of the bulkheads further reduced the weight and center of gravity of the car and freed up space on the upper deck for ever-lengthening domestic containers.

At first the stack trains were confined to a very limited number of routes. Since the advantages of the service have been proven, railroads have invested billions in raising clearances on more lines. Today’s Norfolk Southern Heartland Corridor project is a good contemporary example.


CSX stack set

Add some modern intermodal to your layout!

Today’s double stack loads fall into one of two categories. International shipments are transloaded at ports on either North American coast. Many of these loads are bound from Asia to European markets are never unloaded on US soil. The vast majority of international shipments travel in 40 foot containers. International containers can also be 20 or 45 feet long. International containers are often brightly colored with large company slogans. Domestic (North American) shipments make up a larger and larger share of the revenue every year. With larger clearances on highways, domestic containers can be as long as 53 feet. All share a common set of 40′ posts however, allowing them to be stacked with international containers. Beginning in the early 1990s, large trucking shippers like JB Hunt began purchasing fleets of containers in addition to trailers to maximize intermodal utilization.

You can model a double stack train on your layout too. Depending on the train, you can find solid or mixed consists of international and domestic loads using both well cars and also single level spine cars. Although becoming increasingly rare today, you can even find a few conventional flat cars in service. Running on the hottest schedules, these colorful trains are today’s streamliners and the pride of the railroads. Let one loose on your rails!