Freight Car Friday – The Juice Train

8 08 2014

Thirsty for a more efficient way of moving fresh product, Tropicana Products teamed with the railroads to create a novel service which remains one of the most distinctive unit trains to be found anywhere, the “Juice Train.” While the cars, the routes and even the railroads have changed since its inception, one thing has always remained constant; keeping “the Juice” moving is a dispatcher’s top priority.

Juice Train

The Juice Train highballs north on CSX on a late spring evening. The train has just crossed the historic Thomas Viaduct near Baltimore and its sweet contents will be on local delivery trucks by tomorrow morning.

The unique operation began in 1970 when Tropicana started shipping juice from its Bradenton, Florida processing plant north in large insulated boxcars. By 1971, 150 new dedicated cars from Fruit Growers Express gave the company enough equipment for several complete unit train sets. The roster was soon expanded to 250 cars, some with refrigeration units added to help maintain temperatures on the hottest days of the year when insulation alone wasn’t quite enough.

Initially the train used Seaboard Coast Line, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac and Penn Central rails on its run from Tampa to Kearny, New Jersey. The last part of the run put the train under the catenary and GG-1 and E44 electric locomotives could often be found on the point.

modern Tropicana car

Tropicana’s newest cars returned to the white color of the first train but with today’s instantly recognizable trademark graphics. The satellite-controlled refrigeration units were but a dream when the original cars were delivered however.

Railroad mergers changed the names to CSX and Conrail. As Conrail rolled back its freight operations on the Northeast Corridor, the route shifted to the nearly parallel CSX, former B&O line north of Alexandria, Virginia before riding former Reading and Lehigh Valley rails. Because of the priority schedule of the train however, it will be rerouted if a derailment or major construction project prevents timely service on the normal route. It has run as far west as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on its trip north.

What started with just two 60-car trains a week has grown to as many as 10 weekly trains, including new runs to Cincinnati, Ohio. Train lengths can vary from as few as a few dozen cars to well over 60 depending on the season. In 1999, a new Jersey City, NJ facility was opened on the north end. A new facility in Ft. Pierce, Florida now sees connecting cars coming from the Florida East Coast Railway as well. And in addition to the New Jersey and Ohio unit trains there are several carloads of juice shipped daily to California’s City of Industry via CSX and Union Pacific – often on the head end of priority double-stack trains for fast handling.

insulated boxcar

Many of the older cars still carry the orange paint scheme. Note the small refrigeration units added below the floor of these insulated boxcars.

Empty cars returning south receive less priority but must still be moved efficiently to ensure a constant supply. At times the cars have returned in solid unit trains. Other times cars were sent back as they were emptied as part of regular mixed-train consists.

Even people who don’t know a lot about trains can easily relate to the taste of fresh orange juice. That makes the Juice Train the perfect marketing tool for all companies involved. And the freight cars themselves are really a major part of this train’s appeal.

CSX reefer

CSX owned reefers show up in the trains as well, some with Tropicana markings.

The Juice Train isn’t just a rolling refrigerator, it’s also a gigantic billboard. The large cars have worn a variety of paint schemes featuring the Tropicana logos – modern “billboard reefers” for sure! At times painted white, orange or even dark blue, the long train of bright cars with the familiar trademarks makes quite a statement as it rolls along its heavily populated corridor. In 2012 the train’s unique character made it the perfect subject for a promotional article and video for General Electric’s locomotives as well as CSX’s performance and service.

There have been several different types of cars used on the Juice Train since 1970, from insulated 50′ boxcars to modern mechanical reefers. In addition to Tropicana’s cars, leased cars from CSX and FGE have also been employed when needed during peak times. The initial order of cars came from FGE. Since then PC&F and Trinity have supplied equipment. Today’s train often includes a mix of the modern white Trinity cars along with some of the older PC&F and FGE cars in a mixture of the new white and older orange schemes.

Whether you enjoy studying freight cars, railroad operations or just a refreshing glass of OJ, the Juice Train is certainly a fun part of the railroad scene!

Advertisements




Freight Car Friday – “Green Freight”

14 03 2014

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, everybody is wearing a little green. Today “green” is more than just a color – and freight trains are an important part of an economy that is striving to be more eco-friendly.

roadrailer

A Norfolk Southern Roadrailer train heads east against a summer sunset in Ohio. These modern locomotives will have no trouble handling the 125 trailers.

Railroads are always working to find ways to make locomotives more fuel efficient and with ever-decreasing greenhouse emissions. General Electric just unveiled their latest version of the ES44AC – now Tier 4 compliant – earlier this year. But the fuel and emissions savings of a single locomotive pale in comparison to the overall impact of shifting freight to the rails in general.

Nowhere is the advantage of rail easier to spot than an intermodal train. A typical train will take as 150 to 200 trailers and containers off of the highway for the long-haul portion of the route. Not only do we realize a savings by replacing 150 trucks with 2 or three locomotives, but there are “hidden” savings as well. Taking that traffic off the highway eases congestion, allowing other traffic to keep moving and saving even more time, fuel and money.

CSX train

A unit train of coal is railroading at its most efficient.

A freight train can move a ton of goods 476 miles on a single gallon of fuel. Compare that to about 130 miles/gallon for a truck. This often mentioned figure of ton miles / gallon is figured based on the annual national average; dividing the total number of freight-ton miles by fuel consumption reported. Looking at figures compiled by the Association of American Railroads, that number has grown steadily since the 1980s and is at an all-time high.

yard

Modern yards are designed to minimize extra movements and delays.

Gaining efficiencies in rail transport is about much more than improving locomotives. The most significant improvements come from reducing the time trains spend sitting idle on sidings or being switched in yards.

Unit trains have made a huge impact here. Investment in right-of-way improvements like extending passing sidings or adding a second (or third) track, or improved processing and switching in yards with computerized car tracking cost a lot up front, but can save millions in the long run.

tank cars

The tank cars might be black, but these trains are part of something “green.”

Railroads are moving green energy as well. Solid trains of ethanol tank cars are now a common sight all across North America. Tank cars have led new car construction orders for several years. Even giant wind turbines often make the majority of their move by rail.

Even the most biased of fans and industry insiders will admit that there is a need for a balanced transportation network. Highways, waterways, pipelines, air, rail – all have their role to play. What is clear however is that when the railroads are given a clear track to move the freight they do best, we all win.





Freight Car Friday – Coal Cars

20 12 2013

When we think of coal cars, we traditionally think “hoppers.” But over the long history of moving coal by rail, many different types of cars have been used. So in the spirit of the season, let’s take a look at what might be bringing the coal to your stocking this year! (No train lover would ever really consider that a bad present after all.)

Early Coal Cars

early coal

Early coal cars, like those pulled by the Stourbridge Lion, showed little engineering imagination.

Coal was among the very first commodities carried by the early steam, gravity and horse-drawn railways of the Nineteenth Century. The first coal cars were the most simple of affairs. Essentially a topless wooden crate with pair of axles beneath it, these small cars held only a few tons of coal at best. Cars were unloaded by hand, or simply toppled over and then put back on the track. Chains served as couplers and brakes…who needs brakes?

As the efficiency of rail transportation and the potential power of steam locomotives became clear however, the need for refinements to these primitive designs were equally obvious. Gondolas would remain the car of choice for the first few decades owing to their simplicity of construction and the fact that hoppers would have to be spotted over some sort of pit or bridge to make gravity unloading practical. But standards, appliances and car capacities all quickly improved.

The first hopper cars, which could unload their contents from doors on the bottom, began to emerge in the 1850s. Prior (and even subsequently) to this there were drop-bottom gondolas which featured a doors in a flat floor. The angled ends (slope sheets) would offer faster unloading however and the lower hopper doors and bays improved both capacity and the cars’ center of gravity.

Wood to Steel

steel hopper

Pennsylvania 33164, a GL class car built in 1898 shows construction details typical of early steel cars. It is preserved today at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

By far, the majority of coal cars produced prior to 1895 were made predominantly of wood. The B&O had experimented with some iron “pots” as early as the 1840s but their tare weight was much too high. It was not until the pressed steel designs of the end of the Century that the railroads could begin to seriously consider steel as an option.

At first railroads were reluctant to switch to steel for its weight and cost. After only a few years in service however, the comparative economics of the more durable material became obvious. While wood remained a common building material for boxcars and reefers for the next several decades, the conversion to steel for hoppers happened relatively quickly. By 1910, with the exception of some composite wood and steel cars during the wars, construction of wood hoppers had nearly completely ended and those that remained in service would be retired over the coming decade.

Capacity

Nickel Plate

The 55 ton hopper was a standard size for decades. The offset-side design was one popular option.

After the switch to steel, there were numerous variations on the design of coal cars. Some of these were in search for a better construction method, lower tare weights or to address the concerns of specific shippers. Others were centered around increasing the overall capacity of the car. Since you could easily fill a book on the various designs, we’ll focus on the general capacity changes here.

The “standard” car from 1900 to 1960 carried 50 to 55 tons of coal. The 55 ton hopper remained common into the 1970s. There are a variety of reasons this capacity remained the standard for so long. From the shippers’ perspective, this size worked well for a variety of coal uses. Coal for home heating for example was typically shipped in smaller quantities to local distribution centers. Larger consumers still enjoyed the advantage of these small cars by blending several carloads of different grades of coal to get just the formula they demanded.

For the railroads, the size had as much to do about standardization of the dimensions and mechanical parts, in particular the wheels and journals, to make interchange of the coal cars easy among all carriers. There were however clearly cases where a larger hopper offered greater savings.

H21

The Pennsylvania’s H21 class of 70 ton cars were among the most numerous of this capacity produced before WWII.

Next up from the 55 ton car was the 70 ton hopper. These were generally used by larger customers including power and steel companies and for export coal. Although this size of car first showed up in the 1920s, they wouldn’t become a new standard on many lines until the 1960s.

There were also some early experiments into truly enormous coal cars for their day. The most successful of these were 100 and 120 ton gondolas built by the N&W and Virginian. Used only on their own routes for export coal, these “Battleship Gondolas” greatly reduced operating costs between the mines and new rotary car dumpers in Newport News, VA. It was a concept sixty years ahead of its time.

Unit Trains and the Return of the Gondola

PPL

Pennsylvania Power and Light was one of the first utility companies to embrace the unit train concept.

By the late 1960s, the economics of coal were changing. While it remained the number one commodity for the railroads, its shipping patterns were changing and coal cars would have to adapt to keep up. Smaller individual car-load shipments were giving way to bulk orders. New competition from government-funded coal slurry pipelines and inland waterways posed a significant threat.

Railroads met the challenge in two ways. First, unit trains offered improved service and much faster turnaround. The efficient dedicated trainload service cut railroad operating costs significantly. Consequently they could pass huge savings onto the big customers to keep them happy.

When these new schedules were combined with new larger equipment, the economic gains were magnified. First 70 ton and then quickly 90 and 100 ton hoppers became the standard. In the span of a decade, the average capacity of a coal car in North America nearly doubled.

UP train

Modern Railroading – A loaded train of bathtub gons descends Union Pacific’s Kirkwood Hill with an unmanned helper on the rear.

The rotary dumper also began to become widely accepted and installed at these major consumers. This rotating platforms could dump 100 tons of coal into the plant in under two minutes. It also meant that the hoppers, especially their mechanical doors, were no longer necessary. Many railroads rebuilt their hoppers into large gondolas to extend their life and reduce operating costs.

Today, the 120 ton capacity gondola is the standard. While you’ll still find plenty of hoppers on the rails for customers who don’t have dumpers (or who prefer the security of knowing their cars can still unload even if the dumper is broken) 100 car trains of these large gons show up regularly on railroads across North America.

The traffic patterns have shifted too. Today the majority of coal used in the United States, and exported from here around the world, comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. PRB coal has even found its way into plants in old-coal states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Mines there still fill trains however, including the rich Anthracite fields of eastern Pennsylvania whose product can’t be matched anywhere else. Those modern cars however sure look a lot different from the wooden boxes which descended the gravity switchbacks and inclined planes nearly 200 years earlier.





Freight Car Friday – Eastern Ohio Rails

16 08 2013

If you’re headed to our Customer Service Open House tomorrow in Canfield, Ohio you may want to save a little time for some real train watching as well. Northeastern Ohio is a still a busy railroad area with plenty of Class 1 railroads as well as several local shortlines providing lots of action and variety. Several promising train watching locations can be found within just a few minutes’ drive from our Ohio facility.

Norfolk Southern

roadrailer

A Norfolk Southern Roadrailer train heads east against a summer sunset in Columbiana – just south of our facility. With the long summer days, you can enjoy the open house and still get in plenty of train watching!

Today’s Norfolk Southern has several historic ties to the region. The closest rails to Canfield are both former Pennsylvania Railroad lines acquired through Conrail. Just a few miles south of town you can catch lots of mainline action on the former PRR mainline to Chicago and St. Louis. You’ll see freight cars of just about every type here. Intermodal trains are quite common, including double stacks and Roadrailers. You’ll also catch unit trains of coal, oil and ethanol, stone, autos and occasionally grain. There is frequent mixed freight action coming and going from Conway Yard, not far away across the Pennsylvania line. Amtrak’s Capitol Limited also uses the line but normally passes here in the dark.

hazelton

Traffic at Hazelton Yard in Youngstown still shows lots of cars serving steel industries.

Heading east towards Youngstown, you can also catch Norfolk Southern on the Pennsy’s former Youngstown Line. Traffic here is a little lighter but includes a few daily mixed freights, plenty of coal and ore trains along with empties, as well as local runs serving a variety of industries. Although the steel trade is not what it once was, steel products are still make up many of the loads. Gondola, coil cars and flatcars are most common.

For a completely different look, you can travel a few miles in the opposite direction to the large GM assembly plant in Lordstown. Although the plant is served by Norfolk Southern via a small branch line, most of the traffic is delivered to CSX’s nearby mainline. If you’re looking for big boxcars and autoracks, this is the place.

CSX

csx

One of the many auto trains on CSX heads races east ahead of threatening skies. The small town of Lowelville offers a pleasant place to catch all the action – along with the NS Youngstown Line.

CSX comes through the area on former B&O and P&LE tracks. Part of their mainline west from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C., you’ll see a great variety of traffic here too. In the Youngstown area, CSX and the NS Youngstown line are often close by. With the help of a scanner you can easily catch trains on both lines all day. The lines cross at Center Street in Youngstown and the junction is easily and safely viewed from a public overpass.

CSX traffic includes lots of coal, coke, auto and intermodal trains in addition to mixed freights and locals. Lines east of Pittsburgh have clearance restrictions which limit double stacks to pairs of the shorter international containers. Scenery on this line also varies from quaint small towns to wooded hills, to the urban backdrop of Youngstown to open farmland. If you want a different view, it can usually be had in just a few minutes’ drive.

Youngstown and Southeastern

Lionel boxcar

Here’s one you just can’t shoot anywhere else!

Looking for something completely different? The Youngstown and Southeastern offers a chance to watch some first-generation Geeps hauling large unit trash trains down a single-track branch line. The line was originally the Youngstown and Southern, eventually part of the P&LE and handed down through a long string of owners after 1991. Today the line’s primary function is to serve the Total Waste Logistics trash incinerator. Trash cars are interchanged with CSX and NS in Youngstown.

When not in use, the line’s locomotives can usually be found next to the old station in North Lima. While you’re there, make sure to see the Lionel Lines and LGB boxcars!

We hope you’ll all be able to make it to our 3rd annual open house. There are lots of other great train (and non-train) activities in the region too, so make a weekend of it!