Consultant Laments the Near End of RoadRailers

A railroad industry consultant believes that Norfolk Southern decided to reduce the scope of its RoadRailer operations because it felt uncomfortable being the only railroad to continue to embrace the technology.

Larry Gross told Trains magazine that had other railroads continued to operate RoadRailers then NS might have followed suit.

Instead, NS this month scaled back its RoadRailer operations to one lane, which carries automotive parts between Detroit and Kansas City.

Gross, who has been involved with the RoadRailer program since the 1980s told the magazine that RoadRailers worked best for shorter hauls.

He said they were ideal for the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast, and were well-suited for moving such freight as auto parts

However, as railroads focused more on hauling longer, heavier trains the RoadRailer train became an outlier, Gross said.

Gross, who described himself as a “true believer” in the RoadRailer concept, said that the NS decision to do away with most RoadRailer lanes represents a “missed opportunity” for the industry.

NS operated its RoadRailer service under the Triple Crown brand. Many NS RoadRailer trains that ran through Northeast Ohio had originally been Conrail trains.

Other railroads that operated RoadRailer service for a time included CSX, Amtrak and BNSF.

When it announced that it was doing away with most RoadRailer trains, NS said it would incorporate that traffic into general intermodal services.

The Triple Crown subsidiary of NS was based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 200 Triple Crown employees are expected to be out of work as a result of the restructuring.

RoadRailers were specialty trailers that did not need to be loaded onto a flat car. Although the technology dates to the 1950s, the concept did not take off until the 1980s.

Conrail and NS launched Triple Crown Services in 1986. The service moved 5,000 trailer loads during its first year, but by 2007 had grown to 294,000 loads a year.

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