New services pop up around the country to move perishables by train.
Class I railroads have done a masterful job since 2000 developing their intermodal franchises to the point that they are the fastest growing business line.
Within the intermodal space there has been much innovation over the years, including double-stack trains, dedicated intermodal terminals, more efficient lift cranes, and expansion from 40-foot international containers into 53-foot domestic boxes. The advances opened up business opportunities to carry new categories of products.
Many railroads, logistics partners and shippers are now focused on tapping an underutilized capability: refrigerated rail service.
In the past six months, three new companies have announced plans to enter the rail reefer market, while existing logistics providers Railex and Cold Train are expanding their fleets or geographic reach. The business models of the freight management firms all differ, with some controlling their own equipment and others acting like large freight forwarders, purchasing regular capacity from railroads at volume prices, selling the service to agriculture producers and retailers, and arranging truck distribution to and from the rail heads.
New technology for better controlling temperature, more reliable rail service and challenges facing the trucking industry are some of the reasons shippers are considering migrating food-grade and other perishable products to rail transport, industry insiders say.
Trucking is the dominant mode for domestic shipment of produce, meat, frozen food and pharmaceuticals.
Railroads for years have hauled cargo in special refrigerated cars or refrigerated trailers on flatbeds. But, with a few exceptions, those boxcars are mixed in with tank cars, flat cars, hoppers, gondolas and others that get sorted by destination and reengaged on different trains at yards along the way, while trailers have given way to stackable intermodal containers. Repositioning these random – or “manifest” – railcars on side tracks is slow, takes a lot of effort and can lead to additional shifting that bruises fruit and other perishable items.
Manifest trains generally are lower priority trains.
Instead, the new trend is to build express unit trains dedicated to transporting perishables long distances from a load center to a hub near a major consumption market, or to take greater advantage of expedited intermodal services, each of which reduce dwell time and increase train speed.
Railroads typically average about 20 to 28 days of turn time for a boxcar to make its way back to origin with manifest loads, which tend to be dispersed throughout the entire network rather than move on a defined corridor. Unit trains bring those turn times down to about seven days, resulting in much better equipment utilization for railroads.
“There is a heightened interest among railroads in running intermodal. They are very interested in running large blocks,” Paul Esposito, executive vice president of Railex, said. “So they each have that in their plan to reduce off-line work events to reduce work in the classification yards and increase transit times. And intermodal and unit trains speak to that model.”
Experts say intermodal traffic is poised to grow as highway congestion continues to worsen, fuel costs rise and the motor carrier industry faces capacity constraints due to a shortage of qualified drivers. State and federal environmental regulations aimed at curbing emissions from older trucks are forcing out of business some independent truckers who can’t afford an expensive new rig. New anti-fatigue rules that reduce the number of daily and weekly hours a driver can spend behind the wheel mean trucking companies need more drivers to haul the same amount of freight at the same time the driver workforce is aging and fewer young people aspire to become a truck driver. A new federal rating system for motor carrier safety monitoring is also weeding out unsafe drivers, further reducing the worker pool.
And the situation is expected to worsen when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as expected, soon requires the use of electronic onboard recorders that will automatically log a driver’s hours of operation behind the wheel, preventing the common practice of drivers fudging their work hours by keeping two paper logbooks, including one for inspectors to make it seem they complied with the law while actually driving more miles to make deliveries. Cheating is more common among owner-operators and adding the technology will be another burden for these small businesses, some of whom may quit if they can’t make as much money as before. The electronic loggers are expected to increase safety, but overall industry productivity will drop again because more drivers will be needed to run freight legally.
Depending on their size and contents, boxcars can hold three to four truckloads worth of cargo.
Further accelerating the mode switch in the food sector is the fact that outside of a few major refrigerated motor carriers such as C.R. England, Martens, Prime, Frozen Food Express and Knight Transportation, perishable products are hauled by small, independent truckers, according to freight transportation executives. Purchasing line-haul and drayage transportation from a single provider rather than multiple trucking companies helps to simplify supply chain management for shippers, many of whom also like the fact that they are presenting a pro-environmental image by using a mode with a lower carbon footprint.
Shippers, including growers and grocers, understand it will be more difficult to find quality long-distance trucking service to meet all their transport needs and are more open to the possibilities of freight rail, which can be 10 to 20 percent less than over-the-road truckload, industry officials say.
What follows is an update on the main third-party refrigerated rail providers. Each offers different value propositions, depending on a shipper’s product mix, traffic lanes and distribution center network.
. The transportation arm of produce wholesaler AMPCO Distribution Services Management is preparing to expand into the Southeast with a new rail-served distribution center in Jacksonville, Fla.
Railex has been running refrigerated shuttle trains between Wallula, Wash., and the Rotterdam Industrial Park in Schenectady, N.Y., since 2006. Two years later it added a similar, twice-weekly boxcar service between Delano, Calif., about 30 miles northwest of Bakersfield, and Albany, N.Y. Union Pacific operates the dedicated, direct unit trains from the West Coast to Chicago, where the cars are interchanged to the CSX Transportation network, and vice versa in the opposite direction. Transit time is guaranteed within five days, with minimal stops for crew changes.
The trains are typically run about 50-cars long, but can range anywhere from 45 to 80 cars. Some get combined from the two routes in Green River, Wyo.
The western terminals are right off the UP mainline, while the terminal in northern New York is about 10 miles west of CSX’s classification in Selkirk. The Wallula warehouse, which sits on the banks of the Columbia River, is connected to the main line by a 2.5 mile loop track.
Railex says it collects and delivers cargo within a 500-mile radius of a transload center.
The logistics provider has a hybrid business. The primary purpose of the dedicated unit trains is to move product for AMPCO. It then resells excess capacity to growers, other food distributors and retailers.
“We anticipate that within two years that we’ll be moving about 15,000 railcars of inventory per year,” Esposito said. About 6,000 of those cars will be from the new business connecting the West Coast and Florida.
Each boxcar can hold about 180,000 pounds, which means the company will move about 1.2 million tons a year if estimates pan out.
Railex plans to complete the 250,000-square foot refrigerated transload center in Jacksonville, which is designed to ship and receive product via boxcar, this summer. Service will begin twice a week from each West Coast DC in each direction and quickly rise to four-times a week, he said. Jacksonville will release two trains each week to the West Coast.
The $45 million (land, construction and material handling equipment) facility is adjacent to the Florida East Coast Railway’s (FEC) intermodal terminal.
Initially, both origination locations on the West Coast will load blocks of cars for both eastern destinations and the blocks will be swapped by CSX in Chicago to create separate trains with both California and Washington products heading north along the Great Lakes and southbound through Indiana.
CSX will bring the trains to FEC’s yard where the cars will be decoupled, hooked to FEC locomotives and pulled to the warehouse. The shipments will be run across docks to trucks, or temporarily stored if necessary, and distributed throughout the Southeast. Some of the perishables heading to lower Florida will be transloaded into 53-foot reefer containers and shuttled by tractor over to the FEC terminal and placed on intermodal trains.
FEC operates a 351-mile line between Jacksonville and Miami.
As part of its agreement with Railex, the FEC will coordinate a large portion of the truckload deliveries in the Southeast, FEC CEO James Hertwig said. Some regional supermarket chains with nearby distribution centers, such as Publix and Winn-Dixie, will pick up their own loads, but about 80 percent of the volume will be managed by FEC’s drayage arm, FEC Highway Services.
Hertwig said FEC will acquire about 50 to 75 refrigerated units, marking the railroad’s first investment in reefer equipment and enabling it to move about half of the Railex business on its own. FEC plans to dispatch trucks to Railex customers in places such as Augusta, Ga., and find backhaul cargo for the Miami area. The trucks will deliver the return loads to the Jacksonville terminal, where they will be put on FEC’s southbound trains to South Florida. Empty boxes initially will be returned by train, but Hertwig figures that by the end of the year FEC will be able to begin filling those empties with northbound refrigerated import cargo from Central and South America that touches down in Miami and Port Everglades.
Transloading from 40-foot ocean containers to 53-foot domestic refrigerated containers can be handled at the South Florida Logistics Center (SFLC), a 400-acre tract under development next to Miami International Airport and FEC’s Hialeah yard. The rail-served logistics park, which is only a stone’s throw by rail from Port Miami, eventually will have 1.5 million square feet of warehousing. A portion of the first erected building is refrigerated and has sophisticated fumigation systems for pest control in international shipments.
FEC Highway Services will outsource to other motor carriers the remaining 30 percent of the outbound Railex business for which it may not have an available container.
Once Railex builds up enough volume for Miami, several boxcars can be segregated from the end of an arriving train in Jacksonville and hooked to a southbound FEC train for transloading into trucks, either at the SFLC or another rail-served facility, for delivery in South Florida, Hertwig said.
“This puts us in an entirely new market,” Hertwig said of the partnership with Railex.
Railex’s strategy is to run commodities, such as wine, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, orange juice, citrus, grapes, carrots, frozen goods, confectionaries and imported products, in both directions.
The 64-foot series railcars used by Railex today are built with enhanced insulation, energy-efficient cooling systems, fresh-air exchange technology to maintain humidity levels, pallet-level tracking and GPS monitoring to ensure proper temperature and humidity control based on each customer’s specifications. That allows the company to ship more delicate products too, such as lettuce, berries and spring mix.
Esposito said a lot of products, such as some beverages, don’t need to be chilled, but are shipped with temperature-controlled equipment to maintain a moderate climate, especially during winter and summer temperature extremes.
Railcars (14 to19 at a time) are actually pulled into Railex’s facilities in Washington and New York for loading and unloading, but the tracks in Jacksonville, as in Delano, will run next to the building.
“We found that we were able to hold our cold chain better and have more sensitive products by having the cars on the outside of the building” and accessing them through balloon vestibules that surround the rail door,” Esposito said. The problem with bringing the trains inside the facility is that the heat collected by the metal cars during the journey is released into the building, raising the temperature level at the dock, he explained.
Similar to other intermodal marketing companies, Railex provides a package of logistics services, not just transportation. One of the service’s benefits is that the transport rate includes five days of free storage. Shippers can use the Railex facility to pre-position inventory and then pulse outbound deliveries based on market fluctuations or store needs rather than the truckload scenario of delivering upon arrival, giving them better control of their inventory from one centralized location.
Mark Casiano, vice president of sales, said by using Railex to store and ship product to their regional distribution centers on a just-in-time basis grocery chains forego the need to build or lease their own cold storage facilities. And some distributors ship in greater quantities and make sales directly from the Railex facility to grocery customers.
Esposito said Railex eventually plans to operate a New York-to-Florida corridor and open a facility in the Midwest, which is a large producing and consuming region for agriculture and processed food products.
Last year, the forwarder opened a 500,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled wine warehouse inside the loop track at its Wallula facility. It has a sophisticated warehouse management system and the capacity to hold more than 5 million cases of wine, according to Casiano.
A consistent, expedited service running two days a week has enabled Railex to meet its volume commitments to the railroads – the company pays for the trains whether they are full or not – and more than cover the cost, but more frequencies would likely generate even more demand, he acknowledged.
. A start-up called McKay Transcold, in partnership with the BNSF Railway, plans to begin a weekly refrigerated boxcar service between Selma, in California’s Central Valley, and Wilmington, Ill., in May with a business model that bears some resemblance to that of Railex.
The company hopes to add an additional frequency in each direction by the end of the first year, assuming demand grows, Jason Spafford, vice president of business development, said.
The company has its roots in trucking. Spafford’s brother, Matt, an independent truck broker with a small trucking company and a focus on the egg market, began considering rail to move eggs when California passed a ballot measure in 2008 banning the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, pigs and veal calves. The law, which was upheld by a California Superior Court last summer, ultimately will lead to larger cage sizes and less production for the state’s chicken farmers.
Matt, realizing he needed more capital and business expertise to take the concept to the next level, sold the fledgling Iowa logistics company in 2012 to Randy McKay, an investor and former commercial real estate developer, who moved the headquarters to Edina, Minn. Jason Spafford said he stayed on to move the project forward, while Matt returned to his trucking business.
McKay has assembled an executive team with experience at large companies in logistics and perishable transport, including two men who worked in upper management at US Food, Walmart and Nestlé USA.
The original plan was to build transload facilities on both ends of the route, but McKay opted instead to partner with existing cold storage companies and simply manage the express rail product. National Logistics Cold Storage, a new company, will operate a distribution center with a rail dock for McKay at the new Ridgeport Logistics Park in Wilmington, about 15 miles south of Joliet. National Logistics Cold Storage is partially owned by Tipman Engineering of Fort Wayne, Ind., which specializes in building refrigerated warehouses.
McKay Transcold is the anchor tenant for what is to be a 130-acre food campus.
The company also has a deal with Van-G Logistics, which already has a facility in Selma with track infrastructure and 14 rail doors in place. Van-G, which owns two other refrigerated warehouses and a small trucking company in central California, is adding additional track to accept a unit train and a switch so trains can make a one-way pass on and off the main line. It previously handled manifest rail cargo at much smaller volumes than it will under the new arrangement, Spafford said.
Both sites are close to BNSF’s transcontinental line. Hub-to-hub transit time is estimated at 96 hours.
“We’re a 3PL. We have total control from beginning to end,” Spafford said. “We have a contract with the BNSF for a dedicated unit train that we’re 100 percent responsible for filling.” McKay Transcold, for example, will have managers at both locations to oversee the flow of products in and out of the transload facilities and control truck dispatch from its main office near Minneapolis, he explained.
BNSF, which has about 960 refrigerated boxcars in its fleet, has committed 100 cars at start up and a total of 200 for the TransCold Express service, Spafford said. The 72-foot BNSF “Super Reefers” have all recently been refurbished and have new ibright cellular telematics that will allow the company to monitor the location and temperature of the railcars, and make remote adjustments to the refrigeration units.
Spafford said McKay Transcold eventually will buy or lease cars of its own to move commodities like ice cream.
McKay Transcold has committed to use 50-car trains, but BNSF will charge for fewer cars during the first few months while business builds up.
“Filling 200 truckloads worth of space on day one is quite a challenge, so we’ve got a little bit of a ramp to the 50 boxcars,” Spafford said. “Whatever we do, our commitment is to be balanced. So we’ll hold freight back from the beginning going west and bring it on slow to match the eastbound.”
Avoiding empty cars on the return trip is the key to success, according to CEO Randy McKay.
“The base of our business plan is tied directly to our pre-established, westbound backhaul which allows us to more efficiently utilize BNSF’s fleet of refrigerated boxcars in each direction, year-round. Currently, our customer demand westbound equals or exceeds the demand eastbound,” he said via e-mail.
Products that will be shipped to California include frozen pizzas, food for fast food stores, meat, cheese, butter, eggs and finished goods. Products to head to the Midwest include stone fruits, citrus, carrots, celery, butter and cheese that need further processing, and wine that requires protection from freezing.
The company will stay away from products like leafy lettuce and strawberries that need to go from ground to shelf within a few days.
McKay Transcold has developed a special lightweight, removable racking system to enable efficient double-stacking of pallets in the railcars.
Spafford said the biggest difference between boxcar and intermodal service is the catchment zone for cargo: intermodal containers usually stay within a 200-mile radius of a rail ramp because they are tied to the rail service whereas boxcar freight can go on trailers for customers as far as 500 miles away, depending on the lane, because there is no urgency to return specific equipment.
McKay Transcold sold its small fleet of 20 trucks because officials realized they needed more equipment for the drayage piece and is now contracting pickup and delivery with third-party carriers.
McKay, like Railex, is setting up a forward inventory play that Spafford said gives it an advantage over pure intermodal when customers don’t have their own distribution centers to receive freight. The line-haul cost includes the transload service to be competitive with truck, and offers flexible storage schedules to encourage customers to get their product to the train ahead of time, rather than waiting to get spots later in the loading process. Bigger savings will be available by eliminating pallet in/out charges. Intermodal freight put into third-party storage typically incurs an in-and-out charge of about $12 per pallet, depending on volume. That can amount to $264 in some truck configurations. And McKay can also offer storage at the destination hub, based on available space.
The forward distribution strategy was one of the reasons a $20 billion company such as BNSF decided to support the TransCold Express. It also gained confidence in the business plan from the experienced leadership team and the company’s existing base of trucking and brokerage customers that needed to move product west compared to others interested in operating unit trains that were focused on produce out of California, according to Spafford and the railroad.
“We selected McKay to join our team because of the strength of this entrepreneurial company and the strategy to launch a bi-directional freight operation that will benefit from the BNSF network,” BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler said in an e-mail.
. A dedicated, refrigerated shuttle-train service that was supposed to start transporting perishable products directly between Port Tampa Bay and an inland port in Indiana as of October has still not gotten off the ground.
Green Express is a start-up transportation wholesaler that is developing the service to move produce and other perishable ocean imports, primarily from Central America, as well as Florida-grown fruit and vegetables on a through-train operated by CSX to a facility in Kingsbury, Ind. It plans to haul agriculture products from Midwest growers back to Florida for export or domestic consumption. (See American Shipper
’s October 2013 feature story, “Cool train transload
,” pages 14-18, for more details.)
Project officials say rail transit will take about 56 hours.
One of the service’s unique features is that much of the cargo will be hauled in refrigerated boxcars after being transloaded at either end from ocean or domestic truck containers. Green Express will also offer intermodal service. One difference from other reefer services is that it involves a port and international cargo.
The project is being organized by Providence Logistics, a three-year-old company created by two former real estate veterans to develop rail-served inland logistics parks, in conjunction with the Port of Tampa.
In mid-August, Green Express signed a letter of intent to build an on-dock transload facility at Port Tampa Bay. Company and port officials had said intermodal service would begin in October and that construction of the new facility would commence in November.
But the project has many moving pieces, including some required engineering modifications to the rail footprint, that have temporarily delayed port commission approval, according to the officials, who now anticipate finalizing a deal early this year.
. For the past four years, Rail Logistics has offered an express, intermodal reefer service called Cold Train that departs six days a week from an inland port in Quincy, Wash., to Chicago, on the BNSF Railway. As part of the door-to-door service the company picks up and delivers product with 53-foot containers. Transit from Washington usually takes four to five days to the Midwest (48 to 52 hours just for train) and six to seven days to the East Coast via truck or rail interchange, according to the company.
It has become a popular shipping option for Washington produce shippers, with apples constituting about half the volume.
Last year, the company added a service with the same frequency between Portland, Ore., and Chicago. Combined, the company ships about 750 containers per month from Washington to 20 states and Ontario, Canada, and expects to reach almost 900 shipments per month this year, up from 100 a month when the service started, spokesman Patrick Boss said.
The Port of Quincy provides 10,000 feet of track, nearly 1 million square feet of refrigerated warehouse space in the general vicinity, and loading equipment, while Overland Park, Kan.-based Rail Logistics provides the railcars, markets the service and manages the transportation. The company now owns more than 400 refrigerated containers and plans to add another 100 to its fleet in 2014, according to a joint presentation before a recent Washington state House Transportation Committee special legislative work session on infrastructure.
The intermodal terminal was built about 10 years ago to ship Washington perishable and frozen goods to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, but has become more of a hub for eastbound shipments.
The service takes advantage of hot-shot intermodal trains operated by BNSF on its Seattle-to-Chicago mainline, known as the Great Northern Corridor. Cold Train contributes about 30 containers per day to the train.
The Port of Quincy is seeking to increase its loading area to accommodate the growth in eastbound perishable freight movement and has asked the state for transportation funding to fill-in the east portion of the terminal with heavy compacted gravel.
Tiger Cool Express
. On Feb. 3, Tiger Cool Express shipped its first three revenue-bearing containers on an express intermodal train from Southern California to the Northeast.
Backed by four-year-old, mid-market private equity firm Tiger Infrastructure Partners, the company intends to ship fresh produce by rotating equipment around the country in line with each region’s growing season. It has initially ordered 200 53-foot containers.
The company may be new, but the professionals running it are well-known industry veterans and two of them previously worked for Railex.
CEO Thomas Finkbiner for a dozen years was chief intermodal officer for Norfolk Southern before becoming chairman, president and chief executive of Quality Distribution, the largest U.S. tank truck carrier. In 2006, he became president for a year at Pacer Stacktrain, as Pacer International’s wholesale intermodal marketing division was then known. From September 2009 to April 2010 he was executive vice president of sales and marketing for Railex.
Chief Operating Officer Theodore Prince is a former COO for ocean carrier “K” Line America who subsequently served short stints as vice president of intermodal and international at railroad Kansas City Southern and then president of Consolidated Chassis Management, along with working as a consultant.
Both are founding board members of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver.
The chief commercial officer is Thomas Shurstad, who served as president of Railex from Sept. 2009 and left at the same time as Finkbiner. Shurstad previously was president of Pacer International after being promoted and replaced by Finkbiner as head of Pacer Stacktrain. Shurstad stepped down 18 months later. Prior to joining Pacer, Shurstad was CEO of the Chicago-based Belt Railway, the largest intermediate switching terminal railroad in the United States. Previously, he served as vice president and general manager of Southern Pacific Lines, before its merger with Union Pacific, and served as director of intermodal services for the Port of Seattle.
James Hornsby, who spent 12 years at Pacer Stacktrain and Pacer International, is the chief financial officer.
Tiger Cool’s founders said their business model is designed to give shippers of fresh produce the seasonal flexibility they get from using owner-operator truck drivers, while serving as a one-stop shop that simplifies transportation procurement and management.
Most of the perishable products hauled by the big refrigerated motor carriers are processed food or imports that arrive in port on a regular schedule and provide business throughout the year within a few hundred miles of their regional terminal, whereas fresh produce is almost entirely handled by owner-operators, Prince explained.
“Less than 2 percent of the produce that moves in this country goes intermodally,” Finkbiner added. “It’s the last billion dollar intermodal market left in North America” after dry goods, rolled and processed paper, canned goods, wine and specialty grains.
Meanwhile, supermarkets and other large grocers are looking for transportation alternatives. Many are following in the footsteps of merchandise retailers, led by Walmart, which have taken more control of their domestic transportation and just pay the distributor, supplier or ocean carrier for the freight or international transport, which is difficult to do when dealing with an atomized market of small truckers through a broker.
The strategy of purchasing and routing produce from the field has become more feasible as farms have become more corporate.
Nonetheless, companies like Safeway and Whole Foods have to switch their buying of fresh produce by season compared to retailers that, for example, buy office supplies from a factory that has a fairly consistent outbound transportation route year round. Tomatoes, for example, are grown in California between May and October. Production then shifts to Mexico for the remainder of the year and then Florida production kicks in from January through late spring. Instead of moving containers back to origin, the logistics provider will move them to the new sourcing location at certain times of year.
“Every time the season changes they have to use different carriers or people to haul their freight,” Finkbiner said. And each move brings with it “a whole new set of logistics issues and you almost have to set up a whole new supply chain three times a year.”
Tiger Cool Express, based in Overland, Park, Kan., will provide commitments on capacity and price through 52-week contracts that will offer more stability than procuring transportation through the spot market, the company said. And speed and reliability will be provided by utilizing the same premium intermodal services used by parcel carriers like UPS and less-than-truckload carriers for long-haul transport.
The company touts, for example, that containers will be available for pickup at the receiving ramp within 72 hours on moves from California to the Midwest.
“Our value proposition is that transit time won’t be any longer than truck plus one day. And for that we expect we can deliver 15 percent cost savings,” Prince said.
Tiger Cool will focus on multiple lanes, unlike Cold Train. It will ship produce from California, Texas, and Florida to the Midwest, Northeast and Canada, and eventually expand to the Pacific Northwest to support growers there.
Prince said Tiger Cool hopes to carry some counter-seasonal freight on the return leg, such as ocean imports, health and beauty aids, candy, yogurt, beer, wine, sparkling water and other items that can’t be exposed to temperature extremes, as well as dry goods.
“The real advantage of using the existing network is you get a seven-day service. You can ship any day, not just when there are dedicated trains,” said Finkbiner, who acknowledged the company someday hopes to build the critical mass to be able to run full unit trains of perishables. A daily train, however, would require about 2,000 containers, something officials believe they can achieve in a couple years.
Finkbiner said it’s a “huge mistake” to only offer service once a week, because shippers can’t afford to wait for transport once fruit or vegetables are harvested. Other types of food-grade commodities could work on a less frequent schedule, he admitted.
The initial shipments will come out of Southern California because that is where Tiger Cool is taking delivery of its reefer boxes from Hyundai. Then the boxes will circulate for several months between the Northeast and Florida. Later in the year, the company will hop on the rail in Northern California at the Union Pacific ramp in Lathrop and the BNSF Railway facility in Stockton.
Finkbiner extolled the virtues of intermodal refrigerated service over boxcar, saying, for example, that a 56-hour ramp-to-ramp service turns into a 70-to-80 hour terminal-to-terminal move to account for reloading and unloading the boxcar and switching the boxcar from the loading spot into a train before even counting pick-up and delivery time from the customer dock. Intermodal boxes are packed at the source and transported intact the entire journey.
But the refrigerated boxcar operators note their services come with storage options and in many cases customers aren’t dispatching cargo to a destination the moment it arrives at a hub.
“We’re door-to-door. We’re going to look like truck,” Prince said. “Initially, we’ll be partnering with the premium draymen to do the pickup and delivery.”
Finkbiner said strong customer commitments have given Tiger Cool the confidence to proceed with an order for another 200 containers at the end of February.
The fleet is equipped with Startrak telematics units that can provide location tracking and internal temperature monitoring and control. Sensors linked to the wireless device can detect door-opening events and fuel levels in the refrigeration units. Accelerometers within the sensor package measure the impacts on containers in transit, which could include railroad lifting or highway impacts, which are useful in determining the causes of potential cargo damage.