This week I'd like to share with you an early 1970s railroading initiative. The initiative "Remapping international trade routes with the Railroads new service". That service, Penn Central's Rail Bridge.
The basic idea is simple. If a manufacturer in Japan wants to ship their product to England the standard procedure was to put the shipment on a ship which would sail southward through the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic to England. The Rail Bridge idea is that the same shipment ships out across the Pacific to a California port where the shipment is offloaded and placed on a rail car. The train then travels from California to New York where the load is once again placed on a ship for the trip across the Atlantic to England. Thereby using the United States as a Rail Bridge in the international trade routes.
The Rail Bridge initiative is also favorable for shipments to and from the United States as it can speed up transit time by anywhere from 4-7 days and reduce the mileage by about 3,000 miles.
So why would shippers use Rail Bridge instead of the traditional all water routes? Why would the Penn Central seek to enter into this type of service? The answer money and time, which equals more money. A Rail Bridge Train can haul the shipments faster and cheaper across the U.S. shaving a week more from transit times and thousands of miles in ship transit. The railroads make money, the shippers save money and the products get their faster. Sounds like a win-win-win.
So what was the one item that made this a possibility? The container system. First used on the New York Central in their Flexi Van trains but fell out of favor as few other railroads chose to participate. The Flexi Van system appears to have been slightly ahead of it's time. Basically we start out with a locked box that can be quickly dropped into a ship, onto a train or onto a truck. Using standard 20-40 containers this was intermodal before anyone else used the phrase. As for the railroads the containers mostly traveled in pairs on 89' flat cars.
So how did the Penn Central get to the West Coast? Enter the Santa Fe. The Penn Central and Santa Fe switch crews at Streator, Illinois. The road power stays on and the crew change is swift. PC engines are now seen in L.A and A.T.S.F. engines in NY. On occasion you will find mixed power of both roads. In addition to the Santa Fe the Penn Central operates Rail Bridge Trains with the Milwaukee Road and Burlington Northern.
Modeling opportunities from Rail Bridge Trains: Container traffic in single height. Double Stacks have not yet been introduced and the clearances in the N.E. would not accept them at this point. Layout too tight for 89' flats then use modelers license and use 20' containers on 50' flats. Add variety to your engine fleet. How did that Milwaukee Road engine get to New York? Why is that Santa Fe GP40 in that PC consist? They were part of a Rail Bridge Train engine consist. That's how!
For more Rail Bridge reading check out this link
Here are some pictures from my initial attempts to include some Rail Bridge traffic on my layout.
So there it is. Intermodal before intermodal. For a railroad that lasted only 8 years, and was mostly bankrupt, they did come up with and participate in some unique railroading enterprises. Nice work Penn Central!