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As more industries shift towards containerizing their goods, congestion and cost arising from the increase in intermodal traffic will demand partnerships among rail carriers, truck and ocean carrier. Short haul intermodal services, generally defined as rail moves between 200 to 1,000 miles, like any other services, are driven by performance and cost.
In a recent survey5 of more than 4,000 trucking executives, the American Transportation Research Institute revealed that driver shortage was the greatest concern amongst truck operators.
Can shippers in short haul, low density markets realize the benefit of rail intermodal services? A successful rail intermodal service requires several elements, including sufficient freight to justify the service, access to rail services between the origin and destination, and an intermodal marketing company or logistics service to manage the service for the shipper. Rail Length-of-Haul (LOH), rail rates, rolling stock costs, terminal costs and dray charges at origin or destination all contribute to door-to-door short haul shipping costs.
Three methods available for short haul shipping include multi-unit well cars, multi-purpose 89’ flat cars, and RailRunner® bi-modal technology. 3-Unit Well Car: The 3-unit well car, a typical example of multi-unit well cars, is approximately 203’ long and weighs about 45,500 lbs.
RailRunner: RailRunner products vary in weight and length, and depends on whether a 53’, 40’ or 20’ shipping container is being transported. In order to fully appreciate their relative efficiencies, it is necessary to evaluate each type of intermodal railcar operation by considering its line haul costs, lift expenses, equipment and rolling stock costs, terminal requirements, surface preparation costs and other factors over annual container transaction volume.
This asset optimization study concludes that competitive short haul rail intermodal services can be provided for short haul and low density markets most effectively with RailRunner technology.
Capital Cost Comparison: Capital cost comparison - A 3-unit well car capital cost is typically less expensive, per container payload than RailRunner bogie and chassis combinations because well cars are a double-stack technology while RailRunner is a single stack technology. Rail Operating Cost Comparison: Line-haul costs of a 3-unit well car train, when compared with a RailRunner train carrying the same number of containers, has slightly less trailing tonnage and may offer marginal efficiencies in train running costs. Intermodal Operating Comparison: A well car must be loaded or unloaded at a terminal that has container lift capabilities.
General: It should also be noted that well car operations are limited to railroads that have double-stack clearances, which are not always available in short haul lanes. Product-to-Product Comparison: Product-to-product comparison – A multi-purpose 89' flat car, like RailRunner, carries containers in a single stack configuration. Rail Operating Cost Comparison: Line-haul costs of a multi-purpose 89' flat car train, when compared with a RailRunner train carrying the same number of containers, has similar in length and trailing tonnage and therefore, has comparable efficiencies in train running costs. Intermodal Operating Comparison: An 89' flat car, as per the well car, must be loaded or unloaded at a terminal that has container lift capabilities. General: Costly investment in lift equipment and terminal surface preparation for a flat car operation, paired with the added lease cost of marine chassis needed for drayage creates high unit costs in low-density markets. Optimal utilization of rail and terminal assets is critical for successful intermodal operations.
In order to effectively model the circumstances required for comparison, initial assumptions have to be made about rail operating conditions, rolling stock deployed and terminal assts and infrastructure built or acquired.


In the models, rolling stock units are determined by train length and frequency; train frequency required to generate the appropriate number of annual payloads.
89' Flat Cars are of a similar density per unit length as RailRunner, so for a given maximum length train, the number of consists required to achieve an equivalent number of annual payloads will be quite similar to RailRunner. Another variable is the use of additional power as trailing tonnage crosses certain boundaries. Both the total cost and operating costs have been calculated for each type of terminal and applied to the overall model. All analyses (equipment, rolling stock, surface prep, and labor) are presented in terms of cost only. Figure 4, above, shows the comparison of line haul cost between RailRunner and 89' flat cars. Terminal infrastructure and operating costs for flat cars are essentially the same as those of well cars. These are photos of some tank cars that I photographed while training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. PLEASE REMEMBER TO COMPLETELYREMOVE THE INSTALLATION FOLDER.You will not be able to proceed beyond this point until the installation directory has been removed. Industry experts forecast that by 2010, as much as 89% of global general cargo will be shipped in container2. Continued growth of the global economy translates into greater intermodal and domestic freight volumes. However, even though rail intermodal traffic has continues to grow, intermodal terminals are being closed, consolidated and relocated.
In the past, lack of rail density, expensive terminal costs, competitive highway service, costly container lifting equipment and rolling stock availability have kept short line rail carriers from offering intermodal services. Driver availability combined with high and unpredictable diesel fuel prices, new hours of service regulation, driver retention problems, increased congestion, high tolls and environmental issues increase truckers' costs and restrict their ability to add capacity. Typically rail costs are 30% of highway costs, but this advantage can be eroded in short-haul situations.
The following sections support this conclusion in direct comparisons of Well Car and Flat Car operations to RailRunner-based service. These lifts, whether gantry crane or reach stacker, are expensive to acquire, operate and maintain, and can only be cost efficient in terminals with high container volume throughput. A flat car train, with its single stack capabilities, is approximately the same length as a RailRunner train, requiring development of similar terminals and terminal track lengths. 3-Unit Well Car shows that the line-haul cost of RailRunner and a 3-unit well car are close, with the principal variation arising when additional consists are added because of the lower density of RailRunner. Well Car above shows a comparison of a RailRunner terminal fixed cost per payload to a double-stack or flat car terminal as a function of annual payloads. RailRunner - The study confirms that it is possible to establish a cost effective and efficient short haul, rail served intermodal service.


RailRunner - Flat cars per payload capital cost are less expensive than RailRunner, but are more expensive than a well car per payload costs. These volumes are concentrating in key hubs (very often in major metropolitan areas) and are distributed from these hubs via a network of highway and rail services. These on-going restructuring efforts are mainly due to rail mergers, line rationalizations and efforts to increase operating efficiencies, but often leave smaller secondary markets stranded without any reliable intermodal service.
However, given current trends in the trucking industry, continued closure of rail intermodal terminals, and developments in new rail technologies, distances as short as 130 miles can be successfully served by rail4. A fundamental question is whether or not current intermodal technology can offer advantages to short-haul or low-density markets. All well car operations require specialized container lift equipment at either end, used for changing the container transport mode from rail to road, or vice versa. Operating costs and challenges, for the flat car, are similar to that listed for well car operations – heavy container lifting equipment, costly surface preparation and a need for spare equipment all contribute to operating costs. In addition, terminal surface preparation required to accommodate heavy container lifts is more expensive than the surface required for a RailRunner operation. Costly investment in lift equipment and terminal surface preparation for a well car operation, paired with the added lease cost of marine chassis needed for drayage, creates high unit costs in low-density markets.
Although well car per payload capital costs are lower than RailRunner per payload capital costs, and well cars offer certain efficiencies because of its double-stack capabilities, such benefits are negated by the cost of terminal surface preparation and investment in heavy container lift equipment, . Flat car benefits are negated by the cost of terminal surface preparation and investment in heavy container lift equipment, which is similar to that required for well cars, This model creates an even stronger case for the RailRunner technology and, as shown in Figure 5 Total Cost RailRunner vs. In a short haul corridor, these escalating levels of freight are predominately carried by trucks, on the same highway corridors where there is increased personal travel (expressed in vehicle miles traveled (VMTs), and creating levels of compound congestion on highways.
A RailRunner operation does not require any lift or costly terminal surface preparation, and can be operated at a dedicated terminal or any siding or spur that has a level grade. A RailRunner operation does not require any lift or costly terminal surface preparation and can be operated at a dedicated terminal or any siding or spur that has a level grade.
Using the RailRunner Terminal Anywhere® System provides a much lower breakeven point than the well car operation. Flat Car, the total cost per payload for RailRunner is lower across the entire annual volume range. These VMT levels are growing at rates which cannot be sustained in a continued growth scenario. This switch of transportation mode can be preformed on relatively inexpensive dedicated terminal, or on remote rail sidings or spurs that have been level graded. Well Car, showing the total cost per payload, RailRunner is profitable for container volumes ranging between 5,000 and 45,000 containers per year.



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