Not Using Rail? Maybe You Should

The news keeps getting better for shipping food via intermodal rail. New equipment and services offer shippers attractive and reliable options.


Branscum says that many motor carriers, comfortable with the intermodal model, are exploring the feasibility of moving food products in refrigerated intermodal containers. “This concept is new in the domestic world,” he says. “Refrigerated containers have existed in international trade for a long time on ocean carriers moving around the world. But domestic markets in North America haven’t seen the use of these containers until now.” He adds that only a few carriers are pursuing this transportation model in the marketplace because of the substantial investment required.

C.R. England is one such motor carrier investing its money and commitment to refrigerated, temperature-controlled containers that move double-stacked. “It’s a new development for us within the last several months,” reports England. He says that C.R. England has been working with a number of vendors to create the company’s new TempStack service—the company’s newest intermodal offering to the food logistics industry.

The company had already been running 320 intermodal trailers before recently purchasing 300 temperature-controlled containers to add to its fleet. “So we are essentially doubling in size this year,” England says. “We are committed to our new TempStack service, as we feel strongly that temperature-controlled container service is truly the future of refrigerated intermodal.”

England reports that so far, the reception of the new service has been good. “However, there were a lot of questions from shippers because of the slightly different loading technique. But it is not difficult to overcome and customers can realize significant savings with the service.”

The model is very efficient, moving two containers in the same spot one intermodal trailer would move on. “So the railroads can get more freight on their trains using the same number of trains.” Another benefit relates to a significant carbon footprint reduction: about 60 percent. “This means that the equivalent emissions of about 160 gallons of diesel fuel would be saved on every load, totally approximately 3 million to 4 million gallons of emissions savings annually.”

The way the service works is an England temperature-controlled container arrives on a chassis, is loaded like a normal truck, and then a short dray move takes the container from the customer’s loading location to the nearest rail ramp. The chassis is dropped off and put in the pool at the rail ramp and the container is put on a train in a stacked position. It runs the length of the trip—say from LA to Chicago—where there is a truck driver waiting to marry the container to a chassis to complete the delivery by truck.

Real-time visibility is provided using StarTrak GPS tracking technology. “This allows us to control the reefer unit remotely if we need to change the settings or restart the unit if there is an issue,” explains England. “We get real-time updates on temperature, location, and fuel levels. So from a technology standpoint, using rail allows us to do some amazing things.” C. R. England perso

Although there are a few other companies testing these new waters, England says his company is involved on a larger scale. “We have been innovators in the industry. We had the resources and the experience dealing with temperature-controlled products on intermodal so we moved aggressively forward in this new endeavor.”

C.R. England serves all the national major markets and works with all of the Class 1 railroads. “Our primary rail partner in this service is the BNSF Railway because they have such a solid network in the western region of the country,” England explains. The major lanes are from California to Chicago, Texas, Atlanta, Florida, and the Northeast.

Clockwork Unit Trains

Railex offers a different platform from intermodal or manifest rail, explains Paul Esposito, senior vice president of the Riverhead, NY-based company. “We are a specific unit train of refrigerated cars traveling from a single-point origin to a single-point destination. Our logistics company picks up inventory in the short haul by truck, brings it to our warehouse, loads it into refrigerated boxcars, moves it across the country in five days, and then distributes it to destination by short-haul truck. The benefit is any shipper can move anywhere from 10 pallets to 10,000 pallets. We offer secured capacity, consistent transportation rates, and consistent service—certainly it’s a service that is not your granddad’s railroad anymore.”

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