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AN EIGHT MONTH REPRISE FOR CLASSIC CABS


RoadRailer F-unit Finale


BY BRADLEY McCLELLAND/PHOTOS AS NOTED


I REMEMBER 1988 AS BEING A YEAR OF unusual events. Between the emergence of perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union, the worst drought seen in the eastern United States, massive wildfires in Yellowstone, and the mullet hairstyle I was wearing, it was certainly an interesting time. Looking back, though, the standout event of 1988 was the short-lived assignment of classic F-units to the hotshot CSX RoadRailer service between Detroit and Atlanta.


I was sitting trackside in my car in


Red House, Ky., on CSX’s CC (Cincin- nati to Corbin) Subdivision on a pleas- ant summer afternoon. I was waiting patiently for train R-211, the south- bound RoadRailer train, to appear. All was quiet, then from the north the sound of hard working EMD 587s in Run 8 echoed off the hills. Minutes lat- er, R-211 appeared with two clean CSX F-units on the point, slowly grinding around the curve. Exhaust was shoot- ing upwards toward the sky and sand was flying out from under the vintage F’s as they tried to keep their grip on the rails. With 72 RoadRailer trailers behind them, these classic covered wagons slowly clawed their way past me and continued the fight up Rich- mond Hill. It was indeed a great sight to behold in 1988, as most railroads had retired the last of their F-units from


42 AUGUST 2012 • RAILFAN.COM


regular duty by the start of the 1980s. “Please wake me, I must be dreaming,” I thought to myself each time I wit- nessed CSX F’s hauling the RoadRailer trains. Why would a huge Class I railroad


like CSX put F-units back in regular service? It was not until 2003 when I began researching these F-units and CSX’s RoadRailer service that I came up with the answer. In the mid 1980s, the automotive industry in America be- gan adopting “Just in Time” (JIT) pro- duction methods to streamline the manufacture of new cars by reducing the amount of parts inventory kept on hand. Because of the demands of the new production system, trucks had captured most of the JIT parts delivery service between Detroit and assembly plants in Atlanta. Highway trucks had the advantage as I-75 provided a direct


connection between the two cities. Both CSX and Norfolk Southern answered the truckers’ challenge with door-to- door RoadRailer service to serve the automotive plants. The RoadRailer concept itself can be


traced back to 1955 and CSX predeces- sor Chesapeake & Ohio, whose pioneer- ing “Railvans” incorporated an integral wheelset that could be lowered onto the rails that allowed the trailer to be hauled behind a conventional train. The advantage of RoadRailer service is that it is not dependent on using flat- cars or loading cranes, which further streamlines the service and reduces terminal dwell time switching from rail to highway mode. Today’s modern RoadRailers do not use an integrated rail bogie, but instead are designed to ride on specialized freight car trucks to make up a train. With about 48 hours separating De-


troit from Atlanta, both CSX and NS were now players in the JIT game. The new CSX RoadRailer service com- menced on August 4, 1987. The south- bound RoadRailer (train R-211) operat- ed between Detroit and Atlanta on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. The northbound train (R-210) departed At- lanta on Monday, Wednesday, and Fri- day. The main customer served was General Motors, hauling auto parts from manufacturing facilities in the Mo- tor City to assembly plants in Atlanta.


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