The railroad industry is looking to car-pooling arrangements to increase the utilization of its equipment, which is growing costlier and scarcer.
Panel members at Wednesay's sessions of the Railroad Financial Conference here said more pools are trying to emulate the great successes of the Trailer Train Co., which completely dominates the intermodal-car market today.Henry Logan, a Trailer Train vice president, said that the firm's 87,000 flatcars had a 93 percent utilization rate during 1988, far in excess of industry averages.
Trailer Train, which is owned by a consortium of Class I railroads, buys the equipment and leases it to the roads. During 1988, Trailer Train equipment handled some 5.4 million loads, with each intermodal car averaging 50 loads.
Ralph von dem Hagen, a Conrail assistant vice president, said the railroad had been considering ending its auto-carrying service in 1980 because of poor utilization and damage claims.
However, thanks to Trailer Train, he said, automobiles have become a much more profitable market segment, thanks to the economies and management techniques of the pool, and the new equipment Trailer Train provided.
Trailer Train has been modifying many of its older flatcars into platforms for new auto-carrying racks that fully enclose the autos and reduce damage claims.
Mr. von dem Hagen said movements of empty auto carriers dropped 40 percent, and the average car carried more than 18 loads during 1988, compared with 12 in 1980.
The gains have been industrywide, he said, reflected by railroads today controlling almost 63 percent of the automobile market, compared with 50 percent in 1979.
"At the root of these gains," Mr. von dem Hagen said, "are the efficiencies of pooling."
Mr. Logan said as a result of its success, Trailer Trains' rates today are only 87 percent of what they were in 1983.
Other pooling ventures have been far less successful, however, although there is clearly renewed interested in pools for boxcars and gondolas, and new interest in pooling jumbo covered hoppers.
Trailer Train also operates Railbox and Railgon pools. While nowhere near as successful as the intermodal fleet, they are improving.
The continued shrinkage in the national car fleet and the continuing reluctance on the part of the railroads to sink their capital into new cars is clearly inspiring the new interest in car pooling.
Michael G. Messner was a panel member representing an attempt to establish a new private boxcar pool called RailVest.
The firm hopes to build a 10,000-car fleet of 100-ton boxcars that it would operate on a basis similar to Trailer Train. Such a fleet could save the rail industry some $19 million a year in increased efficiencies, he said.
John J. Robinson, senior assistant vice president of the Association of American Railroads, said his group's boxcar pool is still ironing out the