Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Two levels or three, both suit me

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Two levels or three, both suit me William C. Vantuono
Within the space of a few minutes, the robotic assembly line at Honda’s East Liberty, Ohio, plant can transition from building compact Civics to CRV crossovers. The Ford Explorer, a full-size SUV, and the Taurus, a sedan, share the same platform. Gas prices spike, and people start buying smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Likewise, a rise in housing starts in an improving economy could drive increased demand for pickup trucks. Indeed, flexibility is now a requirement for motor vehicle manufacturers, who must be able to respond quickly to continuously changing consumer needs and tastes.

How can the railroads, which move more than 70% of finished motor vehicles in North America, efficiently serve such a roller-coaster-like market with an autorack fleet that consists mostly of fixed-deck bi-levels and tri-levels?

RailwayAgeMultiMaxStoryJuly2013-3The Greenbrier Companies’ solution is the all-new Multi-Max™, a rack (not an integrated car) featuring adjustable decks for bi- and tri-level service, thus eliminating the need to add or remove decks. Similar in many ways to Greenbrier’s Auto-Max II®, the unit is built as a standalone rack that can be installed on existing 89-foot low-profile flat cars, “requiring significantly less upfront investment for fleet owners,” the company says. Deck adjustments can be completed on site at loading locations; Greenbrier’s preliminary estimates are about 30 man-hours (six to seven hours elapsed time). As a result, says Greenbrier, “Railroads will no longer have to place bets on which rack type will be needed to meet the constantly changing requirements of automobile manufacturers.” The economics of autoracks—TTX-owned flat cars, railroad-owned racks—do not change.

Designed with extensive input from Class I railroads, the Multi-Max™ is fully compatible with the existing bi-level and tri-level fleet (per AAR specification M950A) and comes equipped with the company’s Auto-Max II® tri-fold door design that reduces theft and vandalism by restricting access to the railcar interior and roof. The unit also features a standard superstructure post arrangement, corrugated roof, and galvanized perforated sidescreens, with sheer panels substituted for cross-bracing.

Thus far, orders for about 700 units have been placed by CSX, BNSF, and Norfolk Southern. The Multi-Max™ will be built at the Gunderson Concarrill plant in Mexico.