November 14, 2005

Norfolk and Western History

14 November 1955: The Norfolk and Western Railway initiates piggyback service from Bristol, Virginia, to points in the Northeast. This service came five days after the Pennsylvania Railroad, the N&W, and the Rail-Trailer Company of Chicago, Illinois incorporate the Trailer Train Company.1

My source (albeit a PRR one) indicates that "[m]any small towns had their own ramp for 'circus style' loading". Compared to somewhere like Philadelphia or Harrisburg, Bristol qualifies as a small town. My source in the Bristol area says that he's never seen anything like a TOFC ramp, but admits that he wouldn't recognize one anyways.

I've never actually seen a vintage TOFC car, but I do believe that the Virginia Museum of Transportation may actually have a first- or second-generation example. It's not linked at their website, and I don't have any digital images of it.

The Trailer Train Company would later include a lot of railroads amongst its stockholders. This was a move to avoid demurrage charges, which arose when one road's railcars were left on another road's property. It may have been calculated on a per day or per week basis; sources seem to conflict on this. Basically put, demurrage is like a late fee for a boxcar.2

Anyways, the creation of TOFC/Container on Flat Car service would lead to the intermodal trains of today, which whistle along the paths once trod by trains like the Powhatan Arrow and the Broadway Limited. TOFC service was a desperate (and apparently successful) strike at over-the-road truckers who had been wrenching market share from the railroads for at least a quarter century at that point (1955).

While the Pennsylvania Railroad vanished into history on 01 February 1968, the Trailer Train Company survives today, as the TTX Company. If you're even just a casual observer of railroad operations, you've probably seen a TTX-owned well car, a RailBox ("Next Load/Any Road") boxcar, or one of their RailGons. Hats off to Trailer Train for their half-century of success! (Notice their 50th anniversary logo; the PRR's stylistic influence lives on with a sleek keystone.)

UPDATE: I looked back at my post on this subject in 2004, and found something interesting. My correspondent in the Bristol area can't figure out where the TOFC ramp would have been, but this fellow appears to have located the thing in his layout designs. I sent the map of the N&W Bristol yard to my man in the Bristol area, and he's come up short as to where it might have been. It's been half a century since this existed, and there's been plenty of time for things to have been removed.

For what it's worth, I would have enjoyed seeing an N&W "A" 2-6-6-4 pull a TOFC train.


1 The N&W was a logical partner for this venture, inasmuch as the PRR held something like a third of N&W stock at this point. The PRR derived a lot of income from the N&W dividends, and would sorely miss that revenue after 1968. The Interstate Commerce Commission would order the divestiture of the PRR's N&W holdings from 1965 forward as a result of the N&W/Wabash/Nickel Plate/AC&Y mergers, and final divestiture was necessary for the PRR/NYCS/NYNH&H merger creating the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation Company.

2 I'm sure that the Superintendent of the Cold Spring Shops or Rip will correct me on this if I'm wrong.

Considerable information for this post was gleaned from the Keystone Crossings website.

Posted by Country Pundit at November 14, 2005 01:10 PM | TrackBack

Sharp looking digs. I agree, an A on a van train would be a fine counterpoint to Union Pacific's 3985 on a stack train!

In the home library is a Trains piggyback primer from the late 1950s that may clarify some of this early history, although around these parts piggyback began on the North Shore Line in the 1920s.

Posted by: Stephen Karlson at November 14, 2005 08:39 PM
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