Automotive Operations

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Automotive Operations

Or Cars Moving Cars

The movement of vehicles on North American railroads can be a strange dance between car manufacturers, importers, exporters, and of course the railroads. Given that automotive traffic is highly lucrative, you would think that railroads would be offering just about anything they could to get a share of the pie. As it turns out, the contracts for moving vehicles isn't as cut-and-dry as one would think and most of the movements are geared not so much on the railroad with the lowest costs, but the origination and destination of said vehicles.

For a case in point, let's look at Ford Motor Company's Flat Rock facility, located near Detroit, MI. The Flat Rock plant is known for building Ford's muscle car - the Mustang, which is in demand throughout North America and the World. Looking at the railroads around the plant though, we find that Flat Rock is pretty much captive to Canadian National as a means to ship the cars out. This means that no matter the final destination of the autorack, CN will get a share of the load as the cars can't leave Michigan without them.

Now looking at the opposite side of this coin, let's look at Ford's Claycomo, MO plant, home to the Ford Transit and the F-150. Norfolk Southern's large yard in Voltz is very handy and indeed the plant is served by a spur from the yard. However, that doesn't mean that all the vehicles are loaded there. Since BNSF and UP also have contracts with Ford, vehicles for those two railroads are trucked to yards served by both at Kansas City Argentine and Kansas City Muncie respectively. There are several instances like this around the country, where it is more economical and convenient to truck the product to the rail head rather than load at the plant.

The final destination of the autoracks is also of concern as not all ramps unload all makes of vehicle. Which ramps unload which cars can get very confusing. Add to this the various ports that import and export vehicles and the automotive side of railroading can get very messy.

If you want to see an in-depth look at all of the automotive ramps in North America, the Association of American Railroads puts out a PDF file with more information than anyone could probably want. You can find the current guide at this link: 2023 AAR Terminal Guide.

Vehicles and FYM

Remember: For all types of Automotive trains, blocking is very important (just like Intermodal]). Cars destined for the same terminal should always be blocked together and not "shotgunned" throughout the train.

Like most industries, not every possible autorack move can be made in FYM. The game also has a weak link in the entire automotive distribution chain, especially when it comes to moving parts to and from various manufacturing plants. We hop to rectify this situation in the future, but for now we'll concentrate on the movement of the finished product.

Most railroads have a specific class of train for handling Autoracks, although they can be found on just about any type of train in North America. Empty car movement is quite often handled in regular manifest trains. Because of their unique drawbar design and lengthy couplers, railroads have established strict guidelines for the safe movement of autoracks in trains, both full and empty.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but in a general sense blocks of loaded autoracks should ride right behind the power on a train. Similarly, blocks of empty autoracks should be put as near the end of a train as possible (with the only exception being Home Shop For Repair (HSFR) and empty flat cars.