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  • Operations: Auto Racks in Action

    D. Scott Chatfield

    A solid train of auto racks on the Southern Pacific mainline east of Reno, Nevada. -- J. Fred Coots, Jr., photo
    Railmodel Journal - November 1994 - Page 10

    The first article on auto racks, in the June 1992 issue, described the prototypes and the matching models from Walthers and Schaefer in HO scale. A similar car is now available in N scale from Con-Cor. There is a pattern to the movement of most of the auto rack cars that you may want to duplicate on your model railroad.

    Trailer Train may own most of the flats, but it owns no racks. The actual racks are owned by the railroads. Some roads mount their racks on their own flat cars, or have some of each (Southern, for instance). Most of the "traditional" Class One railroads have enclosed racks, and how many racks each railroad owns is determined by formulas based on the revenue they share from haul ing automobiles. So a small bridge line with no on-line auto plants will have only a few racks (Clinchfield, for instance, which had a few ETTXs), while even a small road that originates or terminates a lot of rack loads will have a fair number of racks (Florida East Coast). So when the Rio Grande got trackage rights to Kansas City, it needed to buy more Tracks since it now got a bigger share of the revenue. Since the racks are assigned to pools for each auto plant, they can be loaded to any destination, backhaul their cars in GM's racks. Ford regardless of rack ownership. This is why you will see racks from many different roads waiting to be loaded at auto plants, because there is no "home road" for the racks. And there is no guarantee that solid blue Grand Trunk Western rack you saw being unloaded at your local ramp was loaded in Michigan. In 1986, there were 25,000 racks assigned to the Big Three American automakers.

    This pooling of racks is a key operational feature of auto racks. Since each auto manufacturer uses a different method of tying down its autos in the racks, each rack needs special equipment that limits it to cars for that builder. A shortage of racks at a Ford plant can't be filled with extra racks from a GM plant. And thus you will see the same cars over and over again at your local auto plant. So even if you don't actually model an auto plant, you have a prototypical excuse to see the same cars repeatedly on your layout.

    From the sounds of this pooling system, you'd think racks would run up a lot of empty miles, and they used to. Starting in 1979, GM set up reciprocal pooling with foreign auto makers to followed suit with Mazda, which is partly owned by Ford. This allows the American builders to send a loaded rack west, then route it to a West Coast port for reloading with imports that are then hauled east.

    A rack mounted on a Trailer Train flat will have a separate number stenciled somewhere on the rack. This is the railroad's number for its rack, since strictly speaking the rack and flatcar are separate entities. Unfortunately, this number does not appear in any publication I'm aware of, so there is no way to look in the Equipment Register and see whose rack is on which flat car. In fact, there are few solid number series, as the builders put the racks on whatever cars Trailer Train sends them. This is especially true of racks on rebuilt flats. So one car might have a Conrail rack, the next car a Santa Fe rack, the third a North Western, and so on. The only way to know the right number for modeling purposes is a photo of the prototype.


    Article Details

    • Original Author D. Scott Chatfield
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date November 1994

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