Railroading & The Automobile Industry

Jeff Wilson
Item #12503

Learn about how the automobile industry and trains have worked together with this book from Jeff Wilson.

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Learn about how the automobile industry and trains have worked together with this book from Jeff Wilson.

This book gives you information about

  • Rail and auto traffic history.
  • Open and enclosed auto racks.
  • Auto parts boxcars and how they carried thousands of auto parts.
  • Assembly plants.
  • Automobile train switching.
  • Plus other operations.
Author: Jeff Wilson
Size: 8.25 x 10.75
Pages: 96
Table of Contents


1.) Rail and auto traffic history

2.) Manufacturing plants

3.) Automobile boxcars

4.) Auto carrier containers and trailers

5.) Open auto racks

6.) Enclosed auto racks

7.) Distribution and reload centers

8.) Auto parts cars

9.) Operations



'Railroading & The Automobile Industry' by Jeff Wilson

PLS, shorthand for Pack, Load and Ship, is a line-item on the financial statements of almost all manufacturers and many distributors. It refers to the actual expense of packaging products, loading them onto a delivery conveyance and the cost of shipping or delivering them. PLS adds nothing of value to the product or consumer's conception of the product and reduction of PLS expense is an ongoing quest for smart manufacturers. Doing so will either add to their profit or allow them to improve the actual product in some way to make it better or more competitive.

PLS varies greatly, depending on what business you're in. At Rohm and Haas Co. in the 1970s, injection-molding grade, bulk pelted Plexiglas - mostly sold in 300-pound fiberboard drums or 1200-pound cardboard totes mounted on wood pallets - averaged 3%. At my plastics display company - where customer orders were smaller and always varied: "Gimme three dozen of this and six of that and sixteen of the other thing." - our PLS averaged around 10% for products shipped in cardboard cartons partially-filled with protective foam peanuts.

This book is all about PLS as it relates to inbound auto components or outbound finished vehicles at automobile assembly plants. This 96-page, large format (8.2" x 10.8") paperback book contains about 200 photographs (a mix of b&w and color) and tells the history of rail shipping automobiles and component parts.

In the early days of the automobile, most were shipped in boxcars, in fully-assembled form or in knock-down semi-finished kits for dealers to finish. In 1920, railroads carried 70% of all new cars. In 1932, the Evans Autorack permitted boxcars to hold four cars using a hoist system to elevate automobiles. By the 1940s, improved roads and more powerful trucks, which could carry more cars, made over-the-road delivery more competitive. In 1946, only 40% of new cars were shipped by rail. The largest rail carriers were the New York Central and its subsidiary, Michigan Central Railroad.

The first shipment of new 1946 Hudsons left the Detroit plant in September, 1945 and were loaded into New York Central Railroad boxcars. An Evans-style autorack can be seen lifting a Hudson to provide extra space.

Railroads were slow to respond to the competitive challenge of over-the-road trucking. Railroads were often tardy in delivering cars to end terminals, especially if multiple railroads were involved, and had inefficient and inadequate shipment tracking systems. By 1958, only 8% of new cars shipped by rail. The railroads responded by developing special bi- and tried-level open rack freight cars to carry automobiles. Faced with vandalism issues, these cars were modified with side panels. Eventually, fully-enclosed 89-foot cars were developed to protect the merchandise and carry it in a cost-effective manner. By 1969, 52% of new cars travelled by rail.

Today, there are about 50,000 auto carriers - most are fully-enclosed - used by railroads carrying 1.5 million carloads of finished vehicles annually. Generally, rail shipment is more cost-effective than truck shipment when distances of 350 miles or more are involved.

The author is quite knowledgeable and much else is covered in the book, including rail-traffic management, in-plant railroading (mostly switching, shifting and shuttling) shipping of components, the effect of just-in-time inventory management on rail freight service. At many plants, boxcars are brought inside and stationed at concrete platforms for component unloading near the actual assembly point. I've seen this set-up in operation at Ford's Chicago assembly plant as well as at several GM component manufacturing plants.

Verdict: Recommended. I found this book most informative and interesting as well. Both car guys and train guys will find much to enjoy. (Review copy provided by Kalmbach Publishing Company) (posted 2/21/19, permalink)

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