We're the rail industry leader in intermodal transportation, which involves freight in trailers or containers that are interchanged with trucks or ships.

We were a pioneer in the use of intermodal transportation and are still the rail industry leader. Once called "piggyback," this type of transportation involves freight in trailers or containers that are interchanged with trucks, ships or other modes. Our intermodal service contributes to the reduction of traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. One BNSF intermodal train can take several hundred trucks off the highways, reducing congestion and emissions.

Truck trailers or cargo containers from ships are loaded directly onto railcars. We transport them between intermodal facilities or "hubs." The freight is then picked up and trucked to its final destination.

A significant percentage of intermodal freight starts overseas, including from Asia, although we also have a substantial domestic intermodal business. Intermodal transportation is very efficient, because the freight is loaded only once at its origin into a container or trailer and unloaded only once at its destination. This approach reduces cargo handling, improves security, reduces damages and losses, and allows freight to be transported more quickly and reliably.

Conventional or "Hitch" flatcars

The first type of intermodal flatcars haul truck trailers on 89-foot conventional flatcars or articulated spine cars often referred to as "hitch" equipment denoting the hitch requirement for the truck to pull the trailer over the road. Additionally, these cars can handle containers when equipped with a chassis under the container for over-the-road movement when unloaded at an intermodal hub facility.

Three-pack and five-pack well cars

An intermodal railcar having wells between its trucks (wheel assemblies) that hold freight containers are referred to as "three-packs" or "five-packs" depending on the number of wells.

The containers can be double-stacked, which means up to 10 containers can be carried on one railcar. Containers on well cars can be 20, 40 or 53 feet in length. The 20 and 40 foot containers are referred to as steamship containers for international traffic while the 53 foot containers are typically for domestic freight.

End-of-train device

A small mounted device at the end of the train performs some important functions.

The device has a high visibility marker, a bright light to show other train crews where the end of the train is.

It measures the brake pipe pressure at the end of the train and transmits the information to the locomotive cabin, where the crew can see it. It also has a motion detector to tell the crew whether the end of the train is moving. A locomotive starting to pull a long train can move a good distance before the last car moves, so the motion detector lets the crew know the progress of the entire train.

The end-of-train device can actively assist with emergency braking. Pressure is dropped from the brake line at both ends of the train to activate the brakes, resulting in much faster deceleration than if the brakes were applied only at the front.

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