Triple Crown Intermodal Network
Inaugurated in 1986, Triple Crown (TC; a subdiary of Norfolk Southern),
is a bi-modal transport network servicing the eastern part of the United
States, including southern Ontario, Canada. It is using an hybrid technology
since it combines specifically designed trailers with rail bogies (called
RoadRailers) to form unit trains that can be composed of up to 150 trailers.
Although Triple Crown is a form of intermodalism, the term bi-modal
appears more suitable in this case since the load units are not transferred
from road to rail (and vice-versa) in the standard sense of a load break
where intermodal equipment is required (e.g. RTGs or side-loaders).
The load units (trailers) are simply assembled in rail convoys at the
origin and disassembled at the destination.
From an initial service of 150 trailers between California and Chicago,
the network has grown to a fleet of 7,000 trailers servicing 14 dedicated
terminals and accounting for more than 700,000 movements annually. Also,
about 850 drivers are used for regional drayage. The network is structured
in a classic hub-and-spoke design with Fort Wayne, Indiana acting as
the hub. Trailers are picked up from customers and brought to the nearest
TC terminal, generally over a distance of less than 200 miles (325 km).
At the terminal, trailers are assembled into convoys by being latched
unto bogies to form an intermodal unit train that will be forwarded
to the hub (Fort Wayne). At the hub, trailers are rearranged into convoys
for their respective destinations where trailers will be unlatched and
drayed to the final customer.
One of the main advantages of this type of service if that it uses
less intermodal infrastructure than a regular TOFC or COFC intermodal
service. Terminals are simpler and smaller, requiring less capital investment
while conferring an intermodal service over shorter distances. It thus
tend to be complimentary to intermodal rail services since it dominantly
focus on the domestic market while intermodal rail tends to be more
of a port gateway / hinterland access service. Drayage distances are
also reduced as the long distance haulage is done by rail. Still,
specifically designed trailers are required and the service takes
more time than a direct road connection.