Photo: Mi-Jack Inc (Mike Corley).
Intermodal Rail Rubber-tired Gantry Crane (Translift)
The development of containerization and mechanized intermodal equipment
in the 1960s was the starting point in the emergence of a more efficient
intermodal rail system, particularly in the 1980s when double-stacking
rail cars entered in service. Although the earliest - unsuccessful -
attempt at double stacking was made in 1977 by Southern Pacific Railroad,
the first double stack unit train started in 1984 between Los Angeles
and South Kearny, NJ, under the initiative of APL (American President
Lines). This created strong pressures in the design and implementation
of efficient intermodal cranes as growing quantities of containers were
handled by rail terminals. The development of efficient and high throughput
cranes is the outcome of two decades of trial and errors from an initial
crane concept that was designed to lift boats.
In 1956 Drott Manufacturing purchased the TravelLift line from a
boatlift company that manufactured cranes for lifting boats in and out
of the water for the marine industry. The boat lifting application was
ideal for the marine industry because of its light workload, which at
most involved two to five lifts per day. After Drott purchased the TravelLift
design, small modifications were made and the crane was sold to the
material handling industry, such as the concrete and rail industries.
Unfortunately, the duty cycle and the amount of lifting that was demanded
by these industries turned out to be too much of a workload for the
crane which was initially designed for a light throughput. For instance,
TravelLift rail crane models purchased by New York Central and Southern
Pacific Railroads where unable to handle the throughput and were subject
to regular breakdowns. Although the TravelLift concept looked promising,
its inability to handle a continuous duty cycle of 30,000 to 80,000
trailers lifts per year was a serious impediment to the efficiency of
intermodal rail operations.
By the late 1970s, Jack Lanigan Sr., the CEO of Mi-Jack, which until
then was mainly a dealer of crane equipment reached an agreement with
Drott to provide a new design for the TravelLift line. One of the most
important innovation of this new design was the container grappler,
which in prior designs was the piece of equipment the most prone to
breakage. The new crane design was named Translift and was fully capable
of providing the high throughput and reliability desperately needed
by the rail industry, in addition to a be less labor intensive solution.
Later on Mi-Jack purchased Drott as well as another important crane
manufacturer, the Raygo-Wagner Company and became the largest container
crane manufacturer in North America. By 1985, the Translift design became
the standard intermodal rail crane in operation in all the major rail
terminals in the United States. In addition, by the 1990s the company
also became the largest rail terminal operator in North America, managing
about 80 terminals.
Thus, the introduction of efficient intermodal rail cranes such as
the Translift by Mi-Jack in the mid 1980s (see above photo taken in
2000 at the Norfolk Southern Rutherford yard in Harrisburg, PA) played
a significant role in improving intermodal rail operations. These cranes
are the outcome of modifications and improvements of existing concepts
to the high throughput requirements of intermodal rail terminals.