Trucks at Work

Modifying rail cars to ship the new Transit van

This is probably a story most truckers don’t want to hear much about.

That story would be the nearly four-year development process Ford Motor Co. engaged in with railcar suppliers and railroad companies to design and deploy a new railcar set up for shipping its new 2015 Transit full-size van to dealerships across North America.

Yet it’s an instructive tale for trucking simply for this reason: Ford needed to refine the rail transport options for its new Transit van because they could not carry high-roof models.

And considering that Ford and other OEMs expect the global market for commercial vans to undergo significant growth over the next few years, being able to solve such “transport issues” is going to become a critical skill for motor carriers.

Indeed, Ford expects the high-roof model to be one of its biggest sellers when the 2015 model Transit goes on sale later this year – projecting that about 50% of Transit orders will be medium- and high-roof configurations.

“Ford ships vehicles from its assembly plants to dealerships using a mix of railcars and trucks [but] the new medium- and high-roof Transit vehicles are too tall to fit in the common two-story railcars used by auto manufacturers,” noted Chris Lemmink, Ford’s vehicle logistics manager, in a statement.

The high-roof Transit measures 110.1 inches tall, enabling customers as tall as 6 feet 4 inches to stand upright in the cargo area of the vehicle, he said. Yet that height also posed problems when it came to shipping the vehicles.

“So we worked with railroads and railcar manufacturers to design an innovative railcar that accommodates all the roof-height variations of the new Transit,” Lemmick explained.

In the end, Ford plans to ship Transit vehicles by truck to its dealers within a 500-mile radius of the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, MO, while shipments traveling longer than 500 miles will be transported by rail.

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