Multilevel Railcar Fleet’s Good Track Record Sets Stage for More Improvements

WASHINGTON — Millions of new vehicles crisscross North America’s railroads each year on their way from assembly plants to distribution centers and dealers. Railroads now carry approximately 70 percent of all new vehicles manufactured in the United States.

These vehicles ride the rails in a dedicated fleet of enclosed, streamlined tri-level and bi-level rail cars, all part of the National Multilevel Reload Pool. In 2008, the National Multilevel Reload Pool includes 55,000 rail cars, specially designed to transport new automobiles and light trucks safely and securely.

“The Multilevel Pool is a remarkably effective and efficient system,” said David F. Julian, chairman of the Multilevel Pool Executive Committee (MPEC) and president of automotive and supply chain services for Norfolk Southern Corp. “By using the pool, railroads in the United States, Canada, and Mexico can deliver vehicles with greater reliability than ever before.”

The Multilevel Pool program began in 1979 and today includes 10 railroads, 114 loading locations and 159 unloading locations, transporting new vehicles that otherwise would have to be delivered by truck over highways and local roads on about 1.5 million tractor-trailer trips annually.

Railroads working cooperatively with automotive manufacturers continue to improve the fleet utilization by reducing cycle times, implementing new technology, and promoting damage-free vehicle loading and unloading.

The efforts are working. For example, multilevel availability has been increasing since late 2005, as bad orders (rail cars in need of repair) have decreased 41 percent for tri-levels and 54 percent for bi-levels (the largest segment of the fleet), and average shop time for repairs has declined 31 percent.

“The pool represents sizable, ongoing capital investment by railroads on behalf of our customers in the automotive industry,” said Julie Krehbiel, vice chairman of MPEC and vice president and general manager for automotive at Union Pacific Railroad. “At the same time, consumers benefit because their new vehicles arrive in excellent condition with 99.6 percent damage free delivery and via the most fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly mode of transportation. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fleet, we’ll continue to look for ways to make the pool work better for all our partners.”