A mammoth reactor left Edmonton on April 17 for a five-day journey to the Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries Limited oil refinery in Regina. The load weighed 1.6 million pounds, was 125 feet long and towered 20 feet above the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) flatcar, a special two-part unit with 24 axles.
The previous month, Canadian National (CN) moved four huge Korean-built pressure vessels, 12′ wide and 60′ long, from the Fraser-Surrey Wharves in Vancouver across the country, delivering two to Sarnia and two to Montreal on March 11.
The operative word here is dimensional, the label for anything shipped by rail that is bigger than a boxcar. More precisely, if a load weighs more than 100 tons, is more than 53′ long, 10’8″ wide, 12′ high or overhangs the end of a rail car, it is dimensional and requires special handling.
“In the past, companies have broken down a load to avoid using the rail,” says Fiona Murray, the Account Manager in CN’s dimensional load group. “Now you just need to know that we will show up at your plant.”
These loads – anything from aircraft fuselages to windmills to giant power transformers – require a lot of expertise to move. CPR and CN say they not only have the expertise, they can take over all of the origin-to-destination shipment details, if that is what the customer wants.
“For a lot of customers this is a one-time shipment where the client has no experience handling dimensional loads. This is a highly specialised area,” explains Murray. “There is a lot of co-ordination that a lot of customers don’t appreciate till they have to do it themselves. You get one of these monsters out on the railroad, it can do a lot of damage .. to your on-time performance.
“I often put together an end-to-end package: truck, train, truck. Some people want to hand the whole thing over to us. Other clients want to handle some parts of the shipping themselves.”
CPR participated in the design phase of the Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries reactor, manufactured by Nuovo Pignone in Massa, Italy, and shipped to Cessco Fabrication & Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton for final assembly. “It is normal to be brought on board during the design phase. We can spot problem areas and specify that certain components be removable so it will clear obstructions,” says Richard Sherstobitoff, CPR’s Railway Line Clearance Officer in the Field Operations department.
With the pressure vessels, says Ken Turner, CN’s Manager of Dimensional Loads, “the first measurements we got were so big, we told the customer they could not be moved by rail. We went back to the customer and [said] we could handle a width of 13’10”.” Their engineers came back to us in December and said they could manage a width of 12’4″.
“We worked with the customer’s drawings and the saddles were built in Korea and affixed to the pressure vessels. We built a drawing and showed the customer what sort of turnbuckle to use, according to Association of American Railroads standards,” says Turner.
The CPR’s involvement in the reactor shipment, an unusually complex project, began with a call from a freight forwarder in November 2000. “It is quite common to deal with freight forwarders that deal between us and the client,” explains Sherstobitoff. “We have been working off and on with it since then, with an intensified effort in the last six months. Normally it doesn’t take that long, but with a project of this scope …”
This shipment, CPR’s second heaviest ever, traveled at 20 miles per hour along the 550-mile route. Every foot had to be checked for potential impediments, including overhead wires and trackside poles, as well as weight tolerances and clearances on bridges. It passed through nearly 60 towns and cities.
The railroads are equipped to answer a lot of questions about a dimensional job in a first phone call. Typically, says Sherstobitoff, “A customer will contact us with a request in writing, detailing dimensions and origin to destination.” With a drawing, adds Sherstobitoff, CPR can determine what kind of car to use; for example, multi-axle, two cars, or whether it needs to lease a car from a specialist supplier.
First though, the railroad has to figure out whether the load can be moved. For that, says Turner, “we like to work off the [engineering] drawings [for the load] so we can [match] the load to the railcar and the best and safest route. We can build a profile of that load, based on the drawings, so we can provide the safest route. In our case our main track is laser tested. We have a 3D picture of all the obstructions along the way. We know how close we will come without striking an object.”
CN coordinates with the other Class One railroads in North America – Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway, Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation – to make sure the load can make the trip. Each of these railways has a clearance bureau, with a database of what sorts of loads can be accommodated. The first part of the process is running the object’s dimensions through the database to make sure the load can be moved by rail. “These dimensional loads sometimes move within inches of fixed objects,” says Turner.
“The prime concern is whether the thing can be moved and at what price,” adds Murray. “According to the specs that come out of the clearance bureaus, I put together a rate package.”
A lot of loads originate from overseas; for example, Asia, Europe and Russia. The best ports are in Montreal, Toronto and Houston for overseas loads, according to Sherstobitoff. “These are the three big ports of entry.”
The railroad companies like to get involved long before the load reaches a Canadian port. “We have gone as far as getting engineering drawings from Tokyo so we can advise where to weld on the tie-down lugs for securing the load to the train,” says Murray. Turner adds, “We have even sat down with the design engineer [to advise on] the product design.” This ensures that the object will be transportable by rail.
The railroads can also help with picking the port to go through, since heavy lift capabilities differ from port to port. “Does a port have sufficient crane power? We have cases like this now where we have to rent a floating crane barge,” says Murray.
Outbound from Canada, say through the United States and beyond, CN and CPR move dimensional loads through other Class One railroads to foreign ports. “We have access to Mexico through alliances with other railroads,” says Murray.
The railroads are also paid to deal with logistical headaches. For example, when construction and shipping delays caused an issue with the transit time of the Korean pressure vessels, CN recommended that the load be rotated, making it narrower by four inches. Not much, but enough so the load could cross the country on CN’s regular train service, as opposed to a restrictive move, which would have taken much longer.
The business of moving dimensional loads is far more complex than meets the eye. “[Murray]and I have put together a package where we will … keep the complexity to ourselves,” says Turner. “There is a market for these total logistics services,” says Murray.
Adds Sherstobitoff: “It takes a good deal of ingenuity to be able to handle these loads.”