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The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each week, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

In this week’s edition, from the June 1991 issue of American Shipper (virtual page 66), FreightWaves Flashback looks back at Ford Motor Co.’s efforts to reduce in-transit damage of automobiles during over-the-road and rail transport.

Ford Motor Company says prompt, continuous communication with overland carriers has helped reduce in-transit damage to autos by 70 percent in the last decade.

In-transit damage used to be a major problem for Ford. Most of the damage was cosmetic — dents, nicks and scratches on car bodies or bumpers, or dirt or grease in the autos’ interiors.

Some was more serious — for example, break-ins and thefts of such things as radio sets, hubcaps and wheel covers in rail yards where cars were waiting to be loaded.

In a few cases, cars were destroyed in derailments.

Those problems have been dramatically reduced, said William R. Anderson, manager of transportation analysis and procurement for Ford, and Richard Haupt, Ford’s recently retired traffic and transportation director.

They spoke with American Shipper at a recent conference sponsored by the National Industrial Transportation League and the Transportation Club of San Francisco.

Trucks are safer

The cars suffer less damage and pilferage on truckbome shipments than they do when moving by railroad, Haupt said.

He was not criticizing the rail carriers, however.

For one thing, he explained, truck hauls are generally shorter than rail movements and involve less handling of the autos.

For another, truck drivers are always on hand, a discouragement to would-be thieves and vandals.

And the expressways and freeways offer some protection through their inaccessibility to thieves and vandals.

On the oceans, the incidence of damage to vehicles is very low, Haupt said.

The roll-on/roll-off ships used to transport the vehicles are well designed and highly efficient, he said, and Ford applies a special coating to most of its export autos to protect them from the salt air.

Taking it over

Ford officials realized the first step in coping with the problems would be to generate awareness of them among all the parties involved, Anderson and Haupt said.

So they set up meetings — first with carriers; then with personnel at assembly plants, where the vehicles are loaded into rail cars; then with the unloaders at the ramps at the other end of the rail ride; and finally with the dealers, who, it turned out, were having problems of their own, Haupt said.

The dealers had “an adversarial relationship” with some truckers and draymen, who would make deliveries at inconvenient times, he explained. “We got everybody involved in the process [to agree to] the same objectives,” he said.


Then came the actual implementation of solutions.

For openers, Anderson recounted, the railroads agreed to couple their cars at no more than four miles an hour.

That speed has been determined as the fastest at which couplings can be done without jarring the automobiles, he explained.

Then, Ford persuaded the railroads to switch to tri-level rail cars, which are fully enclosed, thereby protecting the autos from stray projectiles, thrown rocks, and vandals and thieves.

Additional steps are planned. These include putting special taping inside Ford-dedicated rail cars and installing door-edge-protection devices on the autos, Anderson said.

Also, scheduling has been revamped to provide for more “run-through” trains, necessitating fewer interchanges and fewer stops at classification yards, he said.

This was in response to a Stanford Research Institute study a few years ago, confirming that delays result in vandalism, Haupt said.

The railroads have also upgraded the classification yards, improving the lighting, paving, fencing and markings, Anderson said.

The improved marking is important in ensuring there is adequate parking and maneuvering room for each vehicle in the yard.

Ford-employed truckers will bring in fully enclosed bi-level trailers by the third quarter of this year, Anderson said.

Ford’s own measures

Ford has taken some steps of its own.

The company has a rail car simulator at its main plant in Dearborn, Mich., where it can conduct its own tests and call in the railroads to examine the results together.

Ford also applies a special coating to protect the autos during transit. This is important especially in the summer, when humidity can damage paint.

Certain “intangibles” have contributed to this success story, Anderson said.

These have to do chiefly with maintaining high morale among Ford’s and its carriers’ personnel, he said.

Ford has developed incentive programs to encourage good individual performance. “We have a measurement system that shows the successes of our efforts and it builds on itself,” Anderson explained.

Each of Ford’s haul-away carriers, for example, gives out a “driver of the year” award, he said.

Ford also furnishes training aids, such as videotapes, to its carriers, Haupt said.

Echoing a point Anderson had made as a panelist during the conference, Haupt remarked that the quest for premium transportation “is a continuous process. We’re not there yet.”

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