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The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Rail's Role in Vehicle Transport

September 2015, by Adam Pringle - Also by this author

Rail cars come into Union Pacific's Mira Loma, Calif. facility. Photo courtesy of Adam Pringle. 
Rail cars come into Union Pacific's Mira Loma, Calif. facility. Photo courtesy of Adam Pringle.

Rail’s role in vehicle transport can be glimpsed up-close at Union Pacific’s auto facility in Mira Loma, Calif., where new vehicles are shipped from manufacturers via rail, then unloaded, and transferred to vehicle transport trucks for delivery at auto dealers throughout California.

The 250-acre facility, which is open around the clock, offloads an average of 200-220 vehicle-filled rail cars per day, according to Jeff Grandstaff, general manager of ShipCarsNow, an auto transport company that is a subsidiary of Union Pacific. Nationwide, Union Pacific transported over 5 million vehicles in 2014.

“About 70 percent of all new vehicles move on rail, but we don’t see that network — it takes place behind the scenes,” Grandstaff said.

The Mira Loma facility receives new vehicles from Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota. And, two types of rail cars transport vehicles to the facility: tri-level, for vehicles 60 inches or lower in height (passenger cars); and bi-level, for vehicles 90 inches or lower (trucks, SUVs, and minivans).

The following steps are what it takes to get a car ready for transport to a dealership.

Step 1: Rail cars containing new vehicles shipped directly from manufacturers arrive at the Mira Loma location.

Step 2: Rail cars are unlocked and opened.

Step 3: Each vehicle is inspected for exterior damage prior to unloading, and VIN number tags are scanned to ensure all of the rail car's vehicles are present. An estimated 99.8 percent of transported vehicles arrive damage free.

Step 4: Bridge plates connecting bi-level railcars are set prior to unloading of vehicles. Each bi-level rail car holds 8-10 trucks, SUVs, and minivans, while each tri-level railcar holds 14-15 passenger cars. 

Step 5: Wheel chocks are removed to prepare vehicles for unloading. The chocks clamp onto the wheels so that vehicles remain steady during transport.

Step 6: Vehicles are unloaded from rail cars via rail ramps. With a crew 0f 15, unloading each 90-foot-long rail car can take up to a half-hour. 

Step 7: Spotters from both Union Pacific and Alliance Inspection Management (AiM) inspect recently unloaded vehicles for exterior damage. If damage is detected, the tag for the corresponding damaged area is scanned, and the information is sent to the main Union Pacific office. 

Step 8: After the vehicles have been inspected, they are loaded onto vehicle transport trucks, which deliver the vehicles to dealerships through California. 

Step 9: Once rail cars are emptied of vehicles, bridge plates and levels are removed, and rail cars are closed. 

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