Trailer Talk

Right Place, Right Railroads Help ‘Cool’ Intermodal Shipments

Sometimes intermodal shipping works and sometimes it doesn’t.

April 20, 2015

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Photo courtesy Tiger Cool Express
Photo courtesy Tiger Cool Express
Sometimes intermodal shipping works and sometimes it doesn’t. Last week I wrote about one that didn’t: Cold Train Express, which is suing BNSF Railway for failing to keep its delivery promises because it was clogged with oil and coal traffic and couldn’t handle the refrigerated containers of Pacific Northwest produce that Cold Train wanted to ship.  

In contrast, here’s one that’s apparently doing well: Tiger Cool Express, which moves perishables in 53-foot reefer containers from southern California to points east, mostly via Union Pacific Railroad.

Where you are and which railroad you can use evidently makes a huge difference.

Tiger Cool Express LLC, headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., started with 200 containers and is acquiring more, expanding its fleet to 435. It just announced that an ownership stake was taken by Wood Creek Capital, which will allow adding another 200 containers.

There’s quite a bit to the business, which includes truck carriage – drayage – at both ends of each shipment, and sometimes midway, too. And its executives seem to have their eyes wide open, as indicated by comments from Tom Finkbiner, the company’s CEO, on rail and dray service.

“We use Union Pacific primarily in the West, although we have also used BNSF on occasion,” he said in an email. “In the East we use both CSX and NS [Norfolk Southern]. We have not had much success with either CN [Canadian National] or CP [Canadian Pacific] in terms of service.” Finkbiner continued:

“In terms of service compliance:

“1. We try to promise only what the railroads can deliver based on our experience, not on their schedules. Current [mid April] railroad compliance to their own schedules is about 50% on time.

“2. We are very picky about which intermodal trains that we use. We try to use those scheduled for UPS, JB Hunt or other large service-sensitive providers.

“3. On transcontinental loads we rarely use steel wheel [railroad-to-railroad] connections because they are notoriously unreliable. We rubber-tire cross town for most loads.

“4. We make use of all of the latest telematics technologies relative to location of the box, temperature control, security (door opening), fuel supply and impact measurement.

“5. We use a ‘core carrier concept’ with our draymen, trying to concentrate volume on a few proven carriers.

“6. We keep constantly communicating to the customer, especially when there is some deviation from the scripted service.”

What’s Tiger Cool’s transit time from southern California to, say, Chicago? “We should be able to do it in under 100 hours,” Finkbiner said, and that sounds realistic. A good driver team that stays on the road (and doesn’t dawdle in truckstops, etc.) should be able to do that in 50 to 60 hours. But at what cost compared to intermodal? We’re going to look into that.  


Photo courtesy Tiger Cool Express
Photo courtesy Tiger Cool Express

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.


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