Marine Stack Trains

International shipping containers (also called marine containers in this report) seem to be everywhere. The shipping container is a sealed module that can be transported on trucks, trains, and ships. By using cranes and shipping containers instead of pallets and cargo nets the productivity of long shoremen (the people that load and unload ships) rose from 2 tons per man hour to 80 tons per man hour. As a result container shipping now moves over 95% of the world's manufactured goods. Shipping a loaded container from LA to Chicago by rail cost about 30 cents per mile verses over a dollar per mile by truck.

The intense competition felt in the Northern Hemisphere container shipping lanes in the 1980s and 1990s forced shipping companies to adopt innovative strategies. These include:
- Employing larger vessels on heavy cargo routes, especially on the East-West Northern Hemisphere routes;
- Trying new service patterns, including round the world, pendulum, and multi-string services;
- Developing feeder services linking hub and regional ports in South East Asia;
- Reducing the number of calls to smaller ports on certain strings.
In addition to the these innovations, container lines have entered into strategic alliances and mergers to return to profitability. In 1985, excess capacity amounted to 35% in the trans-Pacific and 40% in the Europe-Far East trade. The level of excess capacity increased temporarily in the recession of the early 1990s, and again as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

By sharing assets with other carriers, an alliance member can offer departures far more frequently, to more destinations, than it ever could on its own. A line with regional gaps in its service can meet more of its global customers' transportation needs, and one with peaks in cargo volume or seasonal imbalances can likely move that volume aboard a partner's ships without having to build new vessels. In addition, as Maersk and Sea-Land demonstrated, alliances can realize efficiencies at some ports by operating a single, large marine terminal instead of each line having to maintain small, separate facilities.

In 20117 there were three shipping alliances:
- 2M Alliance: Maersk, MSC, Hyundai, Hamburg Sud has 16 weekly services in the trans-Pacific lane.
- THE Alliance: NYK, MOL, K Line, Yang Ming, Hapag-Lloyd (with UASC) has 16 weekly services in the trans-Pacific lane.
- Ocean Alliance: CMA CGM, Evergreen, OOCL, COSCO Shipping, APL has 13 weekly services in the trans-Pacific lane.
- Other shipping lines in the trans-Pacific lane are ZIM, Pacific International Lines (PIL), Wan Hai Lines, and Matson.

In April 2018 three Japanese carriers (K-Line, MOL, and NYK) formed Ocean Network Express (ONE). You may have seen some of their new pink containers. ONE appears to be aligned more with Union Pacific than BNSF, so you won't see many ONE containers going through Flagstaff. This is also true for Evergreen, K-Line and HapagLloyd. SM Line is the new Hanjin after it went bankrupt. SM Line seems to be exclusively UP.

Maersk acquired Safmarine in 1999 and purchased P&O Nedlloyd in 2006. Even though this was quite awhile ago, you will still see Safmarine and P&O Nedlloyd containers mixed with Maersk containers on many stack trains. China Shipping and COSCO merged in 2016. Also in 2016, CMA CGM acquired APL. In 2017 HapagLloyd merged with United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) and Maersk acquired Hamburg Sud.

The largest container ships burn an average of 108,000 gallons of fuel per day. With better design and slow steaming at around 19 knots Maersk Triple E class claims to only use 21,200 gallons per day.

There are dry and refrigerated containers. In the picture above you see a Maersk refrigerated container sitting atop an MSC dry container. The blue diesel unit is detachable and supplies power to the reefer box while it is transit on a train or chassis not equipped with a power unit. At sea, the unit is plugged into electrical power from the ship and while in a container terminal is plugged into special plug boxes in the reefer section of the container terminal.

The length of marine contains are either 20ft, 40ft (the majority), or 45ft. The height is either 8ft 6in or 9ft 6in (high cube, the majority). Statistics are measured in TEU, a 20ft equivalent unit. So a 40ft container is 2 TEU and a 45ft high cube is 2.5 TEU. In 2017 the Los Angeles and Long Beach port terminals handled around 11 million TEU. If you divide that number by 2 you get an rough idea of how many actual containers moved through the ports. Less than one third of all containers are 20ft long and less than 10% are 45ft long.

Added to the mix of steamship line containers are lease containers. There are now almost as many lease containers as steamship line containers. Here are the main container leasing companies with their total TEU and the number of actual containers. These figures are from the end of 2014. I'll let you do the math to figure our how many are 20ft and 40ft containers.
Textainer Group 3,230,000 2,144,000
Triton Container 2,335,000 1,449,000
TAL International 2,215,000 1,349,500
Seaco 1,395,000 889,500
Cronos Group 782,500 531,500
Florens Container Leasing 1,895,000 1,234,000
SeaCube Container Leasing 1,237,500 792,000
CAI International 1,165,000 756,000
Dong Fang International 755,000 481,000
Beacon Intermodal Leasing 660,000 411,500
Touax Container Solutions 630,000 462,500
Blue Sky Intermodal 295,000 202,000
UES International HK 235,000 145,000
Magellan Maritime Services 205,000 127,000
CARU Container 140,000 104,500
TAL International and Triton Containers, announcing their merger in November 2015. The steamship lines do not publish any inventory of their containers, so it is impossible to compare the number of lease containers to steamship line containers.

San Pedro Terminals

In San Pedro Harbor there are two ports Los Angeles and Long Beach and each port has multiple container terminals. In the three letter codes, those starting with LB are in Long Beach and those starting with LH are in Los Angeles.

LBA SSA Marine handles CMA CGM, China Shipping, COSCO, APL.

LBE Pier E facility opened in April of 2016 and is scheduled to reach construction completion in late 2019. It handles primarily OOCL, CMA CGM, China Shipping, and COSCO with some APL.

LBJ Pacific Container Terminal Pier J handles OOCL, CMA CGM, China Shipping, and COSCO with some APL and sometimes Yang Ming. Generally to and from LPK.

LBP handles CMA CGM, APL, China Shipping, OOCL, COSCO, and some PIL. Generally to CLO and LPC. CLO train sometimes has Yang Ming toward the rear.

LBT Total Terminals International Pier T handles Maersk, MSC, Hyundai, Hamburg Sud, with a few P&O Nedlloyd, and Safmarine.

LHA Pier 400 A. P. Moller handles Maersk, MSC, Hyundai, Hamburg Sud, with a few P&O Nedlloyd, and Safmarine.

LHG Global Gateway South Pier 300 on Terminal Island handles OOCL, CMA CGM, China Shipping, and COSCO with some APL.

LHT Terminal Island Container Transfer Facility (TICTF) handles OOCL, CMA CGM, China Shipping, and COSCO with some APL and Yang Ming.

LHW West Basin Container Terminal handles Yang Ming, COSCO, China Shipping, with some MOL, NYK and a few PIL.

There is a small yard at Thenard, just north of the ports that is used for sorting some inbound trains. The BNSF symbol is SCO for southern California on-dock. Too bad this yard can't be used to assemble outbound trains. A BNSF train to this destination may have a group (block) of containers for one alliance and then shift to a group of containers from another alliance. Or a train may have containers for one alliance, but the train will be split between two different on-dock terminals.


Oakland International Gateway (OIG) handles containers from all of the major steam ship lines mentioned above, plus Matson Navigation.

Inland Terminals

There are two yards on the BNSF system that are not container terminals, but sorting yards for blocking trains. Trains move cars in groups (railroaders call blocks) that are destined for a single yard on the railroad. When the train reaches this yard, it will setout the appropriate block of cars. For example the ZWSPNBY carries two primary blocks: a Stockton block (mostly domestic containers and truck company trailers) and a North Bay block (UPS vans and containers. When the train gets to Stockton it will setout the Stockton block and then continue on to North Bay.

The yard at Thenard was explained above. The other yard is Clovis. Several eastbound marine stack trains terminate there and yard crews will reassemble the cars into trains for other eastern terminals such as Memphis and Pearland, TX. Some trains may stop there to setout blocks of cars that are not its route and pick up other cars that are. Activity has decreased over the past several years, but it is still an important yard.

Major terminals for stack trains:
- ALT Alliance, TX
- CLO Clovis, NM
- LPC Logistics Park Chicago (Joliet)
- LPK Logistics Park Kansas (Gardener)
- MEM Memphis, TN
- OMA Omaha, NE
- PEA Pearland, TX (Houston)
- STL Saint Louis, MO

The following is a tally of the train symbols that have run at least 10 times during the first part of 2019. Most trains use section 1 at the end of the symbol. Occasionally there will be a second section originating on the same day and it will use section 2 at the end of the symbol.


26 SALTOIG1 often has autoracks on the rear
78 SALTSCO1&2 often has empty wells on the rear
17 SAMASCO1 this is a re-symbol of another westbound that died at Amarillo, Maersk, MSC, Hamburg Sud, and lease
15 SCLOSCO1 often has empty wells on the rear
18 SLUBSCO1 OOCL, CMA CGM some Evergreen. Recent observation was all 40ft boxes.
26 SOMASCO1 mostly CMA CGM and lease, power generally 3+1

There are some new marine stack train symbols. In June some westbound marine stack trains began picking up manifest for Barstow at Kansas City. I think most of these originate as SLPCSCO at Logistics Park Chicago and are resymboled as SKCKSCO at Kansas City. This new operation has basically eliminated the HKCKBAR from the line-up. One train did operate as SKCKLHA during the past week. In April some westbound marine stack trains began picking up manifest for Barstow at Slaton, TX. I'm still trying to figure out where these actually originate.

BNSF Train Symbols
Bare Table Trains
Manifest Trains Westbound
Manifest Trains Eastbound
Q Trains Westbound
Q Trains Eastbound
Unit Trains
Vehicle Trains
Z Trains Westbound
Z Trains Eastbound
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