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Research in Support of Container/Trailer on Flatcar in Intermodal Service on Montana’s Railway Mainlines

Project #: 4W1926
Start Date: 06/01/2007
End Date: 06/30/2008
Status: Completed

Intermodal shipping, the practice of moving freight by trailer or container through multiple modes of transportation (e.g. train, truck, ship) without having to handle the freight when changing modes, has become a standard means of transporting goods across the country and the world. A surge in international trade since 2004 has created strong demand for containerized rail transportation, and absorbed much of the unused or underutilized rail network capacity, but most of that traffic bypasses Montana. Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) offers intermodal trailer service to Billings, the only Montana terminal offering intermodal offloading. But no outbound freight is loaded onto the trains. And because Billings is on a coal route of the BNSF, access to track and terminal is limited. This project aims to develop a program that can successfully take empty equipment moving through the state and reload it with products that originate within the region. To make such a program attractive to rail carriers, a terminal must accommodate the rapid handling of locomotive power and crew changes. The feasibility of building a terminal, or modifying an existing terminal, to meet that requirement will depend on local demand. As such, WTI researchers, working with Prime Focus, LLC, the primary contractor for this project, will identify potential users of “container on flatcar/trailer on flatcar” (COFC/TOFC) service to assess demand, survey rail and trucking firms to develop shipper cost models for comparison purposes, and contact equipment (container) owners to determine their interest in loading their empty containers with Montana goods.


Document the demand for intermodal shipping service in Montana, and recommend incentives that could be used to encourage rail companies to create such a service to help Montana agriculture and industry to compete in the world marketplace.


  • Jerry Stephens
    Jerry Stephens
  • Elizabeth Ogard
    Elizabeth Ogard