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Stack Trains – An SP Innovation

July 11, 2011

Little known fact: The Southern Pacific was the original U.S. operator of double-stacked containers in well cars.

The first well car for double-stack container traffic was designed and tested by SP in 1977. There were 2 prototype well cars that tested on the Sunset Route through late 1970’s.

I believe it was around 1982 when the SP created a special tariff that persuaded Sea-Land, a steamship operator, to ship West Coast U.S. containers bound for the U.S. East Coast in the new-fangled double-stack mode versus traversing the Panama Canal. The concept of  using the railroads to circumvent the Panama canal was dubbed a Land-Bridge.

The Sea-Land traffic would be placed at the head end of Sunset Route hotshots AVLAT, AVBAT, LAHOT and LAAVT.

I photographed an LAAVT (Los Angeles-Avondale Trailers) with a nice cut of Sea-Land traffic in front of the Englewood yard office on June 30, 1983, as it prepared to depart for New Orleans, LA.

SP hotshot LAAVT prepares to depart Houston's Englewood Yard on June 30, 1983.

Within a year,  the SP would persuade American President Lines, another steamship operator, to ship their transcontinental traffic via the SP “land-bridge”.

The volume of traffic from APL was such that it filled out an entire train, typically 140 platforms. The SP created a new symbol for the APL traffic, AVAXT westbound and AXAVT for the eastbound traffic.

Click here to view a post from last year that shows an AVAXT train in Arizona.

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