By James Costello

Trailer Train History and Intermodal Developments

The Trailer Train Company was established in November 1955 with three objectives:

  1. Standardize the rail equipment of piggybacking with the two-trailer car as the basis.
  2. Foster the growth of piggybacking, provide its members with the best available equipment, and keep its members abreast of new developments.
  3. Furnish equipment to its members at the lowest possible cost.

The first Board of Directors meeting for Trailer Train in December 1955 quickly set about meeting these objectives; authorizing the purchase of Trailer Train’s first equipment – 500 75’ flat cars from the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsy had seen its Truc-Train service, between South Kearny, NJ and Chicago become immediately successful due to their new 75’ flat car’s ability to carry two 35’ trailers at a time – the standard trailer length of the day. The first two hundred of these cars were built by Bethlehem Steel in 1954 and the final 300 were built in-house at the Pennsy’s Hollidaysburg (PA) shops, all were assigned in PRR class F39. These cars used tie-down chains and loops on the center sill to secure trailers to the cars, prior to the development of the trailer hitch. Further information on the F39 cars can be found in Jim Panza’s article in the July 1990 Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

Trailer Train went into operation in March 1956 and a young and growing company faced its first challenge in 1957, when Congress considered the Interstate Highway Act and trailer sizes increased to 40’ in length. Now that railroads were focusing on truckers as a source of revenue, this was a major problem – 75’ flat cars could not handle two 40’ trailers at a time and the efficiencies of piggyback would be lost. As an interim measure, Trailer Train bought 256 50’ flat cars from the Pennsy to cater for this emerging load and equipped them with a newly developed trailer hitch. These cars carried a massive weight premium to the longer cars.

The internal politics and member-railroad influences on a young Trailer Train are very interesting and explained in detail in DeBoer’s “Piggyback and Containers.” Despite a push to stick with the “safe” 50’-53’ flat cars of the era, Trailer Train’s strong leadership worked with builders Pullman Standard, Bethlehem and American Car & Foundary (ACF) to develop the 85’ flat car to accommodate increased trailer lengths. It was a bold decision for the young company, that had now grown to represent 10 companies and it strengthened its management and capability away from the conservative elements, for it (collectively) wore the financial risk of the new cars.


The new 85’ flat cars of 1958 featured standardized components such as hitches, trucks and brake equipment. Trailer Train’s membership continued to grow and by 1959 member railroads accounted for more than 40% of Class 1 mileage in the United States. The railroads were impressed with Trailer Train’s ability to manage and maintain its growing fleet. After losing most of the new automobile distribution traffic to trucks, the railroads turned to Trailer Train to provide cars for automobile service and the first auto racks were mounted to 85’ standard level flat cars. From this very beginning, Trailer Train provided the flat car to the member railroad that owned the auto rack and even today owns very few racks itself.

The adoption of the 85’ flat is intertwined with Trailer Train’s formation and the growth of it and intermodal as a whole. In 1960 the General American transportation freight car pool was disbanded and most members joined Trailer Train, Class 1 mileage for the company now accounted for 74% of the US total. The first era of intermodal was coming to an end and most of the early problems such as equipment standardization, load fastening, interchange and adoption had been solved. In the early 1960s the 89’ length flat car was introduced for autorack and intermodal use and would be the industry backbone for the next thirty years, but that will be covered in future articles.

Trailer Train’s 85’ Flat Car Fleet

The first 85’ flat was introduced by Pullman Standard in December 1958 and was followed by ACF in 1959 and Bethlehem Steel in 1960. These cars had a standard deck height of 3’-5 ½ ” and they all featured the same basic raised side sill design where the top of the sill extends above the deck. As these cars were loaded “circus-style” the raised sills were used to assist the reversing of trailers into position. They were all equipped with bridge-plates to transfer the trailer from car to car in their long strings. 

ACF developed the first screw-operated TOFC hitch in 1955 and it is likely that all 85’ flats were delivered with an ACF Model A hitch. When retracted, the Model A had a height of 8 ¼ inches, which was too high for tractor or trailer axles to clear during the loading/unloading process, so wooden riser boards were applied to these cars. These risers were made from 3-inch by 10-inch by 10 foot long oak boards with a 12 inch chamfer on each end. Beginning in late 1977 these wooden risers were replaced with steel risers of 3 inch by 4 inch by 10 foot long formed channel, with a 10 inch long chamfer on each end. Typically, 4 risers were used each side of the hitch, but cars with 3 or 5 risers have also been observed. In the mid-1970s, Trailer Train worked with ACF to improve the Model A hitch resulting in a hitch with beefier vertical struts and modified top plate. These improvements were based on the improved ACF Model 2 hitch that had been released on the 89’ flats of the early 1960s.

The TOFC hitch was a relatively new technical development and was something else for railroad mechanical forces to be sceptical of during the early years of the intermodal “craze.” [bleedright][/bleedright] To combat this, early Trailer Train intermodal flat cars featured provisions to secure the rear of the trailer to the flat car with chains. These “disaster” chains were wrapped around the trailer bumper and hooked to a bar heavily secured to the side sill. There is a small bin under the bar to store unused chains. As hitches proved their reliability over time, the requirement for disaster chains disappeared and side sill design evolved on the 85’ cars. 

All cars were delivered in the Pennsy influenced mineral red paint with an off-white anti-skid paint. TTX serif reporting marks were used through 1963 and sans-serif was standard by 1964. Some cars were delivered with CTTX reporting marks and these cars were equipped with removable bolsters and pedestals to carry containers and some were delivered with STTX reporting marks to signify cars that were leased to a specific shipper – they were in a special rate schedule (Plan IV) were the shipper provides the trailer and the flatcar. CTTX and STTX marks were not in use for very long and these cars were reassigned TTX reporting marks in TOFC only service. Builders photos of these cars appear in the links below. Trailer Train adopted a new yellow paint scheme with a stylized “TT” logo in 1970 and cars were eventually repainted into this scheme.

Railroads also purchased 85′ flat cars from all three builders for their own fleets. These were often incorporated into the Trailer Train fleet when the railroads joined the Company. Other leasers, such as the Transport Leasing Company, also purchased these cars for intermodal service. Details on railroad owned and leased cars is included in the Rosters section below.

Pullman Standard – Trailer Train Class F85B

Pullman Standard built almost 4,000 85’ flat cars for Trailer Train between 1958 and 1963, with a design that prominently features additional side sill support over the trucks and disaster chain tie-down bars at the mid-point and A end of the car. Cars built before 1960, such as TTX479357 shown above in the article header featured a fishbelly side sill profile (“early” phase) and those built 1960 and after feature a straight sill side profile (“late” phase), such as TTX473930 below. 


ACF – Trailer Train Class F85A

American Car and Foundry built just over 3,500 85′ flat cars for Trailer Train, between 1958 and 1963. The “early” phase of thes cars feature a flared wing above the side sill at the mid-point and A-end of the car, that acts as both a tire guard and tie-down points for the disaster chains.


The later phase of cars, such as TTX 650114 built in 1962-63, lack the side sill wings but still include a thin rod on the sill for trailer tie-down, which may have also been later removed as cars were serviced. 

Bethlehem – Trailer Train Class F85C

By the time Bethlehem started building its version of the 85′ flat car, confidence in the trailer hitches ability to adequately secure the trailer to the flat must have increased. Like the late phase ACF car, these cars only feature a thin rod on the side sill as alternative method of tie-down. The cars do not seem to include any provision for carrying disaster chains either.

TTX 101317 shows the side rod and TTX 102375 shows it without the side rod.

N Scale Models

In 2012, Trainworx released models of the Pullman Standard 85ft Flat Cars in both drop-sill and straight-sill variations.  The models, pictured below, are beautifully detailed with separate brake components, detailed plastic deck over a metal substructure, and MTL couplers and trucks with FVM metal wheelsets. 

Second Lives

With trailer lengths increasing beyond 40′ in the 1980s, the 85′ flat car was generally unable to maintain the “two-trailer car” philosophy of Trailer Train and the flats were omitted from TT’s massive “Twin 45” hitch relocation project for the 89′ flat car fleet.

Ever the resourceful company, Trailer Train soon found other uses for these cars and many found second lives in MTTX (multi-purpose), ZTTX (long pole) service and JTTX (shipper specific) service. Some cars in these services survived long enough to receive the new “TTX” logo resulting from the July 1991 name change. Links to photos of cars in MTTX service are provided in the Rosters section below.


Table 1: ACF Built Cars

Trailer Train F85A Class

[table id=1 /]

Table 2: Bethlehem Built Cars

Trailer Train F85C Class

[table id=2 /]

Table 3: Pullman Standard Built Cars

Trailer Train F85B Class

[table id=3 /]


The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jim Eager, Jim Kinkaid, John Gillies, Chris vanderHeide and Kent Charles for the information and photographs supplied and to the modelintermodal Yahoo Group members for their efforts in documenting and discussing intermodal transportation equipment and operations.


Canadian Freight Car Gallery

Casdorph, David “The Freight Car Data Book: Trailer Train Company TTX Company” Society of Freight Car Historians, 1st Edition, 1995.

Chatfield, Scott – Message #1627 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 3 February 2000 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #2012 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 17 March 2000 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #9385 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 6 July 2002 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #13686 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 12 October 20003 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #23688 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 14 October 2008 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #26142 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 26 August 2010 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #26384 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 13 November 2010 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #27069 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 7 April 2011 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #27076 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 7 April 2011 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #27081 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 8 April 2011 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #27938 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 3 April 2012 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #34079 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 23 June 2008 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #12695 at MFCL Yahoo Group, 19 April 2004 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #12699 at MFCL Yahoo Group, 19 April 2004 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #23811 at MFCL Yahoo Group, 19 April 2006 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #53344 at MFCL Yahoo Group, 24 February 2011 (group members only)

Eager, Jim – Message #54750 at MFCL Yahoo Group, 6 May 2011 (group members only)

85’ Flat Car Roster –

Panza, Jim “Thirty-five years of Trailer Train” Railroad Model Craftsman Magazine, Carstens Publications, July 1990, Page 72.

Panza, Jim “Thirty-five years of Trailer Train – Part 2” Railroad Model Craftsman Magazine, Carstens Publications, August 1990, Page 74.

Panza, Jim “Trailer Hitches, Part 1: ACF Model A and ACF/TTX Model A-1 Hitches” Railmodel Journal Magazine, Golden Bell Press, May 2001, Page 25.

Panza, Jim “Trailer Hitches, Part 2: Modelling ACF Model 2 Hitches in HO” Railmodel Journal Magazine, Golden Bell Press, July 2001, Page 40.

Intermodal Archive website

Seders. Scott – Message #26383 at modelintermodal Yahoo Group, 13 November 2010 (group members only)

TTX Corporate History – TTX Website

Wilson, Jeff “The Model Railroader’s Guide to Intermodal Equipment and Operations”, Kalmbach Books, 1998.