The entire process was very safe and very fast.

The busiest commuter railroad in the United States took a big step into the future when it ordered a completely new fleet of rail cars to replace its aging trains—some of which have been in service since the 1970s. The Metro-North Commuter Railroad, commonly known as Metro-North, provides a service between New York City and Connecticut; for the 380 new railcars for the New Haven Line it selected Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. Of these, 38 were built in Japan and transported to the US by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics.

While rail travel is one of the most efficient ways of moving passengers, particularly in the highly populated areas around New York City, moving rail cars that are not on the rails is a challenging task. Each one of cars, known as the M-8 series, is nearly 26 metres long, 3.2 metres wide, and weigh between 65.2 and 65.7 tonnes. They are big, ungainly, and often difficult to get onboard a ship.

“Normally, with a bulk ship, the rail cars have to be picked up by crane and loaded onto the ship,” explains Ken Takeda, Assistant Manager, Contract Administration and Marketing, Kawasaki Rail Car. “The trains are very heavy, and picking them up in an ocean area means the possibility of wind gusts affecting loading and unloading operations.”

With Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), however, the cars were instead jacked up and loaded onto rubber tyre bogies (RTBs)—a much easier and safer process—and then simply pulled onto WWL’s roll-on roll-off (RoRo) vessels. WWL’s Michiya Seki explains the entire process.

The rail cars were first loaded onto barges at Kawasaki’s factory in Japan, and then brought to the port of Kobe,” he says. “The rail car bodies and bogies were transported separately. We took over the responsibility for them once they arrived in Kobe, taking them by crane off the barge (a far easier process than loading onto a tall ship), and setting them directly on the RTBs. Then, once the vessel arrived in Baltimore, we brought them to the railway terminal.”

“The entire process was very safe and very fast,” says Anthony Clarizio, M-8 Project Manager for Kawasaki Rail Car. “Because of WWL’s RoRo style of shipping, it also meant that the cars were stored below deck, which provided even more safety and much more protection for them. The advantage of the RoRo system for us was clear; the experience went very well.”

“One of the benefits of using WWL is that all the operations are so well coordinated and smooth,” Takeda adds. “It’s well controlled because of the roll-on, roll-off method of loading and unloading, and because the timing of the arrival of the ship in port is almost exactly the same date every month. With bulk ships, if it’s raining or snowing hard, sometimes the loading is postponed, and loading a train by crane is basically a whole-day activity. With WWL, loading on the RTBs was done prior to the ship arriving in port, so once the ship arrives loading only takes a couple of hours.”

This is not the first time for Kawasaki Rail Car and its Japanese parent, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., to work with WWL. The first was a project bringing rail cars to Taiwan in 1992; since then, some 1,000 Kawasaki railcars have been carried by WWL.

I’ve had a long relationship with WWL, since I was previously stationed in Kobe,” Takeda says. “I’ve dealt with a lot of carriers, but with WWL we have had the least number of troubles and the lowest levels of damage. In fact, about 10 years ago we shipped some 400 to 500 subway car bodies from Japan to the US, and I had no problem with damage. It was just perfect!”

Kawasaki in brief
Based in Kobe, Japan, Kawasaki Rail Car (in the US)/ Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company is a division of major manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. The company produces a wide range of rolling stock, from subway cars and light rail vehicles to freight cars, locomotives, and even the famous Shinkansen ultra-high-speed trains of Japan. It is increasingly providing rolling stock for international clients, and has an overseas production facility in Yonkers, New York and Lincoln, Nebraska, US.