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Superior is testing ground for 'Road to Rail' intermodal shipping system

Intermodal transportation is nothing new. For years, in fact, discussions have been held with hopes of establishing a Twin Ports truck-rail transfer point.

Intermodal transportation is nothing new. For years, in fact, discussions have been held with hopes of establishing a Twin Ports truck-rail transfer point.

So far, that dream has not materialized. But Superior on Tuesday served as a testing ground for a new system that may open new intermodal transportation options.

Instead of using large steel containers that are transferred from rail flatcars to truck flatbeds, the new "road to rail" system puts the equivalent of a truck trailer directly on rail tracks. In a relatively quick process, the trailer is lifted off rail wheels, attached to a truck cab and hauled on the highway system.

The test at Canadian Pacific's Stinson Yard was conducted in conjunction with Jeff Foster Trucking Inc. and incorporated tractor units developed by RailMate, a division of American Surface Lines of Edina, Minn.

"We're demonstrating the flexibility of using both rail and road" to gain the greatest transportation efficiency, said Betty Juntune, RailMate executive vice president.

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The Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth is testing the process to evaluate alternative transportation options for delivering Iron Range stone aggregate and other materials to southern Minnesota. Once loaded with aggregate at the United Taconite Mine in Eveleth, the trailers return by highway to Superior, where they are hauled south by CP rail.

Dubbed as a green transportation alternative, the system is designed to save fuel and reduce labor costs while also reducing emissions, noise, road congestion and road wear.

"All across North America, governments are asking us for ways to get heavy truck traffic off the highways. This might be one way to do it," said Dave Wheeler, Canadian Pacific intermodal sales manager.

Heavy rail wheels do not stay with the trailers once they leave tracks. To gain efficiency, RailMate has developed a system in which the wheel assembly, called a "bogie," can be left behind when trailers are on the highway. It has taken three years to engineer the system, which remains in the testing phase.

In the current two-week test, RailMate is hauling select aggregate for delivery to MnROAD, the Minnesota Department of Transportation's cold weather pavement testing facility near Albertville, Minn. The aggregate will be used as a foundation for a pavement test segment being developed at MnROAD.

Extensive safety tests will be conducted to ensure the process can be operated safely and meet Federal Railway Administration standards, Wheeler said.

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