Extra-tall van forces Ford to design new rail car for shipping

The new medium and high roof Ford Transit vehicles are too tall to fit in the common two story railcars used by manufacturers, so Ford engineers worked with railroads and railcar manufacturers to design a railcar that accommodates all the roof height variations of the new Transit. Ford ships vehicles from its assembly plants to dealerships using a mix of railcars and trucks. (Ford/MCT)

(MCT) -- It is one thing to build a new van with a high roof height, quite another to ship it to dealers.

That was among the challenges Ford faced as it made plans to build and sell the Ford Transit full-size van and wagon in the U.S. for the first time.

The van comes in a choice of three roof heights and the highest - 110.1 inches tall - allows a 6-foot, 4-inch person to stand upright.

That posed logistical problems when it came to shipping the Transit. For destinations within a 500-mile radius of the Kansas City assembly plant where the vans are built, Ford will truck the vehicles to dealers.

But anything further goes by rail and the medium- and high-roof vans, which are expected to account for half the sales, don't fit in the two-story cars traditionally used by automakers.

Ford worked with rail companies and rail car manufacturers to design a flexible rail car where the top deck is raised to allow as many as seven oversized Transits to fit on the lower deck with room for smaller cars on the shorter deck. The idea is similar to adjustable shelves in your refrigerator to accommodate milk cartons on the bottom and small jars on top.

The overall height of the rail car had to stay the same to fit in tunnels and underpasses.

Ford started working on the railcar project in 2010 when it began developing the 2015 Transit which will replace the long-running E-Series in Ford's lineup.

Ford worked with Canadian National, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern. More than 350 rail cars have been modified at an unspecified cost. But the automaker says shipping by rail is less expensive than by truck.

"Use of these modified rail cars helps us to efficiently ship these large vehicles from our assembly plant, deliver them to our dealers and get them into the hands of customers faster and more cost effectively," said Chris Lemmink, Ford vehicle logistics manager.

The Transit was introduced in Europe in 1965 and is sold in 118 markets. It goes on sale for the first time in the U.S. this summer.

Ford spent $1.1 billion to retool its Kansas City facility to make the van and added 2,000 workers for a third crew in August.