Santa Fe Railway's Hot 27
(High Priority Freight Trains)

by John M Carr

Copyright (C) 2000

In 1990, the Santa Fe Railway had a group of intermodal and manifest trains called the "Hot 27." These high priority freight trains especially the hot intermodal trains in the Chicago to Los Angeles corridor, received the newest power and were often pulled by units from the Super Fleet. These hot intermodal trains have been joined by several quality service manifest trains which handle chemicals and plastics to and from points in Texas.

ATSF Railway piggyback train symbol QNYLA at Winslow, AZ

This first page is a short synopsis of what was happening on the Santa Fe during the time of our report on the Hot 27. During the 70s and 80s, Santa Fe became the leader in piggyback service. In early 1991, industries served by the railroad were loading 320 box cars a day across the system. Compare that number to the number of piggyback trailers and containers loaded at the various terminals across the system and you will see how far the railroad had moved away from conventional box car traffic. The following is the total number of trailers and containers moved in and out of these intermodal terminals during December 1990.
Chicago 46,551 trailers and 10,708 containers
Los Angeles 39,387 17,649
Kansas City 16,938 1,476
Richmond 14,041 6,700
Dallas 9,063 3,356
Houston 7,811 6,165
Phoenix 5,378 102
Stockton 4,789 62
San Bernardino 4,163 432
North Bay 3,442 0 (facility had only been open three months)
Fresno 3,141 22
Oklahoma City 2,404 171
Modesto 2,131 540
Albuquerque 2,006 8
El Paso 1,916 267
Barstow 1,487 0
Denver 1,386 279
Amarillo 734 521
Tulsa 520 36
San Diego 497 0
Bakersfield 439 31
Galesburg 408 0
Fort Worth 259 23
Total trailers for the month was 168,891 down 6,634 trailers from December 1989 and 48,548 containers up by 7,283 containers. This works out to about 5,800 trailers and 1,700 containers per day as many of the terminals were closed on Christmas and New Years Eve. Note also the shift from trailers to containers.

The Santa Fe was one of the leaders in evaluating and improving train performance. In July 1990 the QBHLA (Birmingham, AL to Los Angeles) operated 32 times (one second section) and was on time 56 percent of the time. By comparison, SP's train MBSMF (Memphis to Los Angeles) operated 47 times and was on time a little less than five percent of the time.

In comparison to the SP and UP between the Midwest and Los Angeles, the Santa Fe had the best performance with train 198. It operated 43 times and was on time 83 percent of the time. Train 168 operated 42 times and was on time 74 percent of the time. Train QNYLA operated 32 times and was on time 65 percent of the time. Train 188 operated 25 times and was on time 25 percent of the time. Train SCHLA operated 28 times and was on time 43 percent of the time. UP train NPLAZ (North Platte to Los Angeles trailers) operated 38 times and was on time 68 percent of the time. Train KLLB (K-Line double stack containers Chicago to Los Angeles) operated nine times and was on time 67 percent of the time. Train APLA (American Presidents Line containers Chicago to Los Angeles) operated 31 times and was on time 58 percent of the time. SP's train BSMFF (St. Louis to Los Angeles) operated 12 times and was on time 50 percent of the time. Train BNSXF (Chicago to Los Angeles) operated 54 times and was on time 13 percent of the time.

Between New Orleans and Los Angeles SP's train AVAXT (Avon Yard to Los Angeles) operated ten times and was on time 90 percent of the time while the NOLAT (New Orleans to Los Angeles) operated 24 times and was on time 23 percent of the time. The KCS run-thru to ATSF train 578 operated 30 times and was on time 67 percent of the time.

For manifest trains into Southern California, Santa Fe's 318 train operated 35 times and was on time 68 percent of the time. Train 668 operated 31 times and was on time 55 percent of the time. Train 448 operated 31 times and was on time 35 percent of the time. UP train NPLAF operated 13 times and was on time 31 percent of the time. Train NPLAC operated 11 times and was on time 11 percent of the time. Train NPLA operated 30 times and was on time ten percent of the time.

In early 1990, the Santa Fe had 22 hot train schedules. For the month of April, these 22 scheduled trains operated 641 times. Things went well the first two weeks with trains arriving on time 60 to 80 percent of the time. However, bad weather and a couple of derailments during the last two weeks dropped the average for the month to 60 percent.

In early September, Santa Fe combined trains 507 and 568 into new hot train QHOBA. This train would go after the chemical and plastics traffic moving from the Texas Gulf Coast to California. Management then changed train 805 to train QBAHO to handle the returning empties on an expedited schedule. A few weeks later trains 568 and 537 were combined to form hot train QDABA. This train handled chemical and plastics traffic from Louisiana via the Kansas City Southern connection in Dallas. Twice a month, it also handled 15 tank cars of crude oil from Chevron in Port Arthur for its refinery in Richmond. During October the QHOBA was on time into Barstow 90 percent of the time and the QBAHO was on time into Houston every time.

In November Santa Fe's hot 198, 188, and QNYLA were still out performing UP's NPLAZ and SP's BSMFF and BNSXF between the Midwest and Los Angeles. However, UP's APLA and KLLB had better performance than Santa Fe's SCHLA.

Santa Fe's locomotive resources were tight during early 1990. In June Santa Fe received the first 30 of its new EMD GP60M Super Fleet locomotives. During June the ATSF was leasing 37 units. Remember the excitement we had when we saw the red and silver warbonnet scheme return. In August the railroad took 107 units with poor performance out of service. Locomotive availability went up after laying up these units. By the end of August the railroad had received 55 GP60Ms. GE delivered 38 B40-8s in October and 22 more in November.

During the end of the year, the Santa Fe was moving massive amounts of packages for UPS and the US Postal Service. The heaviest day for UPS traffic was on December 11th with several trains operating in three or four sections. The critical day for UPS for trains arriving at their sorting facilities was December 21st. After sorting these packages and loading the outbound trucks, UPS shut down for the holidays. USPS kept their bulk facilities open during the holidays.

Here are some of the other industries that utilized Santa Fe's hot trains. Honda in Richmond, CA was loading around 100 autoracks a week with some weeks peaking at 190 autoracks late in the year. During early 1991, Honda had computer problems and this cut the number autoracks loaded to 50 for one week in February. Isuzu began importing cars through San Diego and loaded 115 autoracks during December 1990 and 85 autoracks in February 1991.

The GM facility in Oklahoma City started production again in late August after being shut down for six weeks to retool for the new model year. During late 1990 the facility was shifting away from highway delivery of auto parts to rail delivery in autoparts box cars. Train 195 handled most of the loaded autoparts box cars (this amounted to about 800 box cars a month during the Spring of 1991) from Chicago to Oklahoma City. The GM facility loaded about 50 autoracks per work day and this increased to around 60 per day later in 1990.

The Los Angeles intermodal terminal set a record of 2,031 lifts on June 19, 1990. The terminal loaded three stack trains along with the regular piggyback trains handling UPS and USPS traffic. The intermodal terminals at Plainview, Lubbock, Newton, and Wichita were closed in July 1990. Santa Fe opened a new intermodal terminal in Amarillo in August. In August, the San Bernardino intermodal terminal began 24 hour operations from Tuesday through Saturday to handle extra Consolidated Freightways business for train 893.

The Santa Fe opened a new four track automobile facility at Kansas City in August. Most of the cars and trucks were from Ford moving to Oklahoma City, Haslett (Fort Worth), and Pearland (Houston). Ford was supplying enough vehicles to load an average of 24 autoracks per day.

The railroad was adding more articulated TOFC cars to its fleet. By the end of the year it had 16 to 20 train sets of 10 pack cars. These cars were found primarily on trains 188, 189, 198, 199, 891, 971, 991, and QLANY.

The railroad received 80 Thrall bi-level autoracks in July. Thirty were assigned to Isuzu at Lafayette, IN to handle traffic moving to Richmond and Los Angeles. Fifty were assigned to Nissan at Smyrna, TN to handle traffic for Richmond, Phoenix, and Albuquerque.

In early 1991, the Santa Fe was consolidating the dispatching and crew calling functions into three regional offices at Albuquerque, Euless, TX and Kansas City. Conrail improved clearances on their lines to terminals on the East Coast and soon afterward trains QNYLA and QLANY began carrying double stack containers.

In February 1991, the railroad changed train 571 to form train QHOCH. This train was in direct competition with UP trains FPCHCX, KVCH, and KVPI and SP trains HOASM and SRASM moving chemicals from the Texas Gulf Coast to Midwest and Northeast. Later in the month trains 315 and VKCHO were combined to form train QCHHO, the complement of QHOCH, To show support for the troops fighting Iraq, the Santa Fe began placing American flag decals on all of its locomotives. The railroad received its first three articulated covered hoppers from Thrall. The car has five units articulated on six trucks with a capacity of 338 tons. Santa Fe started trains QFWLA and QLAFW to compete with LTL truckers in the California to Northern Texas corridor.

Today there are around 20 hot trains running east to Chicago. Take a look at the eastbound schedule for Z and Q trains operating over BNSF.