Oversize Loads - Routing High and Wide



Moving oversize or overweight loads is a specialized but important part of Southern Railway's customer oriented transportation service. Construction materials, transformers and nuclear reactor vessels are some of the most common "high and wide" loads, but any oddly shaped or extra heavy object may fit into this category. Shipments of any weight that will overload normal track and bridge structures or overload a freight car beyond its rated capacity require special consideraton.

In a special train movement, 20 - foot high bridge girders are shipped from Bessemer, Ala., to Chattanooga. Entire weight of the girder rests on the depressed car in the middle


On any giyen day between four and five hundred of these extra care shipments move somewhere on Southern, each one accompanied by a clearance order giving detailed instructions for routing and movement. "Proposed Movement in Excess of Published Clearances : Dimensional or Weight" is the lengthy but descriptive title of this ticket for oversize loads. Planning the special precautions the clearance order prescribes and making sure the shipment moves safely and on time to destination are functions of Southern's Control Center in Atlanta.

Here, each load is carefully studied and possible impediments to the movement are noted in exacting detail. In many cases, planning for the handling of oversize shipments involves the use of Southern's computers. Stored in "memory banks" are all the data concerning limiting factors that might make use of certain routes impossible. Using high speed computers, lengthy manual calculations are reduced to a matter of seconds and routing limitations can be quickly learned.

When clearance has been issued and the load is actually moving a supervisor of Service Control closely follows the load while it is on Southern's lines. Planning for a high and wide shipment begins with a route request to the Center for clearance of an oversize load. This request may come from a shipper, from Southern's sales department or from another carrier (the originating carrier is obligated to clear a shipment all the way through to its destination) .

Each of the 60 or 70 requests that come in daily is carefully reviewed,by a transportation assistant who knows Southern's lines and the conditions that might impede movement of an oversize load. If the load is similar to past shipments and will move over a familiar route, he can often write a clearance order by drawing on past practice and experience. If the request involves a new or different type of load or an unusual route, the request is referred to an engineer, who transcribes data information suitable for computer determination of feasibility of handling and necessary restrictions. In either case the work must be precise, since erroneous clearance order for an oversize load may result in serious delay to the shipment or extensive damages from accidents enroute.

Notwithstanding the complexity and volume of their operation, the people in the Control Center hate to say "no" to a quote request. As C. C. Smoot, a transportation assistant who heads up the clearance section, says, "We pride ourselves on our ability to offer alternatives. If it is physically impossible to move a particular load, we try to suggest ways in which the shipment can be altered to clear our lines."

A Supervisor of Service Control, J. A. Beene, keeps track of all high and wide loads from the Control Center.


Another and more complex option is that of changing the line to fit the load. Such work is often planned a year or more ahead of the actual movement and may range from the removal of a pole to the strengthening or rebuilding of bridges and sections of track.

Route requests that go to the computer get the benefit of the most advanced system for clearance planning now in use on any railroad. Complete information for several thousand possible routes over Southern's lines is stored on magnetic tape and updated daily. For each route the computer knows such factors as the distance between tracks, superelevation of tracks, dimensions of tunnels and bridges, configuration of rock cuts (and the curvature of the track inside the cut), any obstructions that might affect a high and wide movement. New loadings can be analyzed by computer to assist engineers' determination of the effect of such loads on structures, so that a decision can be made as to whether they may be handled and under what restrictions.

When analyzing an oversize load request by computer, Mr. Smoot chooses a route which, in his experience, will be the most effective for moving a particular load and then, in effect, works toward answering the question "What, if anything, will interfere if we move this load over this route?"

A key punch operator then prepares punched cards from data furnished by the engineer. This includes the height and width of the load, its configuration, spacing necessary between trucks, the length of the car, position of the bolsters and the length of overhang.

These cards are fed into the computer where it is compared to the route "memory" stored on magnetic tapes. The computer answers in the form of a printout sheet listing any fouling obstructions and possible impediments to moving the high and wide load over the proposed route. It also notes all the milepost locations where the load may not clear if there is a train on adjacent track. Indicative of careful planning by the Control Center is the fact that the computer very rarely rejects a proposed route as not feasible.

An oil refractor reactor vessel moves from Chattanooga to Watson, Calif. Here pictured in Citico Yard, the tubular vessel stretches its 65-foot length over two flatcars.

Another useful application of the computer system has been in planning for new car construction. Descriptions of new locomotives, freight cars and maintenance equipment, often still on the drawing board, are programmed for the computer as if they were oversize loads. The printout answer notes any obstructions that would limit the use of the new equipment on the Southern System and provides an invaluable tool to management in projecting new equipment design.

Once a high and wide route is established, the clearance order for the movement follows. This very detailed document, without which no oversize load can move on the railway, goes to all the operating people involved in the movement including chief dispatchers, trainmasters and freight agents.

The clearance order gives full route. information for the high and wide load, lists all special handling applications and speed restrictions and all milepost locations, where the adjacent track must be kept clear or observed when the load passes. As an additional precaution, an attention attracting seal is affixed to the waybill of an oversize load identifying it as, an excessive dimensional movement. The seal acts as a red flag and should the clearance order be separated from the waybill at any point, the movement is halted until the proper clearance is obtained.

This General Electric transformer was shipped from Rome, Ga., to the Georgia Power Company for installation at a substation near Tate. The transformer weighs in excess of 222,000 pounds instailed equal to the combined weight of nearly 75 automobiles and stands as high as a two-story building.

As the high and wide load moves over the Southern System a supervisor of Service Control follows the movement in the Control Center. By comparing up to date car locator reports from Southern's "real time" computer system with projected routing plans he is able to determine if the loads are moving as scheduled. Should there be a delay, microwave communications gives him instant access to any operating arm of the railway and problems are quickly solved.

Southern places a great deal of emphasis on the fast and correct handling of oversize loads because high and wide shipments are an important part of the package of services the railway offers to customers. As Mr. Smoot puts it, "Providing good service on a shipper's normal freight isn't enough; we have to be able to take care of his occasional 'problem-child' too."

By teaming solid railroading experience with the new procedures of modern technology the people at the Atlanta Control Center are proving every day that these problem children are "no problem" for Southern Railway. .