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Sell, Mortimer, Sell!
February 8, 2012 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Railfans love it. Model Railroaders adore it. Economics people study it. The Tropicana Corporation runs between 10 and 12 30-to-50-car trains of it every week. Behold, 5000 tons of Orange Juice on the move.

One of the most successful railroad-shipper unit trains, the Tropicana Juice Train has been running continuously since 1971. Long the subject of efficiency studies, the Juice Train has special runs of model railroad refrigerator cars devoted to it, and is hawked and chased by railfans at every turn.

The cars just don't carry orange juice out of Florida, either. On their return trip to the plant in Bradenton, the trains are marketed to other produce and vegetable shippers as the Sunshine Special for produce and foodstuffs heading to market in Florida and South America.
posted by pjern (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical... whoops, sorry, wrong kind of trainspotting. Carry on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:50 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember when my friend, who had friends who did graffiti, that the Tropicana cars were the preferred car to paint on since they are a massive white canvas. I love how, in the face of this, Tropicana insists on the "all-white" railcar anyways.
posted by basicchannel at 8:57 PM on February 8, 2012


+told me
posted by basicchannel at 8:58 PM on February 8, 2012


Are the cars full of liquid? Or is it frozen?
How does a full trainload of liquid affect the trains' braking distance?

Also related, this article about how "not from concentrate" orange juice is kept in tank farms for up to a year, with the oxygen removed to retard spoilage - and removing the oxygen removes the flavor, which must then be artificially re-introduced using a chemical "flavor pack."
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 PM on February 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of the things I hated most about Florida the most was the 18 wheeler dump trucks full of heaps of discolored oranges, rotting in the sun, on their way from groves to the juice plant. The smell of it turned me off OJ forever.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:17 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing on planet Earth—and I mean nothing—smells better than to drive through orange groves this time of year as they come into bloom, preferably about three in the morning with the windows down; the scent of orange blossoms mixing with that warm late-night Florida spring air.

And it's true, Florida grows the best oranges. Sometimes I'd kill for a Florida orange, but living out in the pacific northwest makes that a bit difficult. If you've grown up on them, nothing else compares, and I can pick out non-Florida oranges with a single glance, and instantly tell you if the orange juice I'm drinking is 100% Florida or not—the taste is that distinctive. Florida OJ completely lacks that slightly bitter after bite other regions have, which is the main reason it's so highly sought after for juicing.

I'm such an orange snob it's more than a little embarrassing, and I don't even particularly like them all that much; just grew up with them.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:32 PM on February 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


> "not from concentrate" orange juice is kept in tank farms for up to a year

D'oh - this is like the pink slime revelation.
posted by stbalbach at 9:45 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reefer madness!
posted by knile at 11:43 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Railfans

Is that really American for trainspotters? Brilliant.
posted by jack_mo at 1:29 AM on February 9, 2012


"Railfan," is probably the nice way to say it here in the states. "Foamer," as in "foaming at the mouth," might be more analogous, especially if one considers "trainspotter" to be pejorative.
posted by The Potate at 2:52 AM on February 9, 2012


The southbound juice train crosses in front of me each morning as I'm walking to the train, usually when I'm in the parking lot to the local diner. I don't really enjoy orange juice very much, unless it's freshly squeezed, because the acid perturbs me for the rest of my day, but I always say "juice train!" to myself in a sort of quiet, happy voice when I see it, noting another fixture in my daily routines.

Lately, there's been a lot of freight congestion backing everything up and setting the schedules awry, and I have not been able to say "juice train!" This annoys me to no end.
posted by sonascope at 2:58 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]




It would be nice to see some of that graffiti more clearly. Fortunately, the internet is not just videos.

I have been out of model railroading for many years. Have modelers started putting graffiti on their models, or is that considered beyond the pale?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:38 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


How does a full trainload of liquid affect the trains' braking distance?

There's lots of momentum going, even if the freight cars are empty. Average stopping distance for a freight train traveling at 55 mph is one mile. Keep in mind that each freight car has its own brakes, too.

Produce trains don't only run north and south. I worked for the Chicago NorthWestern Railroad almost 40(!) years ago, and the Union Pacific would regularly run trains loaded with produce between west and east coasts through Chicago. Trains with refrigerated orange-colored car after car (reefers) that seemed longer than the one in the video. Tracks were cleared for these trains to run at maximum speed available, close to 70 mph if the conditions allowed for it.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:41 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are the cars full of liquid? Or is it frozen?
How does a full trainload of liquid affect the trains' braking distance?


I'm not sure the state of the cars, but I don't think the braking distance is affected by the liquid. Remember that the containers are not 1/2 full with liquid sloshing around (which wouldn't affect the distance either, except by reducing it due to reduced mass) but are for all intents and purposes completely full. It's just mass, and not really that much, since density is ~1000kg/m3, much less than say iron ore, at a bulk density between 2-3000 kg/m3.
posted by defcom1 at 3:41 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


defcom1: "Are the cars full of liquid? Or is it frozen?
How does a full trainload of liquid affect the trains' braking distance?


I'm not sure the state of the cars, but I don't think the braking distance is affected by the liquid. Remember that the containers are not 1/2 full with liquid sloshing around (which wouldn't affect the distance either, except by reducing it due to reduced mass) but are for all intents and purposes completely full. It's just mass, and not really that much, since density is ~1000kg/m3, much less than say iron ore, at a bulk density between 2-3000 kg/m3.
"

Well, your point stand that a juice railcar doesn't weigh what an ore car does, but different cars of the same type are built to different lengths for different materials. Take a covered hopper car (what I used to work with). The ones made to carry plastic pellets (for injection molds, etc) can carry 5000 cubic feet; if I recall, they're actually held back only by maximum length regulations. On the other hand a covered hopper made for cement service is closer to 3000 cubic feet; any more than that and you're over the 286,000-lb single-car weight limit.
posted by notsnot at 4:10 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd be more enthusiastic about graffiti if it didn't represent Sturgeon's Law ++.
posted by Scoo at 4:34 AM on February 9, 2012


As a (semi)retired freight writer, I can say with certainty that Tropicana reefers are, without a doubt, the holy grail of most people writing freight graffiti in North America. They are locked down hard in most cities, but people will go to great lengths to get them.

Mid-Southern Ohio is one of the only regions that has yards and layups with Tropicanas that are relatively easily to paint. For that reason alone, cities from Cincinnati to Cleveland have disproportionately large communities of writers. If you ask how they made their way to Ohio, the answer will almost always involve freight/Tropicanas/other reefers.

Kirth Gerson: Yeah, lots of model guys put graffiti decals on their trains now. Personally, I love it, because it strengthens the natural bond and respect between railfans and writers and it looks cool and authentic. I do, though, know several people who have been upset with their work being photographed, reproduced, and sold for profit without their input. Oddly enough, though, no one I know has contacted an IP lawyer yet...

Awesome post, BTW.


(For anyone interested in looking at a ton of painted Tropicanas and other awesome reefer cars, here's a link to a 55 page forum post from a big graff website. There is likely NSFW stuff in there, and also probably a lot of unseemly manchild-on-manchild internet shit talk, but there's also a lot of pictures. Look for the BNSF white reefer cars with the icy tops. Those are, in my mind, the single nicest rail car ever rolled)
posted by broadway bill at 5:18 AM on February 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


(link should've gone here, the last page on what is actually a 102 page post...)
posted by broadway bill at 5:23 AM on February 9, 2012


Have modelers started putting graffiti on their models, or is that considered beyond the pale?

I've seen graffiti decals at the model rr store, but haven't seen it on a layout yet.
posted by drezdn at 5:50 AM on February 9, 2012


>Sometimes I'd kill for a Florida orange, but living out in the pacific northwest makes that a bit difficult.

yeah, unlike florida they have laws against that.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:31 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should say that I'm not normally a big fan of graffiti, but a long string of identical rail cars is pretty boring to watch, so I support artistic enhancement of them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:34 AM on February 9, 2012


CSX - how tomorrow - no ORANGE JUICE - moves.
posted by Leezie at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2012


Tracks were cleared for these trains to run at maximum speed available, close to 70 mph if the conditions allowed for it.

Grr. The USA's great mistake. In 1947, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued rules that said trains in the US would be limited to 59mph passenger and 49mph on tracks without block signals (commonly known as "dark track") and to 79mph on tracks/trains without either on-board signals, automatic train stopping system, or full automatic train control systems.

What this was supposed to do was make trains safer. What it really did was have the companies running the trains look at the track mileage, esp. out west, and say, "Well, we're not going faster than 80, then." The nascent high speed rail movement in the US -- the Pioneer Zephyr made a Denver-Chicago run *averaging* 77 mph, peaking at 112 mph, in 1937 -- pretty much died.

We have developed some better systems -- the Northeast Corridor is the most famous, but there actually a fair amount of track with ATC, and there's a new regulation that requires PTC (Positive Train Control) which is ATC + brains -- the train is told what blocks it is allowed to traverse and at what speed. Unlike ATC, where really you only know the states of the next two blocks, PTC can tell the train and operator much more, and let them know, say, "you have a proceed on the next seventeen blocks, and all are 75mph blocks" or "Next block is a caution, and three blocks after that limit 55" allowing the operator and train much better control of the situation.

Now, if we'd just pick a system....and, of course, it doesn't matter how good the signal and control systems are if we leave the US criss crossed with class 3 and 4 track.

It is kind of sad to note that the CTA's L system has better signaling and train control than the vast majority of US rail trackage. If you ride up front and look into the operator's cab, you can see the very simple system for telling the driver the maximum speed for that block. The speedometer is a vertical tape, and next to it are five blocks, (0-15 15-20 20-35 35-55 55-75) that light up. If the first three blocks are lit, you're on 35mph track, and you make sure your speed indicator is within that block. If the speed is limited to 35mph, this is officially "restricted" track, and another light (red) lights to tell you of that.

If you're going faster than the block allows, a high pitched tone sounds, and you have some number of seconds to slow down. If you ignore that, then the train will start to brake for you, and if you fight it, the train goes into emergency -- full resistance on the controller* and full brakes. If you've ever been on a train that's gone full emergency, you'll remember it.

If your station has a signal near the platform, you can see the automatic stopping system. Look down at the rail, there will be a bar just outside the track. It is usually painted white. When the signal is red ("danger"), that bar rotates up, and if a train passes it, it trips the train into emergency braking. At terminal platforms, they have bars permanently up to trip the trains before they run out of track.

So, the L is ATC+ATS. PTS isn't as useful on the L, with the relatively short blocks and short trackage. Operators run the line several times a day, and quickly learn the actual limits in play, so they basically know the state of the line -- at least, until someone flips a WA switch** and drops that section to a 15mph slow zone...




* Chicago L trains use the motors for both propulsion and brakes. To brake, they switch the motors from the 3rd rail power to a large bank of resistors underneath the car. Theoretically, this could lead to a hybrid system, but historically, Chicago (and others) used this because it saves a ton of money on brake components, and it is very effective.

** Workers Ahead. Flashes a yellow light, and drops that block to 15mph running.
posted by eriko at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2012 [21 favorites]


Jesus Christ, Eriko, how do you know so much stuff about so much stuff?!?!?!?
posted by notsnot at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's a foamer. *ducks*
posted by scalefree at 7:22 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice post Eriko, it sounds like you probably work in the signals department of a major railroad (I work in the bridge dept).

Unit trains are trains that run a single commodity in large quantities just like the Tropicana one discussed here. These are the most efficient and profitable trains for a railway to run and as such have priority over other kinds of traffic. CSX is a company that runs mostly unit trains and is thus a very efficient railroad over all.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:33 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's kind of typical that the Amtrak passenger train runs behind the freight train.
posted by monospace at 11:12 AM on February 9, 2012


Ha, the Juice Train runs right by NASA HQ in downtown DC every day- I can see it from my desk. Never knew anything more about it- cool post.

(It runs over the same set of tracks that news stories about terrorism always talk about in the context of blowing up a chlorine train to poison the Capitol building. A block from my office. Neat!)
posted by zap rowsdower at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2012


I'm such an orange snob it's more than a little embarrassing, and I don't even particularly like them all that much; just grew up with them.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:32 PM on February 9 [5 favorites +] [!]

Your regular oranges disgust me. Once I ate a blood orange I could never go back.
posted by oxford blue at 12:38 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Orange and apple juice, an integral part of many people's breakfast, could become an unaffordable "luxury"
Yeah, only in the Telegraph. Non-concentrated orange juice has always been a luxury for ordinary Brits. Having a fridge full of it is a major class marker.
posted by Acheman at 9:35 AM on February 10, 2012


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