Railroads’ involvement in the automotive industry dates back to the early 1900s and Henry Ford’s innovative Highland Park assembly plant.
As demand for new automobiles grew, railroads designed a railcar specifically to move automobiles, increasing the number of autos carried per railcar from two to ten or more. Today, railroads are involved in many stages of auto manufacturing. They move the raw iron ore and coke needed to make steel, deliver semi-finished products to manufacturing plant where they are used to produce auto parts and move the final vehicles. Using a combination of boxcars and intermodal containers, railroads transport hundreds of thousands of carloads of auto parts each year. Many larger parts — such as frames, engines, transmissions and axles — are too big or heavy to move in large quantities by truck, and as a result, are largely hauled by freight rail from auto parts suppliers to automobile manufacturing plants.