container on flatcar

What Is a Container on Flatcar (COFC)?

Containers are regularly transported between different locations. While trucking has been the more common and traditional mode of inland transport, rail freight offers an affordable and efficient option through a Container on Flatcar (COFC) service.

Container on Flatcar (COFC) is a rail freight service where a laden or empty container is loaded on a train’s flatcar. The containers are single-stacked and are transported between different transport hubs via national rail networks. 

It’s important to note that flatcars should not be confused with well cars, or strack cars as they are also known. The main difference is that COFC only allows for single stack loading, whereas well cars can be single or double-stacked. 

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the Container on Flatcar rail service and what its benefits are to moving containers via other modes of transport. 

What Are the Benefits of Using Containers on Flatcars (COFC)?

There are various benefits where a Container on Flatcar service is more advantageous compared to traditional inland trucking or other modes of transport. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Higher Capacity – Although containers can only be single-stacked, there’s much higher loading capacity compared to road freight. However, the most efficient way to transport containers via rail is by using well cars with double stacked containers. 
  • Easy Loading – Containers are loaded onto the flatcar in a similar way as Trailers on Flatcar (TOFC). However, as no trailers are loaded onto the flat car, positioning the container using a reach stacker is more convenient. 
  • Reduced Transport Lead Times – Having containers transported via rail freight is oftentimes faster than hauling containers with trucks over long distances. This is because drivers generally require rest time and are only allowed to drive a certain amount of hours a day.
  • Reduced Transport Costs – Customers can expect lower transportation costs because trains can transport multiple containers, instead of having to use a prime mover or cab for each container.
  • Increased Safety – Moving containers via rail is safer than via the road network, as less accidents occur. Moreover, reliability is also increased as trains depart on a schedule.   
  • Environmental Friendliness – As trucking requires a single cab or prime mover for each container, COFC trains can transport a large amount of containers in a single trip. This means that COFC services greatly reduce carbon emissions, compared to trucking containers.

While COFC rail services are more efficient over longer distances, trucking is still the more viable option over shorter distances with higher frequency. Additionally, COFC are also not as commonly available compared to road freight.  

It’s also important to note that while COFC arrangements are common, the more efficient way to transport a large quantity of containers via the rail network is through well cars with double-stacked containers, as seen in the Alameda Corridor for example. 

How Are Containers Loaded on Flatcars?

Containers are loaded on flatcars in intermodal logistics facilities or at rail depots. These facilities are usually located inland and in some cases even at sea ports.

Containers are loaded onto the flatcar using port equipment such as port cranes or through general container handling equipment such as reach stackers.

Once the train is positioned and the flatcars are in place, the containers are lifted onto the wagon and secured accordingly. As COFC are typically not double-stacked, the loading process is fairly simple and straightforward. 

Container on Flatcar (COFC) vs Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC)

The main differences between a Container on Flatcar (COFC) and a Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC) service is that in a COFC configuration only the container is loaded onto the flatcar, whereas in the TOFC configuration the container and the trailer are loaded. 

One thing that both rail services have in common is that they are loaded onto a flatcar and not onto a well car or any other type of wagon.