The Intermodal Container Web Page

QUESTION: I am building a model railroad and I am wondering what containers are appropriate for trains in my time era?

ANSWER: See the discussion below which is divided up by decade. I've tried to name the common container carriers of each decade to provide a "who's who" for modelers. For the container liveries highlighted as links, you can click on them to see a common livery from that era. Note that this discussion is specific to American railroads. This information is being presented as a rough guideline only.

The 1950s

Container styles: Various shapes, sizes, and construction styles. There was no standardization at this time.

Container liveries: Railroad-owned containers were the most common containers seen on the railroads at this time. Almost all railroads were experimenting with some type of containerized system in this era; although few were ever operated on a large scale. Finding photographs of these containers may be difficult; I suggest contacting the historical society for the railroad you are modeling. David J. DeBoer's book Piggyback and Containers also has some good photographs from this era as well (see FAQ section for bibliographic info).

Military enthusiasts may also be interested in researching the U.S. military's experiments with the Conex program during this era.

Steamship lines were not yet interchanging containers with railroads in the 1950s.

The 1960s

Container sizes: 8', 10', 20', 24' (Matson), 27' (SeaTrain), 30', 35' (Sea-Land), 40'. Many other non-standard containers are attempted early in the decade. Although ISO standardization was discussed as early as 1964, ISO standard sizes did not receive international acceptance until approximately 1968.

Container styles:  Aluminum "exterior-post" and "smooth side" containers are typical. A few ribbed-side steel containers are tested, especially in the smaller sizes.

Steamship container liveries (mid-1960s): Sea-Land Service, SeaTrain, Matson Navigation Co., American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines (a.k.a. Container Marine Lines), Moore-McCormack, Grace Line.

Steamship container liveries (late-1960s): All of the above plus the addition of American Mail Line, American President Line (APL), Atlantic Container Line (ACL), Japan Line, K-Line, Mitsui O.S.K., Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), Orient Overseas Line (OOL), Overseas Containers Ltd. (OCL), United States Lines, Yamashita-Shinnahon Line (Y.S. Line).

Leasing container liveries (late-1960s):  Compass Container, Container Transport International (CTI) (early), CTI (later), Integrated Container Service (ICS), Interpool, SSI Container Corp., XTRA.

Note: Small numbers of railroad-owned containers were still in service on many rail lines, including ATSF, B&O, NYC (Flexi-Van service), Pacific Fruit Express, Southern, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and possibly others.

The 1970s

Container sizes: 20', 24' (Matson), 35' (Sea-Land), 40'. High-cube (9'-6" tall) containers introduced; most companies are now standardized to the 20'/40' ISO container sizes. Notable exceptions are Matson and Sea-Land, who offer 40' ISO boxes in addition to their non-standard sizes.

Container styles: The aluminum container styles of the 1960s continue but with steel ribbed-side containers becoming more prevalent. The steel boxes use square ribs very similar to the new Chinese-built 53' domestic containers currently in use. Most steel boxes have two flat vertical panels on the side - one near each end - for reporting marks and logos. These are nicknamed "logo panels".

Steamship container liveries: American Export Lines (AEL), American President Lines (APL), Atlantic Container Line (ACL), Dart Containerline, Hapag-Lloyd, Japan Line, K-Line, Maersk Line, Matson Navigation Co., Mitsui O.S.K., Moore-McCormack, NYK, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), Overseas Containers Ltd. (OCL), Pacific Far East Line, Sea-Land Service, SeaTrain, Showa Line, United States Lines, Y.S. Line.

Leasing container liveries: Container Transport International (CTI), Integrated Container Service (ICS), Interpool, SSI Container Corp., Uni-Flex, XTRA.

The 1980s

Container sizes: 20', 24' (Matson), 40', 45'. Sea-Land finally phased out the 35' container by the mid-1980s. The 45' ISO container was introduced in 1982 by APL but did not see widespread use until several years later. The 48' domestic container was introduced in 1985 by APL and became popular in domestic use. The 53' domestic container was introduced in 1988 but only saw limited use in this decade.

Container styles: Aluminum containers became less common; steel containers became more prevalent. Ribbed-side (with square ribs) is still the dominant side type but corrugated-side (with beveled corrugations) begin to appear. By the end of the decade, most new containers are being built with corrugated sides. Logo panels are still employed on both styles with the exception of a few owners (such as Evergreen and Hyundai). In general logos got smaller during this decade.

Ocean carrier container liveries: American President Lines (APL), Atlantic Container Line (ACL), Evergreen, Hanjin, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Japan Line, K-Line, Korea Shipping Line, Lykes, Maersk Line, Matson Navigation Co., Mitsui O.S.K., Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), NYK, OOCL, OCL, Phoenix Container Liners (PCL), Sea-Land Service, SeaTrain, Showa Line, United States Lines, Y.S. Line, Yang Ming Marine Transport, Zim.

Leasing container liveries: CLOU, Container Applications International (CAI), Container Transport International (CTI), Contrans, Flexi-Van Leasing, GELCO, Genstar, ICCU, Intermodal Equipment Associates (IEA), Interpool, Itel Containers, MAXU, Sea Containers Ltd., SSI Container Corp., Tiphook Container Rental, TransAmerica-ICS, Trans Ocean, XTRA.

Domestic container liveries (late 1980s): American President Lines (APL), BNAmerica, Flexi-Van Leasing, Rail-Bridge, Santa Fe, TransAmerica, XTRA.

The 1990s

Container sizes: 20', 40', 45' (with 28', 48' and 53' for domestic operations). Matson continued to use 24' containers but they are rarely ever seen on the railroads. The "ISO boxes" remained in their 20'/40'/45' standard sizes. The 28' domestic container was introduced in 1990 to compete in LCL service with the popular 28' "pup trailers". The 28' box saw limited use (mostly in the UPS fleet). The 48' domestic container continued to be dominant for domestic use although the 53' domestic container was gaining popularity by the end of the decade.

Container styles: Aluminum construction disappeared; all new ISO containers were being built of steel. The corrugated-side design became standard. Logo panels disappeared; by the end of the decade the "all-corrugated" side containers were most common. Sheet/post and exterior-post construction for domestic containers remained standard, although by the end of the decade APL and Pacer were taking deliveries of all-steel 48' domestic containers.

Ocean carrier container liveries: American President Lines (APL), China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO), CMA-CGM (1998+), Evergreen, Hamburg-Sud, Hanjin, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, K-Line, Maersk Line, Mitsui O.S.K., Neptune Orient Lines, NYK, OOCL, P&O Containers, P&O/Nedlloyd (1997+), Sea-Land Service, Yang Ming Marine Transport (late 1990s), Zim.

Leasing container liveries: Capital Lease (late 1990s), Container Applications International (CAI), Cronos, Fairbreeze, Florens (late 1990s), Gateway (late 1990s), Genstar, Interpool, Itel Containers, Matson Leasing Co., SeaCo, Textainer, Tiphook, TransAmerica Leasing, Trans Ocean, Triton, Waterfront, XTRA International (1995+).

Domestic container liveries: American President Lines (APL), BNAmerica, Conway Intermodal (early 1990s), CSX Intermodal, EMP (late 1990s), Genstar (early 1990s), J.B. Hunt, NACS (late 1990s), Pacer Stacktrain (late 1990s), Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, TransAmerica.

The 2000s

Container sizes: Same as the 1990s. The 48' domestic container size fell out of favor and the 53' domestic container took over as the dominant American domestic container.

Container styles: The all-steel all-corrugated container is the standard for all ISO dry van containers. By the middle of the decade, many 53' domestic containers were now being built in China and feature all-steel construction with a square ribbed-side pattern similar to the old steel ISO boxes of the 1980s.

Ocean carrier container liveries: APL, China Shipping, CMA-CGM (early), CMA-CGM (later), COSCO, Evergreen, Hamburg-Sud, Hanjin, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, K-Line, Maersk Line, Maersk-SeaLand, MSC, MOL (early), MOL (later), NYK Logistics, OOCL, P&O/Nedlloyd, Yang Ming Marine Transport, Zim.

Leasing container liveries: Blue Sky Intermodal, CAI, Capital Lease, Cronos (later), Florens, Gateway, Gold Container Corp., Dong Fang, GE-SeaCo, Interpool, TAL (2006+), Textainer, TransAmerica Leasing, Unit Equipment Services, Waterfront, Xines.

Domestic container liveries: APL, CSX Intermodal (early), CSX Intermodal (late), EMP, Hub Group, J.B. Hunt, NACS (early 2000s), Pacer Stacktrain, Schneider National, Swift Intermodal.

Want To Know More?

For scale modelers there are not a lot of good resources available for finding photographs of historical containers. Any photos I have are posted in the galleries on this site. Unfortunately many of the old "fallen flag" container carriers were not very well photographed. There are a few places I have found for historical photos. I've attempted to list them below:

Books: See the FAQ section for bibliographic information.

Periodicals: Old issues of Distribution, Distribution Manager, and Distribution Worldwide had many great articles and photographs pertaining to containerization in the 1960s and 1970s. I suggest checking local universities for microfiche archives of these periodicals. Railroad fans should also check out old issues of Railway Age.

Dave Casdorph did an excellent series of articles called "Containers A-Z" covering containers from roughly 1980 to present in Model Railroading magazine (issues April 2000 through February 2003). This is the best all-color historical container photograph series ever published. Unfortunately the journal was discontinued in 2006; however back issues may still be available from Highlands Station LLC. Another excellent article covering steel container construction styles is "Evolution of Steel ISO Containers" by Dave Casdorph and published in the Feb. 1998 issue of Model Railroading magazine.

Some of the web sites in the Links section may also have useful photographs.  Don't forget to search the web, too. You never know what you can find out there in the world wide web.

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