Photo: Mi-Jack Inc.
The development of containerization and mechanized intermodal equipment in the 1960s was the starting point in the emergence of a more efficient intermodal rail system, particularly in the 1980s when double-stacking rail cars entered in service. Although the earliest – unsuccessful – attempt at double stacking was made in 1977 by Southern Pacific Railroad, the first double stack unit train started in 1984 between Los Angeles and South Kearny, NJ, under the initiative of APL (American President Lines). This created strong pressures in the design and implementation of efficient intermodal cranes as growing quantities of containers were handled by rail terminals. The development of efficient and high throughput cranes is the outcome of two decades of trial and errors from an initial crane concept that was designed to lift boats.
In 1956 Drott Manufacturing purchased the TravelLift line from a boatlift company that manufactured cranes for lifting boats in and out of the water for the marine industry. The boat lifting application was ideal for the marine industry because of its light workload, which at most involved two to five lifts per day. After Drott purchased the TravelLift design, small modifications were made and the crane was sold to the material handling industry, such as the concrete and rail industries. Unfortunately, the duty cycle and the amount of lifting that was demanded by these industries turned out to be too much of a workload for the crane which was initially designed for a light throughput. For instance, TravelLift rail crane models purchased by New York Central and Southern Pacific Railroads where unable to handle the throughput and were subject to regular breakdowns. Although the TravelLift concept looked promising, its inability to handle a continuous duty cycle of 30,000 to 80,000 trailers lifts per year was a serious impediment to the efficiency of intermodal rail operations.
By the late 1970s, Jack Lanigan Sr., the CEO of Mi-Jack, which until then was mainly a dealer of crane equipment reached an agreement with Drott to provide a new design for the TravelLift line. One of the most important innovation of this new design was the container grappler, which in prior designs was the piece of equipment the most prone to breakage. The new crane design was named Translift and was fully capable of providing the high throughput and reliability desperately needed by the rail industry, in addition to a be less labor intensive solution. Later on Mi-Jack purchased Drott as well as another important crane manufacturer, the Raygo-Wagner Company and became the largest container crane manufacturer in North America. By 1985, the Translift design became the standard intermodal rail crane in operation in all the major rail terminals in the United States. In addition, by the 1990s the company also became the largest rail terminal operator in North America, managing about 80 terminals.
Thus, the introduction of efficient intermodal rail cranes such as the Translift by Mi-Jack in the mid 1980s played a significant role in improving intermodal rail operations. These cranes are the outcome of modifications and improvements of existing concepts to the high throughput requirements of intermodal rail terminals.