Quality Carriers
From left to right are Randy Strutz, Quality Carriers president; Anne Laughlin, corporate counsel; and Alok Kumar, vice president of intermodal.

Quality Carriers secures ISO tank patent

Feb. 27, 2024
CSX-owned tank truck carrier locks up its competitive advantage in the bulk intermodal segment with a proprietary container design optimized for U.S. shippers

Quality Carriers recently secured its competitive advantage in the intermodal bulk segment.

In what Quality Carriers president Randy Strutz calls a first on his watch, the CSX railroad-owned tank truck carrier successfully patented its domestic tank container, which features unique unloading, safety, and operating modifications designed to optimize performance for shippers in the North American market.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Patent No. 11,679,930 last year but only delivered the official documents this month, Strutz said.

“We’re very excited about it—and we’re continuing to ramp up our production of the units in South Africa,” Strutz told Bulk Transporter.

Key modifications include standard, U.S.-compatible fittings, improved ground-level vapor recovery, safety upgrades, and tank enhancements, all designed to increase domestic adoption of 20-ft. ISO tanks, which are more common in Europe. “Each one of those by itself probably isn’t substantial enough, but the collection of changes made it patentable,” Strutz explained, pointing out that the patent prohibits anyone from copying the domesticated design for at least 17 years—unless they license it through Quality Carriers.

See also: CSX, Quality Carriers disrupt bulk logistics 

The carrier’s ISOs include 50% more insulation than standard over-the-road tanks as one critical enhancement, Strutz said. “That’s important because train travel, although very efficient, will take a little bit longer,” he said. “A three-day truck run might be a five-day rail run, so we wanted to make sure we beefed up the insulation without losing capacity.”

Growing fleet

Strutz planned to have 1,000 20-ft. containers in service by the end of this year, but supply chain constraints limited production in 2023. Quality Carriers now has 300 in active duty and expects to place 700 in service by the end of 2024, he said. South African manufacturer Welfit Oddy builds the tanks with U.S. fittings shipped overseas. “They’ve been outstanding, and we’re also starting to work with them on additional barrel sizes as customers have expressed interest, so we can accommodate heavier, denser products,” Strutz said.

The new “tight-fill” barrels will allow Quality Carriers to transport ISOs that weigh less than 44,000 pounds per tandem axle, the limit on most state roadways, while filling at least 80% of a portable tank’s capacity, as required by federal regulations. “When you have a big void in the tank, you get a lot of sloshing, which can be unsafe,” Strutz said.

Select shippers now are testing the slimmed-down containers, he added.

Customer adoption

Quality Carriers also has 350 sliding drop-deck chassis trailers to haul the patented ISO tanks from shipper to rail, and Strutz expects to continue growing the trailer fleet on a 1-to-1 basis with the tanks as the carrier ramps up business. Currently, 26 shippers are utilizing Quality Carriers’ intermodal service across 20 active lanes. “It’s a critical growth area for us,” Strutz said. “It’s one of the reasons CSX bought us, to generate more rail revenue, and then it has all the other benefits. It saves customers money, reduces carbon emissions, and helps with the driver supply because a lot of miles are covered by train instead of a single driver.”

See also: Quality Carriers debts intermodal service as container usage booms

Strutz is aiming for 50 active shippers by the end of Q4, and close connections within the chemical industry—where manufacturers often buy products from each other—are helping generate momentum, Strutz said. “When they get used to materials coming in this way, it’s not a big stretch to say, ‘If I can receive them, why can’t I ship them?’” he concluded.

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.