Very Interesting idea gentlemen!
...You all have brought up some good points! I had thought of something similar to this but in order for this two work you would need two things: Interest and commitment. A Co-op would be the best way of making it happen. First thing would be a source selection point for coal supply. Our host would be a good reference. Could you load coal at your "yard" via conveyor belt?
Coal could be loaded into a slightly modified box, the box being mounted on a tractor trailer converter dolly, trucked from there to a RAIL Intermodal loading facility (box is then lifted off converter dolly to be placed on a rail car, usually an 89' flatcar, but possibly a well or spline).
...Toughest part of this, is there an Intermodal yard close by? Is there a rail siding close by (maybe eliminate the first trucking portion?)
Say for example "SOURCE Spot in PA to Providence RI, Worcester MA, Or Gardner MA"...as a test market."
Just trying to provide an "inside" look at logistics. Intermodal costs are rather reasonable...if trucking costs are minimized. Ratio: %95 rail travel-5% truck Cost-40% rail, Trucking 60%.
As far as the boxes? Standard shipping containers are manufactured to ISO standards and would not need much modification to haul coal. Standard sizes are based on TEU's (twenty foot equivalency units-An American Invented this concept). Standard sizes are20,40,45,and now 53'. The twenty foot containers are the most prevalent, easiest to find and the cheapest! Although it has been a few years, I hooked a friend of mine up with a dealer I heard of that was selling them for $650 each delivered within 35 miles of Worcester. He called me the day it was dropped off to thank me, the driver/owner was a "wheeler/dealer". He had two of them on his truck. They got to talking, he got the second box for $300.00 cash!
...A standard 20' box weighs in between 48-5200 lbs...and are often moved by "auto wrecker" style ramp trucks. Capacity can be as high as 48,000 lbs but is rarely used that heavy.
If you boys up in Michigan have toyed with the idea of an entire rail car worth of coal (90 tons)...you might want to look into this mode more...because unfortunately in modern day America one coal car to a railroad isn't worth the time of day. One kelly box in a point to point intermodal movement would at least get quoted.
Here is a picture of Intermodal at it's best (53's riding in wells). I don't know if you have ever seen one of these trains, they are referred to as "stacks" and are kinda scary rolling by at speed. This is the future of rail freight in America:
http://photos.nerail.org/showpic/?20061 ... l&BOOL=ANY
P.S. The "white" ones are 53's The red-40' on top, two 20's on the bottom.