In January of 1968, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe caught the attention of the trade press (and shippers) with the inauguration of the Super C-a 40-hour piggyback and container train on the 2,200-mile route between Chicago and Los Angeles. This six-days-a-week service was as fast as the Super Chief-hence the name; average speed was more than 55 miles an hour, topping out at 79.
Trains were light. No more than about 20 cars were projected, though in reality they would often run with as few as two or three. As originally conceived, the trains were a straight shot-no classification, no pick-up or drop-off. There were, however, 17 crew changes en route, an indication of the antediluvian nature of the work rules at that time.
Naturally, the Super C was a premium-price service, costing about double the usual COFC/TOFC rates, in fact. Because of the high cost, the train had some difficulty attracting a steady clientele. The operation's purity was further compromised by the addition of a Kansas City pickup, as well as combinations with trains west of Barstow, California.
At the same time, Northern Pacific was fielding a similar service on the 1,875-mile Seattle-Minneapolis Tokyo Express, which averaged 51 miles per hour and was thus faster than the North Coast Limited, NP's premier passenger train. Neither this train nor the Super C would linger for long, but they proved how quickly inter-modal freight could move by rail.