Piggyback (transportation)

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Piggyback transportation is transportation of goods where one transportation unit is carried on the back of something else - it is a specialised form of intermodal transportation and of combined transport.[1]


Piggyback is a corruption of pickaback, which is likely a folk etymology alteration of pick pack (1560s), which perhaps is from pick, a dialectal variant of pitch (v).[2]



Trailers on flatcars in the United States
trucks on a train

In rail transport, the practice of carrying trailers, or semi-trailers in a train atop a flatcar is referred to as "piggybacking."[3]

The rail service provided for trucks which are carried on trains for part of their journey is referred to as a rolling road, or rolling highway. A related transportation method is the rail transport of semi-trailers, without road tractors, sometimes referred to as 'Trailer on Flatcar' (TOFC).

It is also possible to carry a railway wagon of one track gauge on a flat railway wagon (transporter wagon or rollbock) of another gauge; indeed, whole trains of one gauge can be carried on a train of flat wagons of another gauge as was done temporarily in Australia for about a year around 1955 between Telford and Port Augusta.[4][5]

The loading of semi-trailers in the U. S. grew from 1% of freight in 1957 to 15% in 1986.[6]


Small ships of all kinds can be piggybacked on larger ships. Examples include lifeboats, landing craft, minesweepers on motherships.[7] Midget submarines on big submarines such as used for 1942 Japanese submarine attack on Sydney.

Air transport[edit]

The 1930s British Short Mayo Composite, in which a smaller floatplane aircraft, the four-engined "Mercury", was carried aloft on the back of a larger four-engined flying boat named "Maia"; this enabled the Mercury to achieve a greater range than would have been possible had it taken off under its own power. In space transportation systems a smaller satellite that is carried as a secondary payload on a launch is said to be "piggybacked" on the main launch.


The metal caterpillar treads of a tank wear out quickly when travelling long distances on ordinary roads. It is therefore necessary to provide tank transporters, which have rubber tires, to the battlefield.


Timber wagon on rollbocks 
S.20 Mercury atop Maia 
Bonn–Oberkassel train ferry 
Rolling road 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. (7 September 2012). "Shuttle Endeavour to get one last piggyback ride across US". MSNBC. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "piggyback". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Trove - Pick-a-back operation solves gauge-break problem, 1955 / Adelaide Advertiser
  5. ^ Uniform Eailway Gauge, E. Harding, Lothian Publishing Co., 1958
  6. ^ [Alexander J.] Check |authorlink= value (help) (2011). A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth. New Haven, London: Yale University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-300-15109-1. 
  7. ^ "Mine-Sweepers By "Piggyback"", The Mercury (Hobart), 5 June 1951: 5 

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