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Commercial Efficiency Analysis of Selected Starfreighters

A large variety of commercial ships ply the Jump routes of Traveller campaigns, varying in size, capacity, and efficiency. How do they compare to each other? Which is the best ship for its size range?

This is a comparison analysis of several common/popular ship types from various sources.

Ships considered were:

All the ships compared were primarily freighters, with little or no passenger capacity. Liner versions of most of the AH-series ships exist, and have the same relative efficiency as their freighter sisters; the greater expense of passenger liners is offset by the higher per-ton rates paid by passengers compared to cargo.

Tables contain the following:

CER Color-codes used
A CER of 5 or more can reliably turn a profit at the common-carrier rate of Cr 1000/ton. Ships with these high CERs comprise the bulk of common-carrier trade in well-travelled areas.
A CER of 3 to 5 can consistently turn a profit from speculative trade, but would require a subsidy of some sort if operated purely as a common carrier. Ships with these medium CERs mix common-carrier and speculative trade in general commercial service.
A CER of less than 3 is unprofitable even in speculative trade, and requires a subsidy to operate under normal circumstances.
Table 1: Jump-1 ships
  Tonnage   Price
Ship Gross Net MCr CER
Type A Free Trader 200 116 37 3.14
Type R Fat Trader 400 237 101 2.35
RL Stretch Fat Trader 600 427 113 3.78
RX Obese Trader 1000 748 253 2.95
Type AH Bulk Freighter 5000 2911 985 2.95
Type TJ tug + 6000t pods 8000 6194 1416 4.57
Type TJ tug + 8000t pods 10000 8194 1616 5.07
Type TJ tug + 10000t pods 12000 10194 1816 5.61

Type A Free Trader -- Smallest and cheapest of commercial starships, and reasonably efficient (CER 3.14) for small-lot speculative trading. The usual choice of free-traders and fledgeling lines (i.e. player-characters) because of its price.

Type R Fat Traders -- The stock Type R is called the "Subsidized Merchant" for a reason; with a CER of only 2.35, it needs a constant subsidy to stay in service. Without the subsidy, it is a bust. The Type RL "stretched" version is a much better choice; at a 12% increase in price over the Type R, it has over 90% greater capacity and a CER of 3.78 -- more profitable than the Type A in speculative trading. For under 1000 tons, the 600-ton Type RL is the preferred upgrade from the Type A.

Type AH Bulk Freighter -- With a CER of 2.95, the stock Bulk Freighter is borderline profitable in speculative trade, or as a subsidized merchant in common-carrier service.

Type TJ Tug-and-pod -- At Jump-1, the tug-and-pod is the best way to go in common-carrier service. CERs averaging around 5 and the quick turnaround of uncoupling one "barge train" and coupling up another make tug-and-pod the preferred ship of megacorp freight lines on high-traffic Jump-1 routes.

Table 2: Jump-2 ships
  Tonnage   Price
Ship Gross Net MCr CER
Type AL2 Far Trader 300 135 84 3.21
Type R2 Stretch Fat Trader 500 277 178 3.11
Type RL2 Stretch Fat Trader 600 317 228 2.78
Type RX2 Obese Trader 1000 491 351 3.22
Type TI Frontier Transport 2000 1114 738 3.02
Type AH2 Bulk Freighter 5000 2367 1044 4.53
Type AHL Superfreighter 6000 4168 1120 7.44
Type TJ tug + 4000t pods 6000 4194 1216 6.9

Type AL2 Far Trader, Stretched Type R Subsidized Merchants -- For small lots over Jump-2 routes, all four of these stretch ships are roughly equivalent; the 500-ton R2 is a bit more efficient than the 600-ton RL2, and is preferred to its big brothers unless the larger ships' capacity is needed; in which case the RX2 is slightly more cost-effective than the RL2. The RL2 must usually operate under a subsidy to stay in service; the other three can operate as Jump-2 free traders without a problem.

Type TI Frontier Transport -- Medium-sized, the Frontier Transport is good for large-volume (kiloton lots) mixed common-carrier/speculative trade, or as a medium-sized subsidized merchant.

Modified Type AH Superfreighters -- Both Superfreighters are profitable in service, but the 6000-ton Type AHL has the best CER of any ship in the comparison, and can turn a profit as a common-carrier. Even forced into a Jump-1 route, it can break even by including speculative trade. Best for medium-sized lines on heavy-traffic routes.

Type TJ Tug-and-pod -- At Jump-2, the tug-and-pod has about equivalent capacity and only slightly less CER than the Superfreighter. Its main advantage on high-traffic Jump-2 routes is its flexibility; large lines can stock just one type of tug and tailor the speed of the route by shuffling pods as needed.

Table 3: Jump-3 ships
  Tonnage   Price
Ship Gross Net MCr CER
CT Cargo Carrier 1000 462 410 3.0
Type AH3 Express Freighter 4000 2222 968 6.9
Type TJ tug + 2000t pods 4000 2194 1016 6.5

Type CT Cargo Carrier -- Used only by Oberlindes, this ship is basically a giant Jump-3 Free Trader carrying on the Oberlindes tradition of well-armed ships for frontier routes. Too small to achieve the scale efficiency of larger ships and with a minimal Maneuver Drive handicapping its run out to Jump point, its CER places it roughly equivalent to the standard Type A and R variants.

Type AH3 Express Freighter, Type TJ Tug-and-pod -- Both these ships are good Jump-3 common-carriers, and are roughly equivalent. The choice between the two is the choice between a streamlined monohull or a tug-and-pod configuration.

Table 4: Jump-4 ships
  Tonnage   Price
Ship Gross Net MCr CER
Type AH4 Express Freighter 3000 1236 874 5.7
Type AT Freighter 3000 1299 809 6.6

The AH4 is the only choice for Jump-4 routes if atmospheric entry is a requirement. The CER is a little lower than its Jump-3 half-sisters, but could be offset by the ability to charge higher common-carrier rates (premiums for speed). Tukera's proprietary AT has a higher CER, but at the price of a minimal Maneuver Drive and lack of streamlining.


Free-traders & Fledgeling Lines: If Jump-1 is adequate, start out with the 200-ton Type A Free Trader and upgrade to the 600-ton RL Stretched Fat Trader; skip the stock 400-ton Type R if at all possible. The 600-tonner is not only more profitable than the 400, has almost double the cargo capacity at a 12% increase in cost. If Jump-2 is a requirement, start out with the 300-ton Type AL or AL2 Stretched Far Trader and upgrade to the 500-ton Type R2 Stretched Fat Trader and/or 1000-ton Type RX2, depending on capacity.

Example: UTP is a fledgling line consisting of a coalition of five free-traders (presumably stock Type As) handling small-lot speculative trade down the Jump-1 chain of stars between Efate & Regina. If the line becomes profitable enough to "add another ship", instead of adding another Type A, they could retire one or two of the existing Type As and buy a Type RL as the "flagship" of the line, increasing capacity and return on investment. If any of the free-traders are Jump-2 Far Traders, they could trade in a Far Trader for a Type R2 with greater capacity and efficiency at Jump-2.

Example: The March Harrier is a Type R Subsidized Merchant which has come into a multi-MCr windfall from a little "adventure" in a tradewar, which has paid off the ship and let them go free-trader (or rather Fat Trader). MCr12 of the windfall could be used to either trade in the ship on a more-efficient Type RL or have the March Harrier refitted and stretched to RL standards.

Medium-sized Lines: A lot depends on the traffic volume; for low-volume routes, the high-end of Fledgeling Lines (600-ton RL and 500-ton Type R2 Stretched Fat Traders) is adequate. For high-volume routes, the 6000-ton Type AHL Superfreighter is the best large monohull, and can operate at Jump-1 or Jump-2 without going bust. Most of the other larger ships (1000-ton RX2, 2000-ton Type TI, 5000-ton Type AH & AH2) will also work, but must operate over routes at their maximum jump speeds. If Jump-3 is a requirement, the 4000-ton Type AH3 is the best candidate, and can operate at Jump-2 if necessary.

Example: Akerut is a subsector-wide subsidiary of the Tukera Lines megacorp, primarily providing high-volume feeder freight service to its parent company. I would expect Akerut to maintain a fleet of mostly Type AHL Superfreighters, with a secondary mix of Type AH, AH2, and Type TJ Tug-and-pods leased from its parent megacorp. Pods could also be attached to the AH2 and AHL freighters for extra capacity.

Large /MegacorporateLines: Except for Jump-4 express shipments (which require the 3000-ton Type AH4 Express Freighter), or routes where atmospheric entry is required, the 2000-ton Type TJ Tug with pods is the best way to go. One standard Jump-tug throughout the megacorp eases logistics, and the pods can be stockpiled and loaded/unloaded at leisure at the various corporate installations along the routes.

Example: Tukera Lines is a megacorp "providing Jump-3 and Jump-4 transport... along major routes". I would expect Tukera to maintain a fleet primarily of Type TJ Tug-and-pods, with some Type AH3 and AH4 Express Freighters for freight and Type AM3 Fast Packet Liners for passenger service. (Tukera's proprietary Type AT is roughly equivalent to the AH4 Express Freighter, but limited to orbital facilities.)

Appendix A: Ship Benefits

In inital character generation, Merchant characters can roll "Free Trader" as a mustering-out benefit. This confers ownership (and responsibility for payments) of a 200-ton Type A Free Trader. Subsequent "Free Trader" benefits each pay 10 years of the payments on the ship.

Alternatively, subsequent "Free Trader" benefits could mean cascading upgrades to larger and larger types of small merchant ship instead of payoffs on the initial Free Trader:

  1. Type A Free Trader
  2. Type AL or AL2 Far Trader
  3. Type R Fat Trader
  4. Type RL or R2 Stretched Fat Trader
  5. Type RL2 Stretched Fat Trader

A similar benefit cascade could be done for Scout characters as well:

  1. Type S Scout/Courier
  2. Type SD Deepscout
  3. Modified Type T Heavy Scout

Appendix B: Starship Encounters

The multiplicity of ships can be worked into existing Starship Encounter tables by a simple "cascade" method. Once a ship encounter of a particular ship type is rolled, roll 1D; if the roll is a 1 or a 6, go down the encounter list, rolling at each entry until the roll is not 1 or 6.

Type A Encounter

  1. Type A Free Trader
  2. Type AL Far Trader
  3. Type AL2 Far Trader

Type R Encounter

  1. Type R Fat Trader
  2. Type RL Stretch Fat Trader
  3. Type R2 Stretch Fat Trader
  4. Type RL2 Stretch Fat Trader
  5. Type RX Obese Trader
  6. Type RX2 Obese Trader