Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

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Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Jul 10, 2016 10:34 am

In recent decades, a few railroads have added lots of freight cars (or the like) to passenger trains, trying to make the trains financially viable:

The Southern Railway added a lot to one train, the Piedmont, in the 1970s;
Amtrak added a lot to several of its trains around 2000;
There may have been others as late as the 1970s.

None of them seemed to work. First question: why not?

Second question: If a freight train is financially viable, why doesn't it work to add a passenger car or two to the end of it? That could dramatically increase the scope of passenger rail service in the US. I would think that as long as adding passenger cars to freight trains that have decent schedules and otherwise stop at or near passenger stations, there would be a market for a low-cost passenger rail service such as this. Surely it would be better than taking a bus.

Thoughts?
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby DutchRailnut » Sun Jul 10, 2016 10:49 am

Amtrak is created to do passenger only, when they started running mail and express the freight railroads balked and claimed Amtrak was not suppose to be in freight business.
on other hand the freight railroads all begged to get out of passenger business, so why would they be interested now ?
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby electricron » Sun Jul 10, 2016 11:08 am

Through intercity freight trains max speeds are around 50 mph, intercity buses max speeds can match against he speed limits of the highways they travel on, from as low as 55 mph up to 80 mph depending upon each state laws. Almost always buses will win a speed race once you leave the NEC area.

It's true Amtrak tried the implement express freight services, mostly using refer cars, shipping a lot of beer cross country. I believe Amtrak was actually making money with this service, but there were a few hiccups. Prolonged station stops switching the freight cars on and off the trains caused delays making it almost impossible to even come close to remaining on schedule. It also angered the freight railroad companies, whose dispatchers gave Amtrak no quarter, causing even more delays and later trains. It's very hard to keep passengers on trains that are always hours late, and making it impossible to grow ridership. I believe whatever financial gains Amtrak earned with express freight services was more than matched with resultant passenger services financial loses.

The only mix train operations I see working are on rural spur lines, like what we might see in Alaska or far norrthern Canada. Amtrak's sole remaining mix train is actually what we might consider as a Special train, the daily Auto Train.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Sun Jul 10, 2016 7:43 pm

electricron wrote:It's true Amtrak tried the implement express freight services, mostly using refer cars, shipping a lot of beer cross country. I believe Amtrak was actually making money with this service, but there were a few hiccups. Prolonged station stops switching the freight cars on and off the trains caused delays making it almost impossible to even come close to remaining on schedule. It also angered the freight railroad companies, whose dispatchers gave Amtrak no quarter, causing even more delays and later trains. It's very hard to keep passengers on trains that are always hours late, and making it impossible to grow ridership. I believe whatever financial gains Amtrak earned with express freight services was more than matched with resultant passenger services financial loses.

The only mix train operations I see working are on rural spur lines, like what we might see in Alaska or far norrthern Canada. Amtrak's sole remaining mix train is actually what we might consider as a Special train, the daily Auto Train.
Gunn cut the express freight operations in 2005, citing switching delays, impact on OTP and required additional costs for switching.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Jul 11, 2016 12:27 pm

Apart from the very valid points made above, passenger trains run--where possible--from city center to city center; freight trains, from class yard (or intermodal terminal) to class yard (or intermodal terminal). Almost never do you find class yards or intermodal terminals close to city-center stations, and the resulting switching would slow down both services.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby John_Perkowski » Tue Jul 12, 2016 10:52 am

Railroads exist to move two things:

- People

- Stuff

Prior to Amtrak, most railroads had two traffic departments: Passenger and Freight.
- Passenger moved:
-- People
-- Mail and Express
-- Horses
-- First of the season fresh fruits.

- Freight moved:
-- Most everything else
-- COULD move people in cabooses (look at passenger traffic rules. There are roads which did, when passenger traffic was too light for even an older combine.)

In fact, M&E helped keep passenger traffic departments profitable, and into the 60s, kept them from spilling quite so much red ink. Then came 1967, and the huge cut of the Railway Mail Service. President Johnson traded away the RMS as part of the conversion of the US Post Office from a Cabinet department into a government sponsored corporation.

That was the beginning of the final hemorrhage which led to RPSA '70.

RPSA '70 gave the railroads all the freight movement. Full stop. Railway Express Agency was already in trouble, receiving competition from both air freight and truck freight. It went under.

Dutch has the other right of it. Amtrak's charter was for passenger, and when Amtrak started its M&E initiative in the 90s, oh, did the freight roads balk. For one thing, it was outside the statutes as originally written (Mr Norman, what about PRAA 97???), for another, it reeked of "open rails."

Of course, does anyone know the time of an LA-Chicago hotshot container or TOFC train on either BNSF or UP? Would it be faster than 3-4 or 5-6???
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Jul 12, 2016 2:27 pm

I think I remember that when ATSF introduced the "Super C" they were shooting for transit time comparable with the Super Chief, which was just under 40 hours at the time. It didn't develop enough business at the necessary rates to last out, but I think it maintained about a 40-hour transit time while it ran. I wouldn't be surprised if today's double-stacks (although they take the Transcon, not via Raton) are in that ballpark, or at least under 50 hours; when double-stacks were introduced on Conrail, many engineers commented that they handled like passenger trains because of the greatly reduced slack action. I'd be interested in knowing what the prevailing transit times are today.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby RussNelson » Sun Jul 17, 2016 9:16 pm

Because passengers hate it when they get set off on a siding while the rest of the train drops cars into a spur.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby twropr » Mon Jul 18, 2016 6:27 pm

What about the Georgia RR and Southern trains #5-6-7-8 in the '70's - why did the railroads seek to drop the passengers? I rode SR #6, which operated at passenger train speed, making setoffs only at Greenville (engines from Peagram shop) and Van Dorn St. in Alexandria. I dare say that #6 made better time for the pigs ATL-Van Dorn than anything NS handles today!
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby DutchRailnut » Mon Jul 18, 2016 6:31 pm

70's is not 2016 ? just sayinn, regulations change and so does profitability.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby Jeff Smith » Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:32 pm

twropr, was one of those the Nancy Hanks? I've seen a few old TT's for both SRY and C of GA, and remember seeing some mixed freights.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby BandA » Sun Jul 31, 2016 7:18 pm

Well, obviously doing both passenger & freight well is harder than doing just one. In fact the trend is not just trains but the tracks being segregated. Can we think of any railroad that handles both today? Someone mentioned Alaska. FEC will soon. Amtrak still handles baggage but apparently isn't a profit center for them. In MA, the Boston Post Office loading docks are back-to-back with Amtrak's loading dock for packages. You could easily forklift pallets between the two, at least for the next few years until the PO goes away for station expansion.

If computerized switching was applied, mixed trains might be possible; attach/detaching a short string of cars "on the fly" as the train pauses for 1 minute as it passes the freight yard.... I've read that freight & passenger brakes work differently; Automated brake testing that would take <30 seconds... Freight & passenger gearing differs - is this still a factor in diesel-electric locomotives?

I'm assuming safety rules are stricter for passengers than freight, or maybe conflicting. So cost of mixed train would be higher per car than a freight train only.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Tue Jul 11, 2017 3:47 pm

electricron wrote:The only mix train operations I see working are on rural spur lines, like what we might see in Alaska or far norrthern Canada. Amtrak's sole remaining mix train is actually what we might consider as a Special train, the daily Auto Train.
Would the Sudbury-White River RDC count as "mixed" or "quasi-mixed"? It does deliver supplies to local villages (using the RDC-4's freight compartment) and given isolation of these small hamlets with only rail as a transport option, even AAA shows these rail lines in northern Ontario on its road atlas.
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby bdawe » Thu Jul 20, 2017 11:39 am

isn't that the sort freight that's always been handled by trains regarded as passenger trains though?
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Re: Why aren't mixed trains financially viable?

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Jul 20, 2017 1:18 pm

That's what I thought too, bdawe. You could make a better case for "Fast Mail" trains being mixed, since their prime purpose was LCL freight and they sometimes hauled a coach too.

You might be able to get away with a mixed intermodal-passenger train on certain corridors, though woe be unto the passengers - they'd either get the song of three GEVOs at track speed all day and night, or be riding the tail end of a crack-the-whip.
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