Ken W2KB wrote:Moving empty cars is a necessary part of the cost of business of moving loaded cars. Doesn't mean that the railroads don't optimize all car movements to minimize cost and maximize profits.
Absolutely Ken. It boils down to three groups, company owned pools of cars, private cars in pools, and private cars in designated service.
In my example, TILX 650505 is leased from Trinity to Cargill, which provides cars for loading at several plants. balancing the availability of empties at each plant, is up to Cargill. Getting them to where they are needed without delay can be a chore (I recently saw several cars billed and re-billed en-route twice prior to actually arriving at a destination to accomplish this). Their neighbor in Fairmont, CHS, loads bean meal, and utilizes their own fleet of CHSX hoppers, a leased fleet of AEX types, and UP system hoppers. Since CHS only has two plants, it only has to balance supply based on those two location, and depends on UP to fill their needs.
The empty miles on private cars, are a blessing or curse. Key is making as many trips as possible with the cars (Carriers who want the business can and do tailor service to keep them moving). The more trips, the more cost of the car can be spread out. Thus it was with the Elevators along the Rock Island in the early 80's. They had their own fleet of hoppers (those pink Klemme, West Bend, and Albert City Co-op types as an example), and they had to make so many trips in order to pay for themselves. Track speed and terminal capacity would delay them to the point of loosing money. But still it was far better than to wait for Rock system hoppers to show up, if they ever did.
Carriers system pool cars can also be flexible enough to have them available depending on the service desired by the customer. Centralizing supply seems to work fairly well. But still, the balancing act has flaws. During busy times, single covered hoppers may have been spoken for well before the previous load has arrived at it's destination. A lot of private fleets don't look that far into the future.
The ability of a carrier to commit the administration of car control, and planning service to limit terminal handling and dwell, can pay off in the long run, and accomplishes the key driver of keeping a customer satisfied.
Ahh but the best laid plans of mice and men!