• short trains vs long trains - economics

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by 10more years
 
Boy, I really have to disagree with Cowford. The CSX mentality of being creative is to do as much as you can with limited resources "within the box".
A couple of points:
A) I was on a management management labor team a while back. Our instructions were that we could do whatever we wanted "without using additional capital resources".
B) CSX is sitting on a "gold mine" with their lines coming and going out of Portsmouth/Norfolk and Wilmington. They're the only line at Wilmington. They share Portsmouth/Norfolk with NS. And NS has "taken" away train after train after train of traffic from that area. And still, CSX handles more traffic on that line than the line can efficiently handle. Eighty miles of track and CSX can't pass trains. The longest siding has a capacity of about a mile or less with handthrow switches on both ends. The whole sub is dark territory. Wilmington to Pembroke is basically the same, 75 miles of "dark" track with longer sidings. Yes, it would cost millions to upgrade. But, to my limited mind, think of the potential traffic that could be hauled more efficiently over that trackage.
C) One more point. CSX runs some basic regular 75 trains a week between Pembroke and Hamlet, about 30 miles. Some go to and from Rocky Mount and some to Wilmington. That doesn't count any of the coal and grain. The crews on that sub used to average some 3 to 3+ hours overtime per trip or per train. It used to be dark territory, hand throw switches. CSX put on some utility jobs to handle switches, overtime per train went down. CSX signaled the sidings and put in power switches ( and cut off utility jobs), over time went down again. CSX signaled the rest except for the middle ten miles, overtime went down again. Now, all those jobs are basically down to no overtime. I realize that the overtime paid to a crew is small potatoes, but 75 trains times two men per train times $34.00 hour time 52 weeks equals is over 1/4 million a year not counting additional cost in re-crewing trains. And its a bitch to pass long trains on short sidings.
  by QB 52.32
 
I think Cowford's on the money...it can take a lot of creativity to develop operating efficiencies designed to avoid capital expenditures. The railroads' proactive approach to capacity issues might come from some very strong motivating factors: knowledge of the merger meltdowns of the '90's and how that could lead to greater government intervention if it occurs in the future; the voracious capital appetite of the railroads and big important challenge of managing capital needs in an environment where some degree of increasing regulation might occur, and in the case of UP and BNSF, perhaps reflecting the coming threat of the all-water Panama Canal/East Coast Port competition they will face and, therefore, their need to be more efficient and price competitive (or more challenged to justify further investment for this traffic).

When working on the ground or in a particular location it can be very difficult to understand how railroad management behaves. But, because the railroad industry is so capital-intensive, managing how you spend capital is huge. It requires being able to prioritize from a whole lot of capital needs and making sure the best projects earning the highest returns over a long period of time are those that are selected. And, that means some projects, even those that provide a return on the investment, have to go unfunded because there is only so much capital a railroad can raise or support from their operations or due to external business pressures. While I'm not familiar with those situations raised by 10-more-years, I'd have to believe that saving $250k/yr in overtime with capital improvements probably do not generate enough of a return for the investment to compete against some of CSX's more pressing strategic needs, so that's why they go unfunded.

I believe that CSX's capital expenditures have been in the $1.6 billion dollar range during these past couple of years and include $300+ million in money to build southeast port (including Wilmington, NC and the VA ports, IIRC)-to-midwest doublestack container capacity to support a big growth in international and/or domestic intermodal traffic.
  by Cowford
 
10more, I don't understand the point you're trying to get across. In your first sentence, you say that CSX won't spend any CapX, and then you give an example ([C]) where they DO spend CapX to improve capacity and productivity. Maybe not an overly creative use of funds, but apparently justifiable. And keep in mind, "creative" is a relative term. The depth, breadth, and adoption rate of railroad innovation is kept in check by many stakeholders, such as FRA, AAR, UTU, BLET, etc. Look how long it took to get rid of firemen and cabooses.

Also, I was speaking generally, not specifically to CSX. The western/Canadian roads will be able to take the train length issue much further than the eastern roads, due to their differing network characteristics. To QB's point, there's only so much cash in the kitty to spend each year, so those funds are rationed and the project "wish list" is continually reprioritized. God knows what will happen to capital budgets as the advent of Positive Train Control- currently an unfunded mandate- gets closer.
  by wigwagfan
 
David Benton wrote:Thier answer was to run trains to a fixed timetable , on fixed routes . such routes were not defined by the old system of each mainline or branchline been a route , but rather from traffic source to traffic destination , which may cover more than one traditional route . the trains were of fixed lenght , based on the 20 ft container teu , each train would provide say 100 teu capacity , and would run with that wether they were full or not . thus eliminating marshaling etc.
Around 2001 or so, Union Pacific and Genesee & Wyoming teamed up for such a project between Portland and Los Angeles. Known as "Speedlink", the service used a fixed locomotive consist (I believe a pair of GP60s) and a fixed boxcar consist, that ran from a warehouse in Los Angeles to a warehouse in Beaverton (on GWI's Portland & Western Railroad, and a former SP branch.) The idea was that shippers could "book space" in the boxcar, show up at the warehouse to load, and then the recipient would show up at the other end.

Operationally, the project worked fine.

Economically, it couldn't stand and the service was dropped six months later. There is certainly speculation as to why it did not succeed (could it be the warehouse being in Beaverton instead of closer to Portland? The lack of demand for boxcar loads? Was the market simply wrong - PDX to LAX?)

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zht ... highlight=
  by scharnhorst
 
Conrail near in its final years used to tak on autoracks and general assortments of cars to the end of short stack trains just to get things rolling. In the spring up till early fall the trains were fairley long up too 100 or so cars. Once the winter hit across New York the trains got got down to almost 50-70 cars and were almost on top of each outher every 10-30 minuets from what I can rember.
  by David Benton
 
Yes that is more my point , its not really how long or short the train is , its how often they run , and if they run reliably to schedule . If a intermodal train runs twice a week , and a general goods runs twice a week , why not combine both and run it daily .
I'm not saying dont run long trains , but the frequency of service to the customer , and the lenght of time cars sit in terminals waiting to go must be also improtant considerations .
The trains article says now is a good time to experiment with longer trains , i would say it is also a good time to experiment with more frequent service to customers . there is no reason why these trains cant get longer , as traffic picks up . .
  by scharnhorst
 
David Benton wrote:Yes that is more my point , its not really how long or short the train is , its how often they run , and if they run reliably to schedule . If a intermodal train runs twice a week , and a general goods runs twice a week , why not combine both and run it daily .
I'm not saying dont run long trains , but the frequency of service to the customer , and the lenght of time cars sit in terminals waiting to go must be also improtant considerations .
The trains article says now is a good time to experiment with longer trains , i would say it is also a good time to experiment with more frequent service to customers . there is no reason why these trains cant get longer , as traffic picks up . .
that all well and fine but longer trains don't make much sents once you get off the planes states and into the Mountain states with all the steep grades most railroads like Southern Pacific and D&RGW had mid train helpers and air supply cars in the middle of there trains. After the merger with Union Pacific all that came to an end in favor of easyer faster routes. In the planes states trains run longer becouse there are fewer people and crossings to block. Unlike major citys in the East which are clogged with people and automobile traffic this often becomes a problum with longer trains blocking traffic..
  by wigwagfan
 
I don't think it's an issue of "plains states" versus "mountain states" - after all a railroad is not going to take a train from (hypothetical example) Chicago to Portland, run it as a single long train to Cheyenne, break it down, run it to...oh...Ogden/Salt Lake, combine it to Huntington, rebreak it into two, run two trains to Hinkle, recombine it, and back into Portland.

IMO out west, where there's a heavily used mainline, the city is built around it or has been built around it - you see few grade crossings (or those that exist are seldom-used in favor of over/underpasses), or there are plans to do so. A perfect example is the Reno Trench.

Here in Portland, the mainlines have very few crossings - the UP mainline east from Albina closely follows I-84; since a street needs an overpass over the freeway it crosses the railroad (which was there first). The SP mainline south from Union Station has crossings in the Eastside Industrial District but from just north of Brooklyn Yard, the crossings become far and few between. The BNSF mainline north to Vancouver has just a few crossings north of Union Station, but are all overpasses/underpasses all the way to Vancouver - and likewise north and east of Vancouver Yard.

The bottom line is that a short train costs more to operate (more labor) and that's why the railroads prefer long trains; it's why you see less and less carload freight, fewer switch jobs (and especially less boxcar freight and more intermodal freight that, as far as the railroad is concerned is loaded and unloaded in one place by a contractor). The GWI/UP example didn't work out in the Portland-Los Angeles market. It's a good concept and it does follow the European railroad freight model, but the U.S. is a very different country with vast distances between rail stations. It doesn't make much sense to ship by rail for a short distance, unless you have the quantity to justify it not being hauled by truck and a cooperative rail carrier (usually a shortline).