• Were Avg Freight Trains Shorter pre 1978?

  • 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 BR&P
Also Freights moved on a schedule pre-conrail instead of a waiting around till they had enough cars to be oppitly move a train. If a scheduled train had only one car that day it ran because the ICC set the standard of service.
I have no idea who told you that but it just is not true. The ICC did not set standards of service dictating that a freight train would run at a given time or place. And trains did not necessarily move with only one car. In some cases it may have happened, especially if it was the return end of a "rounds" crew going home, or power was needed elsewhere. But it was not unusual for a crew to be laid in on a given day if things were light. Maybe you are thinking of passenger trains - which would leave at the appointed time even if they only had one rider.

Also totally false is the idea that trains before 1970 or so ran with 20-50 cars. In fact, one knock sometimes handed the PC was that they held cars too long in order to run one huge train rather than two smaller ones. I recall in about 1968 a westbound coming into Rochester with perhaps 170 cars, and picking up about 50 more - I was on my way home after work and pulled over near State Street just to watch the monster go by. Nor was that something recent - in Kachler's book "The Snowflaker" he tells of an almost identical move in the 1950s not long after diesels arrived - a train with 150 cars picked up an additional 85 at Rochester.

Sorry but short freight trains were certainly NOT the norm - you were misinformed.
  by alchemist
"Sorry but short freight trains were certainly NOT the norm"
Absolutely right! There are a few of us who remember what it was like to sit in a 1950s UN-air-conditioned car at a grade crossing while one of those "short" freight trains passed. Sheesh! Where do people get these weird ideas?
  by railfan365
Maybe it would be relevent to cite UP's use in the 1940's and '50's of the Big Boy locomotives so that they could run drags of up to seven miles long.
  by 2nd trick op
Here's a link to a discussion on a similar subject a year and a half or so ago:

http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopi ... 36&t=41430

Having been on the railfan scene since about 1960, I can attest that freight train-lengths were often well above 100 cars, at least in relatively-level territory, even back then.

During the 1945-1985 period, when the industry was contracting and struggling, economic pressure to reduce costs by concentrating traffic into fewer, much longer, less-frequent moves was very great, and the emergence of Diesel power, with both its capacity for multiple-unit operation and no need to "take slack" when starting, (with the attendant risks of pullling a drawbar) was likely a major driving factor. The Chicago Great Western, under the management of William Deramus, was notorious for this, limiting operations on its relatively lightly-trafficked mains to a single daily move in each direction. Rio Grande, on the other hand, pursued a policy of shorter, faster, more-frequent freights during the 1960's, trading crew costs for less use of helpers and greater fluidity.

I would speculate that the emergence of Diesel power was the pre-eminent factor in lengthening freights and the reduction in crew sizes post-1985 as its opposite number.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Sun Jun 21, 2009 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by Flat-Wheeler
Frank answer... Yes and no. It's too broad of a question, with much too many variables. This is much like consulting a weatherman asking if snow accumulation is getting deeper throughout the country. I think it all depends on locality, railroad system, current traffic flows, maintenance, wrecks, and whether it's a local delivery to your plant, or a cross country drag freight. In other words, you need to be more "specific, or go ship via Union Pacific." lol

I know that just as freak weather and huge storms occur, just as they always have, occasionally a monster sized train occurs because another train crew "outlaws" or the engines break down. Does this mean this is the norm ? How do these rare monster sized trains from decades past average in ? It's impossible to bag all American (or continental) freight train traffic into a single generalization. At the very least, someone needs to narrow down the focus, and compare everything on the same level.
  by NellieBly
The Association of American Railroads puts out an annual publication called "Railroad Facts" or "Yearbook of Railroad Facts" (title has varied), and has at least since the 1960s. One of the statistics published is the average length of a freight train (number of cars), which is calculated from STB R-1 data on Schedule 755, including annual loaded car miles, empty car miles, and locomotive unit miles for each railroad.

Freight train lengths of course do vary greatly, but the trend over the 30-some years I've been in the industry has been to longer trains. And of course average car weights have increased as well (and so have car lengths). The 40-foot boxcar of the 1960s is now a 50-foot or 60-foot car, and the maximum gross rail weight on much of the network is now 286,000 lbs., up from 263,000 lbs. thirty years ago (and as little as 220,000 lbs. on some branch lines).

So yes, trains have been getting longer and heavier over the years. I don't at this moment have access to "Railroad Facts", but maybe when I get back to the office I'll put together a table of average train length (in cars) for 1975 -- 2008.
Some of the longest trains I ever witnessed, were from the mid 70's era. The LV ran monster trains, up to 180 cars, on a regular basis. Granted, a lot of the trafic would be set out, at Mehoopany/Charmin, but these were giant snakes, nevertheless. Friction bearings, and cabooses on the end, with AB brake valves, and you start to consider, how impressive this actually was. I've only run 2 trains that were "giants", in my career. One was a 182 car train, with 10 units, out of Montgomery Yard, in Alabama, headed for the KCS interchange, in Meridian Mississippi. The second, was a combined train out of Enola, Pa., of 212 cars with 4 units, bound for Oak Island. A last minute pick-up, of the 34 autoframe cars, to set out at Reading, made this train over 12,000 feet long. Once the slack was stretched, and the locos cleared the GI-8 fuel pad, I never came out of the 8th notch, until we started down the grade, into Reading. They actually seem to be getting shorter for freight, longer for coal and mineral unit trains, and longer for intermodal. Of course, I have nothing to base this on, other than pure conjecture..... :P