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#1
Old 06-26-2016, 08:26 AM
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Do freight trains run on fixed schedules?

I assume some of them do have a schedule, such as delivering coal to power plants.
#2
Old 06-26-2016, 08:34 AM
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Short answer: Yes. Different trains have different priority status, however. A train loaded with UPS trailers or perishables gets priority over, say, a train of empties being returned to home.

Last edited by campp; 06-26-2016 at 08:34 AM.
#3
Old 06-26-2016, 08:42 AM
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Yes, absolutely. It's the only effective way to manage highly-contented resources like tracks and yards. Can't have a "surprise" train just showing up expecting to drop of cars at a yard.
#4
Old 06-26-2016, 08:48 AM
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I guess the number of cars on a train varies with demand?
#5
Old 06-26-2016, 09:04 AM
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I interpreted the question more as "Do freight trains have a regular daily schedule, like passenger trains?" As opposed to suggesting freight trains are running around and no one know what time they're arriving.
#6
Old 06-26-2016, 09:05 AM
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yes I meant do they have a daily schedule like passenger trains?
#7
Old 06-26-2016, 09:41 AM
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They don't run on fixed daily schedules like passenger trains do.

Some trains run on a somewhat regular schedule. Some don't. For example, there are trains that run from steel mills around Lake Michigan over to the car manufacturers, carrying molten steel in big ceramic-lined rail cars. Those run on a fairly fixed schedule. When I worked in a power plant, the rail cars that brought in coal ran fairly regularly, though that was more of a schedule that they would arrive on certain days between certain blocks of time. The timing wasn't as precise as a passenger train.

Other trains will run as needed, depending on how the freight gets scheduled.

Passenger trains, because they are tightly scheduled, are given the highest priority for track scheduling. Scheduled freight trains are given a lower priority, and unscheduled freight trains are even lower priority than that. The random delays due to track scheduling conflicts therefore affect freight trains much more severely and further contribute to their less precise scheduling.
#8
Old 06-26-2016, 10:03 AM
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The tracks by my house are used irregularly. It's a spur route a couple hundred miles long serving lumber mills for the most part. When enough coche are loaded, they'll send the train up to the mainline and on to the nearest hump yard. If it's mid-aftenoon, they'll hold up the lumber trains right here by my house waiting for Amtrak's Coast Starlighter to pass through.
#9
Old 06-26-2016, 10:12 AM
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I watched a documentary about 'named' trains on British railways. Few remain from the dozens that existed last century, but you may be surprised to hear that the Flying Scotsman still runs, albeit from Edinburgh to London and not the other direction. The Flying Scotsman is a train pulled by an electric locomotive these days and runs from Edinburgh Waverley to London Kings Cross non stop daily in the early morning.

The interesting point was how difficult it is to schedule a fast, non stop train, along a very busy line, through dozens of commuter stations.
#10
Old 06-26-2016, 10:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
They don't run on fixed daily schedules like passenger trains do.

For example, there are trains that run from steel mills around Lake Michigan over to the car manufacturers, carrying molten steel in big ceramic-lined rail cars. Those run on a fairly fixed schedule.

Why are their trains running around with molten metal in lieu of fabricated steel products the auto companies need ?
#11
Old 06-26-2016, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by davida03801 View Post
Why are their trains running around with molten metal in lieu of fabricated steel products the auto companies need ?
I'm trying to visualize 25 million pounds of molten steel chugging through downtown Chicago ... a little help here, please ... I must be blind or something.

Last edited by watchwolf49; 06-26-2016 at 10:47 AM.
#12
Old 06-26-2016, 11:08 AM
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This is what they look like:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=YXTXJoEGGW8
#13
Old 06-26-2016, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by davida03801 View Post
Why are their trains running around with molten metal in lieu of fabricated steel products the auto companies need ?
I am guessing that they use it for cast steel parts like engine blocks. Cheaper than re-melting ingots.
#14
Old 06-26-2016, 11:19 AM
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The molten steel is poured into ceramic-lined rail cars called "pigs" (some people call them "torpedo cars"). This is what they look like:
https://youtube.com/watch?v=LBR37Lw0zEY

The part carrying the steel rotates to dump the steel out when they get to the destination.

As to why they deliver molten steel instead of pre-formed parts, the latter would require the steel mill to build a significant part of a car manufacturing plant on-site. The steel mills do ship over rolled steel and steel slabs as well. It's not all molten when it leaves the mill.

There are a few steel pigs in this video starting at around the 17:45 mark or so. This is east Chicago according to the video. An Amtrack train comes whizzing through at about the 4:50 mark.
https://youtube.com/watch?v=_EeRO7asaek
#15
Old 06-26-2016, 12:44 PM
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Totally anecdotal, but I have to cross a major BNSF set of (freight train only) tracks daily going to and from work, plus another two times if I go home for lunch. I leave for work the same time every day, leave work the same time every day (as well as to/from lunch), so I have a fairly narrow window of crossing those tracks, and I never know if I'll catch a train. If freight trains were on a set schedule, it'd make it easier to avoid catching one, but there are so many trains on those tracks that it's inevitable that I'll catch at least part of one nearly every day.
#16
Old 06-26-2016, 02:05 PM
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Molten steel cars generally travel over very short distances, like within the same steel complex or adjacent facilities, for different steps of the steel making process. That's what both of the video links either say or imply they're depicting, and what I've always seen. The original statement implied, though to be fair it didn't actually say, it might be molten steel from a steel mill in Great Lakes region to a car factory a couple of states over. That seems to be how it was read by some. I've never heard of that.

On general question, non-passenger train schedules are to passenger train schedules more or less like non-passenger ship or a/c schedules were or are to those forms of passenger transportation. Some run on fairly precise schedules (main line freights, container ships), some less so but regular (somebody knows when a tanker is going to show up at a refinery but it's not the same day every week necessarily, etc), others as needed. None put quite the emphasis on being on time as airline flights (though might actually exceed the timeliness of airline flights when latter really stinks).

Last edited by Corry El; 06-26-2016 at 02:06 PM.
#17
Old 06-26-2016, 03:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corry El View Post
Molten steel cars generally travel over very short distances, like within the same steel complex or adjacent facilities, for different steps of the steel making process. That's what both of the video links either say or imply they're depicting, and what I've always seen. The original statement implied, though to be fair it didn't actually say, it might be molten steel from a steel mill in Great Lakes region to a car factory a couple of states over. That seems to be how it was read by some. I've never heard of that.
I didn't mean to imply that it went to different states. It does however sometimes travel a fair distance around the shore of Lake Michigan, more than just from one facility to an adjacent facility. I don't actually know the farthest distance that they went from the steel mill where I worked. I think they traveled about half an hour away at the most.

Once the molten steel goes into the pigs, you've got about 6 to 8 hours to get it out again. Otherwise it solidifies and the only way you are getting it out then is with a bunch of blowtorches (which I've seen them do). The pigs sit around for a bit while they are being loaded and unloaded, so really you've only got a couple of hours of transit time on the top end. That's not going to get you to another state.
#18
Old 06-26-2016, 03:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davida03801 View Post
Why are their trains running around with molten metal in lieu of fabricated steel products the auto companies need ?
If one of those trains derails with the molten steel cars, that could get ugly! Ouch!
#19
Old 06-26-2016, 06:29 PM
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From what I understand, they haven't generally run freight railroads on fixed timetables, but have been moving in that direction. CN is one of the leaders in the regard:

Quote:
Originally Posted by CN Worldwide
CN Worldwide offers:
• An extensive North American rail network and access to key ports on the east coast, as well as the Gulf coast
• Direct connections through the Port of New Orleans provide the fastest transit times to Western Canada
• Access to Eastern Canadian markets via the Port of Montreal and Halifax
• Access to East Coast consumer markets in the U.S. heartland via U.S. East Coast ports
• Rail network in North America that is positioned close to the largest number of receivers
• The right equipment and infrastructure to transport your products
A proven track record as North America's scheduled railroad serving Canada, the U.S. and Mexico
• Transportation and market expertise, including supply chain logistics
From the company's 2005 annual report:

Quote:
Originally Posted by CN 2005 annual report (PDF)

As the first true scheduled railroad with a string of other industry-leading initiatives...
...
The “scheduled railroad” is the foundation for the Company’s business model. For CN’s merchandise business, the scheduled railroad, which is defined as a trip plan for every car measured in hours, has reduced transit times, improved the consistency of CN’s transportation product, dramatically improved productivity and helped to improve network capacity

From the CN CEO in 2001:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Tellier
The CN of today is the product of a series of revolutions - a sweeping financial turnaround followed by privatisation; Nafta-driven expansion in the USA; and CN's emergence as North America's only scheduled freight railroad.
I don't really know to what extent other railways have picked this up since then, but in late 2015, when Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern were proposing a merger, this trade magazine article said:
Quote:
If history is a guide, and the CP-NS management swap occurs, Harrison will attempt to turn NS into a scheduled railroad, substituting high hourly pay for existing fixed trip-rates and guaranteeing train crews more predictable days off and starting times.

Last edited by wolfstu; 06-26-2016 at 06:29 PM.
#20
Old 06-26-2016, 08:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
I assume some of them do have a schedule, such as delivering coal to power plants.
I believe that back when railways did reatail freight, there were scheduled local freight trains that did pickup and delivery.

And although freight wasn't "scheduled", that didm't mean that there weren't planned regular services. I think it meant more like the old Greyhound schedule: more buses if there were more passengers, fewer buses if there were fewer pasengers, buses and drivers and passengers allocated as needed. And once the start time for a train was established, there would be expected arrival times.

Some reasons why freight was "unscheduled": It could get shunted aside for higher priority. Cars wouldn't get added to a regular train if it was full. Cars wouldn't get added to a regular train if there was a higher priority car. Trains wouldn't run if there was a staffing or equipment shortange. Start time would depend on all of the above and on anything else.

Last edited by Melbourne; 06-26-2016 at 08:38 PM.
#21
Old 06-26-2016, 09:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
Passenger trains, because they are tightly scheduled, are given the highest priority for track scheduling.
My understanding, from 15 or 20 years ago, when I was more of a train hobbyist, is that this isn't necessarily the case.

In the US, most passenger trains (be they short-haul commuter trains, or long-distance Amtrak trains) are running on rails owned by freight railroads, and are subject to the dispatching systems of those railroads.

While, in theory, passenger trains run at a higher priority, in practice, the railroads will often prioritize their own freight trains (on which the railroads are making more money than the utilization fee that they're getting from Amtrak or the commuter agencies), and bump the passenger trains down the list.

This is a big part of why, while Amtrak trains have published schedules, it's *very* common for them to run late.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 06-26-2016 at 09:16 PM.
#22
Old 06-26-2016, 09:23 PM
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Too late to edit:

A Washington Post article, discussing the Amtrak problem:

https://washingtonpost.com/news/...rmance-mapped/

"Eight of the 33 routes, including most of the long-distance cross-country lines, experienced on-time arrivals less than 50 percent of the time over the past 12 months. The Empire Builder, running from Chicago to Washington, ran on time only 21 percent of the time in the past year. Only one in three California Zephyr trains made their trips between Chicago and San Francisco on time."
#23
Old 06-26-2016, 10:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
In the US, most passenger trains (be they short-haul commuter trains, or long-distance Amtrak trains) are running on rails owned by freight railroads, and are subject to the dispatching systems of those railroads.

While, in theory, passenger trains run at a higher priority, in practice, the railroads will often prioritize their own freight trains (on which the railroads are making more money than the utilization fee that they're getting from Amtrak or the commuter agencies), and bump the passenger trains down the list.

This is a big part of why, while Amtrak trains have published schedules, it's *very* common for them to run late.
This is what I was told the last time I rode Amtrak: As long as it's running on time, the passenger train gets priority. However, once the Amtrak train falls behind schedule, freight trains regain priority and the Amtrak has to work around them. This can cause a delay to grow from half an hour to six hours very quickly.
#24
Old 06-27-2016, 01:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
I am guessing that they use it for cast steel parts like engine blocks. Cheaper than re-melting ingots.
For the engine blocks. Got it
#25
Old 06-27-2016, 09:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
I guess the number of cars on a train varies with demand?
Yes, subject to limits. You can only add so many cars before you need to add another engine, too. Also, many locations have length limits on trains on that trackage.
#26
Old 06-27-2016, 09:54 PM
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Dispatching trains is a somewhat complicated thing. For a given route, say from Toledo to Chicago, train length is limited by siding length or distance between crossovers, so trains can get by each other. For the same route, power (locomotives) is assigned as so many horsepower per ton of train weight. Since we here live in a drained swamp, it is really FLAT, the horsepower requirement is pretty light, could be as little as 2 hp/ton for freight that is not in a hurry. A train could also be power limited, you would not see more than 4 or 5 locomotives on a train. If there were, say, eight for a really heavy train, the connections between the cars would fail. The force needed to pull a 200 car train would exceed the tensile strength of the draft gear (which connects the couplers to the cars.) In hilly country, the trains would end up shorter (I see 150+ cars all the time), at 12 hp/ton, the train would have to stay much shorter to keep pulling force within the strength of the equipment. There's more to it than that, but that's the basics.
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#27
Old 06-27-2016, 09:55 PM
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Originally Posted by davida03801 View Post
For the engine blocks. Got it
Engine blocks, transmission housings, frames, driveline and suspension components, flywheels, most gears. There are quite a few cast/extruded components in cars.
#28
Old 06-27-2016, 10:01 PM
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I worked at a paper mill, sometimes as a relief rail co-ordinator. Our train had a fixed arrival and departure time. While the rail into the mill was private, the rest of the journey was along the public rail network and so it had scheduled times to ensure it didn't interfere with the public transport system. The train was a fixed length - IIRC, it held a maximum of 22 export containers or 44 domestic containers. The train would bring in empty shipping containers in the morning and leave with full ones in the evening. We could send it either direction partially empty, but we couldn't add extra carriages to send more product out. In extreme cases, like where an urgent product was made close to shipping cut off and couldn't be accommodated on the train, we would despatch by road. That was rare.
#29
Old 06-28-2016, 01:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by campp View Post
say, a train of empties being returned to home.
Are there actually "empty" freight trains? I thought the supply of available freight cars and the demand for transportation pretty much eliminated that possibility. In other words, if the railroad company makes a delivery from point A to point B, won't there pretty much always be someone who wants to have something transported from point B to point A?
#30
Old 06-28-2016, 02:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus View Post
In other words, if the railroad company makes a delivery from point A to point B, won't there pretty much always be someone who wants to have something transported from point B to point A?
A lot of freight is commodities that only really move in one direction. Coal, for instance. If a mine sends out a hundred cars full of coal, those cars will have to be returned empty at some point, since you wouldn't send coal to a coal mine.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 06-28-2016 at 02:21 AM.
#31
Old 06-28-2016, 03:46 AM
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Sydney to Melbourne Freight timetable

http://artc.com.au/customers/ope...tp/2016-03-06/


Due to the length of the trip, I guess they came under a fatigue control (crew too sleepy) label and had to show they were trying to do something.


Of course, if they leave early or late, then they had a good reason to do so

The timetable also establishes an order of priorities..

If the train is late because of the train or the freight company, then it loses its spot.

if the train network causes delays, and a question of "who is first" has to be made, then the timetable is the established order they should have gone through.
The one which has been delayed the most gets through first. However it also means that gov officials can find trains to inspect the crew dairies.. If they are half way along, and five hours late, have they had enough rest ?

Last edited by Isilder; 06-28-2016 at 03:50 AM.
#32
Old 06-28-2016, 07:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus View Post
Are there actually "empty" freight trains? I thought the supply of available freight cars and the demand for transportation pretty much eliminated that possibility. In other words, if the railroad company makes a delivery from point A to point B, won't there pretty much always be someone who wants to have something transported from point B to point A?
Union Pacific at one point had more empty container strings than they could store in the yards or on sidings (this was in the Southwest). They actually would tag them onto another train and send them "away" to relieve crowding. This from a friend who worked for UP.
#33
Old 06-28-2016, 05:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord Feldon View Post
A lot of freight is commodities that only really move in one direction. Coal, for instance. If a mine sends out a hundred cars full of coal, those cars will have to be returned empty at some point, since you wouldn't send coal to a coal mine.
True. The railroads do try to find cargo to haul in those cars, but there isn't much out there.

For example, Burlington Northern hauls full trainloads of coal from Powder River in Wyoming east (mostly to Detroit Edison) -- usually 3-4 full trains in route at any one time. Mostly they are empty going back to Wyoming, because they can't find much cargo that can be hauled in hopper cars that are very dirty with coal dust. and unload via dumping out the bottom.

For a while they hauled garbage from eastern cities to dumps in the west/midwest. They offered freight rates low enough, and dump rates were low enough out west compared to in eastern cities, that garbage haulers found this attractive. And nobody cared if the garbage got coal dust on it.

They also looked at hauling grain in those hopper cars, but mostly grain was traveling in other directions, and contamination with coal dust was a big issue.

So in the end, it's common for those coal trains to go back west empty.

Same with auto carriers. They haul new cars from factories where they are built (Detroit, Tennessee, California) to car dealers all over the country. But there is not much return traffic in autos. And those railroad cars are pretty specialized, it's hard to use them for other freight. So they too often return empty.
#34
Old 06-28-2016, 09:50 PM
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Off-topic, but there was a terrible accident today as two freight trains collided head-on in west Texas. There was a crew of two on each train; one person jumped to safety, but the other three are still missing amid the wreckage.
#35
Old 06-28-2016, 09:57 PM
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As sort of an anti-schedule, when they were debating allowing the Canadian Northern trains to roll through here, one of the conditions was black-out periods during the day when they wouldn't be allowed. Namely so morning/afternoon traffic wouldn't be snarled up by a mile-long freight train trundling through town.

So I guess everyone has to work around restrictions like that.
#36
Old 06-28-2016, 10:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord Feldon View Post
A lot of freight is commodities that only really move in one direction. Coal, for instance. If a mine sends out a hundred cars full of coal, those cars will have to be returned empty at some point, since you wouldn't send coal to a coal mine.
When things are transported in intermodal containers, sometimes the containers just get recycled at the end of their route instead of shipped back to refill.
#37
Old 06-29-2016, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Off-topic, but there was a terrible accident today as two freight trains collided head-on in west Texas. There was a crew of two on each train; one person jumped to safety, but the other three are still missing amid the wreckage.
That's the same tracks I mentioned having to cross daily a few posts up. The BNSF Southern Corridor I think it's called.
#38
Old 07-02-2016, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by drachillix View Post
Engine blocks, transmission housings, frames, driveline and suspension components, flywheels, most gears. There are quite a few cast/extruded components in cars.
Most of those would be cast gray or ductile iron not steel.
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