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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rail Traffic

This Association of American Railroads produced this very fancy, interactive chart of railcar traffic. If you just look at the plotted lines it looks like the volume of traffic varies wildly, swinging from a zillion to zero and back again. If you look at the scale along the left hand edge, you realize this chart is focused on the top one-third of data. The bottom two-thirds of the chart aren't shown.

In any case, it looks like half a million railcars are put in motion every week. That's like one for every 600 people in the USA. Traffic is about evenly split between containers (intermodal) and everything else (carloads).

There was a big disruption in train service when they started shipping coal from Montana and Wyoming to the power stations in the east, which was when? 20 years ago? It took several years to build all the additional hopper cars and locomotives they needed to handle this additional traffic. It wasn't that there was more coal being moved, the coal-fired power generating plants weren't burning any more coal, and they weren't building any more coal-fired plants, it's just that the transit time was longer (days versus hours), and they needed more cars and locos to make up enough trains to keep the pipeline filled. Anyway, there was a lot of grumbling about disruptions in train service when this started, but now that they have enough equipment to keep the pipeline filled, things are back to normal.

Anyway, with all my attention on coal, I would have thought it would be a bigger part of the total traffic, but it seems to be only about one-sixth of it.

Intermodal Train on the left, Lomard Street on the right, Mount Hood in the distance.
Looks like the train must be headed west, but they put locos on both ends of the train, and sometimes in the middle, to get over the mountains to the east.
I saw a big intermodal train all queued up along Northeast Lombard in Northeast Portland last week (like the one in the picture above). A mile long train is an impressive piece of equipment.

Via Bayou Renaissance Man

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