How often does freight get misrouted?

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How often does freight get misrouted?

Postby MBTA3247 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 10:05 pm

How often do the railroads misroute freight cars? It has become a running joke among Boston-area railfans that going from Selkirk Yard in Albany to Boston requires a layover in Buffalo due to the number of times CSX has routed MBTA cars and locomotives returning from overhauls in precisely that fashion.
"The destination of this train is [BEEP BEEP]" -announcement on an Ashmont train.
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Re: How often does freight get misrouted?

Postby jogden » Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:40 pm

Well, to start, it definitely depends on the railroad. Some do it all the time, others rarely.

Alaska Railroad almost never does it, but on occasion the wrong car gets pulled and sent somewhere it should not be. Most of the time it is caught before it leaves the yard, if the clerks are on top of things, but not always.

When I worked for BNSF, it was a daily occurrence. Typically the way it happened there had more to do with the dispatcher and/or road crews. I worked in eastern Montana, and I can remember several occasions where an eastbound car was scheduled to be set out to the elevator track in Terry, MT. The west facing switch on that track was out of service indefinitely, so it was a move best handled by an eastbound train. Sometimes the crew on the eastbound train carrying that car would be told, by the train dispatcher, to just forget it, because he had trains to move. So then the car goes too far east and ends up in Glendive (usually) or Mandan, ND. Well, a yard crew there gets it, realizes it has to go west to get to its destination, and sticks it on a westbound train. Trouble is, getting it spotted from a westbound train would require runarounds and a lot of extra time, so it goes on to Laurel, MT, where Montana Rail Link would get stuck with the thing. Since they cannot very well deliver it to the customer, they stick it on an eastbound train, to get back to Terry, and the cycle repeats itself. Sometimes an overrun like that would happen once, sometimes a car would get stuck ping-ponging back and forth for weeks and weeks.

Sometimes, inexplicably, you would be switching in the yard and a car would show up on a track that was not on the list. Later when you tried to locate it in the system, it would show sitting in a yard in Amarillo, TX, and you would just wonder how it traveled that far unnoticed. Sometimes the opposite would happen. You would be looking for a car and could not find it. It was not in the place it said on the list, so you check the whole track, but cannot find it. If it is a slow day, you might even walk all the tracks in the yard, and not find it. The computer system and all the paperwork says it is there, but it is not. Then you put it on a "phantom track" in the system, or maybe a "lost car track." These were not real tracks, but it was a place to put cars on the computer, since the system recognizes that all cars are supposed to be on a track somewhere.

Of course on any railroad there is the possibility that the yard crew will mix up numbers. After a long day, CHTT 609149 can look a lot like CHTT 609194, and then someone gets a car they were not expecting, and someone else is missing a car.
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Re: How often does freight get misrouted?

Postby Desertdweller » Tue Apr 14, 2015 10:29 am

From my experience (10 years station operations; 16 years train operations), it would appear cars are "lost" more often than they are misrouted.

A common occurrence is for a load (full or partial) to be released by a customer thinking it is an empty. When the car is then spotted for loading, surprise! What usually happens next (it is easy to track the car back to its last destination using the computer) is the customer will swear the car was empty when it left his facility. No one is willing to take responsibility for releasing a load as an empty.

The shipper has ordered an empty car for loading, and deserves to get one. So the load is offered for sale to the receiver for whatever he is willing to pay for it. Everyone concerned winds up happy and the legal department doesn't get involved. The guilty remain anonymous.

I worked for one railroad where a boxcar load of air conditioners sat for years in a yard. Probably it is still there. The consignee was a local government agency that never got around to taking delivery. The units belonged to the taxpayers, so no one cared. Don't know how the car hire was handled (it wasn't my department).

The "lost car track" is a common dodge. It keeps the computer happy: every car is accounted for and on a track. I worked for a railroad where I was responsible for cars on the west 250 miles of routes. Every year I would make a physical check of every track in my territory. This solved several "lost car track" mysteries. That is what happens when station personnel jobs are eliminated and train crews are expected to act as the clerks who are no longer there.

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Re: How often does freight get misrouted?

Postby keith jackson » Tue Dec 01, 2015 3:11 pm

it often happened to us in the uk when we used marshalling yards and trains were made up with individual wagons(cars) but that is now a thing of the past now that most of uk freight are block trains. having said that,i did end up taking a block load of aviation fuel that was bound for Gatwick airport to another distribution depot at the other end of the country because the paperwork was all wrong at the refinery! don't think they had to cancel any flights though! :-)
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Re: How often does freight get misrouted?

Postby bratkinson » Sat Dec 05, 2015 10:22 pm

Lost or misrouted cars are no different than containers being lost or misrouted.

From my 7 years as an intermodal clerk, I've seen double stack bucket cars arrive with all of the containers aboard for the next ramp east but the car in 'our' block. At other times, individual containers arrived that were destined for a ramp at the 'far end' of the railroad. Sometimes the containers would be put on wheels and driven, other times, put on another train to ultimately get to the correct destination.

Much of the time, the problem(s) was caused by digit transpostion in the container numbers. Hence, 123456 was supposed to be shipped, but 124356 was loaded! As a result, the real 123456 would arrive on the next train.

For complete railcars misrouted, usually it was the result of a track 'cut' error when building the train where 6 cars were supposed to be pulled but 7 were...or 5 were, for example. With intermodal, cars could be 1, 3 or 5 platforms or buckets long...with occasional 3 bangers made out of 3 single bucket cars with drawbars between them - same car number on all 3 of them! Some platform-style hitch cars could be paired with a drawbar as well, and they were designed such that trailers span the gap! ie, 3 trailers on one double-platform car.

As a package handler at a large package shipping company regional hub previous to my railroad days, I encountered misrouted packages daily. Something loaded on the wrong truck. It could be as simple as the wrong ZIP code entered in the computer for that package so off it went to the wrong place! The package handlers are supposed to verify ZIP on every package when loading (ie ZIP 9xxxxx doesn't go into a Texas bound trailer!), but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, even the competitors packages would arrive! We'd call them the next day and they'd come and get whatever we had...usually less than 10.

In short, humans make mistakes. Computers make even more a but several million times faster!
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