Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

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Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 8:59 pm

Yes, I know I'm polluting the class I forum with topics, but here I go:
Does carload freight have a future, and if so, in what form?
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Fri Aug 07, 2015 6:41 pm

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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby Cowford » Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:04 am

The question would be more aptly stated as "loose carload" as opposed to unit trains, correct? If so...

You'll continue to see an evolutionary migration from single-car shipments into blocks, and blocks into unit trains. For example, grain "unitization" really picked up steam 10-20 years ago. It's cheaper for the railroads and generally provides faster, more consistent service for shippers by bypassing intermediate terminals and handling. However, loose car railroading isn't going away anytime soon, and it will continue to be handled much the same way as today, for the simple reason that some businesses simply can't generate the volume necessary for blocks or units. This covers commodities such as paper, building products, scrap metal, beer, specialty chemicals, many steel products (an exception being transmission pipe that does often move in unit trains).
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:31 pm

Cowford wrote:The question would be more aptly stated as "loose carload" as opposed to unit trains, correct? If so...

Yes, sorry, my bad
This has been talked about before, but I still do not understand why class 1s don't farm out switching and local freight to short lines..
Then they can be the trunk lines that they want to be.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby Cowford » Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:38 pm

While switching at larger shippers is sometimes farmed out - by the shippers - don't expect what you're suggesting. There are several reasons for that. Among them:

* It's still profitable business
* Having two different companies share segments of line complicates operations
* The existing T&E employee unions wouldn't allow it
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Sun Aug 09, 2015 9:06 pm

Cowford wrote:While switching at larger shippers is sometimes farmed out - by the shippers - don't expect what you're suggesting. There are several reasons for that. Among them:

* It's still profitable business
* Having two different companies share segments of line complicates operations
* The existing T&E employee unions wouldn't allow it

If intermodal is so low margin, and loose carload is profitable, why is it that rrs want customers to switch to intermodal?
Then again, this all could be my imagination :wink:
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby Cowford » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:01 pm

Railroads don't want customers to switch to intermodal from carload, per se. Most intermodal growth today is at the expense of truckers, not carload. You can't paint with such a broad brush: Intermodal can be very lucrative, and carload can be a big ol' loser. As an example, think of the small shipper that's served off a busy single-track main. It's inevitable that the job serving the shipper is either going to spend a lot of time waiting for a slot, or they are going to tie up, say, an hour of main track capacity. The latter issue means higher costs for crew, locomotives, car per diem, etc, etc. on affected road trains.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:11 pm

Cowford wrote:Railroads don't want customers to switch to intermodal from carload, per se. Most intermodal growth today is at the expense of truckers, not carload. You can't paint with such a broad brush: Intermodal can be very lucrative, and carload can be a big ol' loser. As an example, think of the small shipper that's served off a busy single-track main. It's inevitable that the job serving the shipper is either going to spend a lot of time waiting for a slot, or they are going to tie up, say, an hour of main track capacity. The latter issue means higher costs for crew, locomotives, car per diem, etc, etc. on affected road trains.

OK
But at least in NJ, there are so many businesses that have disconnected rail sidings out back, and intermodal containers/trailers out front.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Aug 10, 2015 3:41 pm

That squares exactly with what Cowford posted; trucks, being mostly faster and cheaper, got a lot of traffic out of boxcars and would have gotten more except for intermodal. In the early days of piggyback a lot of "old heads" complained that piggyback was taking traffic out of boxcars. It wasn't: trucks were taking traffic out of boxcars, and piggyback was holding on to some of it. Those intermodal containers out front are the only way a lot of traffic is going to move by rail.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby rr503 » Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:06 pm

ExCon90 wrote:That squares exactly with what Cowford posted; trucks, being mostly faster and cheaper, got a lot of traffic out of boxcars and would have gotten more except for intermodal. In the early days of piggyback a lot of "old heads" complained that piggyback was taking traffic out of boxcars. It wasn't: trucks were taking traffic out of boxcars, and piggyback was holding on to some of it. Those intermodal containers out front are the only way a lot of traffic is going to move by rail.

I see
I didn't know that, thanks for telling me!
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby v8interceptor » Tue Aug 11, 2015 11:51 am

I think the question really should be "does the boxcar have a future" because tank cars (not just for Unit crude oil train service), covered hoppers ,flatcars (with or without bulkheads, center-beams, various racks, etc..) and non-unit train gondolas certainly continue to be important movers of freight and much of what they carry would not efficiently convert to COFC..
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Aug 11, 2015 3:19 pm

Funny you should say that--when I read the original post I only thought of general freight in boxcars, since, as you say, freight carried in other types of cars is not as susceptible to conversion to other modes.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby Engineer Spike » Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:07 pm

Some railroads seem to discourage single car movements. It does take lots of labor, fuel, and real estate to switch them. There are some moves, such as short runs, low value commodities, which may be unprofitable to handle.

Intermodal can be flexible because the trailer, or container goes from one hub to another. The drayage trucker takes the place of the local freight. Off line customers can receive service from more than one carrier. A customer may be located on CSX. They are captive the CSX's service and local freight schedule. With intermodal, that customer may be able to tell CSX to pound sand, if their service is lacking. Here in the Albany, NY area, they could use NS's local intermodal service based in Mechanicville. They also have CP/D&H, and likely CN, through its ex Central Vermont line, which it shortlined.

There are also advantages to freight cars. The main being volume. It is said that there is a 3:1 ratio between truck and freight car capacities. The trucks don't have to drive down city streets to deliver. This is most noticeable here in the east. Many cities have tight streets, since they were layed out hundreds of years before a tractor trailer was even thought of.

Some class 1 carriers have been very good about marketing their single car movements. I have a friend who is a conductor for Pan Am. He works in the Pan Am Southern territory, which is a joint venture with NS. Since NS has had a hand in marketing, and feeding longer line hauls, he says that his local has many customers. My feeling is that if the move is profitable, do it. Sure it is costlier than a unit train from A to B, but no ball game was won only on grand slams. A nice base hit can win the game. From small acorns come great oak trees.
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby Benny » Thu Aug 13, 2015 11:45 am

It´s only a my personal opinion based on what happened in Italy (so a completely different social-economic contest) but I think that carload traffic is the blood of railroad freight traffic and operators need to value very well the opportunity of loose to truckers. As Cowford told, some businesses simply don' t generate enough traffic for a block train and intermodal sometimes is not the right solution because of high tare and/or special needs for transport. But these smaller flows, if well managed, feed long distance trains between marshalling yards and, satisfying small volume clients, can generate more traffic.
The contrary of what happened in the last 30 years in Italy where the incumbent state owned operator discouraged clients closing carload points and sidings, imposing stupid conditions and avoiding to strictly control costs and tariffs. The result is that now hump and marshalling yards are closed or badly underutilized, the few Trenitalia freight trains are basically block ones and the private operators that theoretically can give a better service at a lower price due to their far higher flexibility have so much difficulties with the infrastructure manager (strictly connected with Trenitalia) for installations use that various times they had to renounce services.
On the other hand business is business but in Italy (I've not knowledge in USA) the economical convenience of trucking is partly based on the systematic infringement of laws about time of driving, speed, maximum weight, state of the vehicle etc. and the consequent risk for people due to the fault of real controls. Rail transport, being far more controlled, avoid these problems and fight road congestion and part of the pollution so there are social benefits that, in a perfect world, cannot be ignored by governors.
The various lobbies (railroad enterprises, citizens, ecologists), without thinking in public subsidies, should ask for laws that favour rail transport, especially smaller quantities, but the railroad concerns too have to watch not only to bigger clients that guarantee high gain.

Ciao :wink:
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Re: Carload Freight -- Does it Have a Future?

Postby QB 52.32 » Sat Apr 29, 2017 8:40 am

I wonder if one relatively sizable segment of the boxcar carload business, pulpboard from Southern mills to box making plants, possibly stands ripe for conversion to domestic doublestack containers? The boxcars that carry this market segment must be nearing the ends of their useful lives, both NS and CSX have and will be, respectively, developing domestic stack capabilities and networks in the lanes this traffic moves, length of haul is medium in distance, and the cubic weight density of this commodity is relatively low for carload. I'm sure there would be negatives for the conversion with shipper and receiver facilities designed for rai, drayage costs from the mill locations to rail hubs, and the way boxcars can be used for storage in this marketplace, but, I would imagine not-too-distance equipment replacement will be the big driver as to which network this traffic moves in. We've seen it before in other large market segments driven by equipment investment needs, market demand and lighter commodity density so I'm thinking this might be the next big carload-to-intermodal conversion possibility.
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