All Class 1s Join Long Train Parade

CSX is not the only railroad that is running very long trains.

All of North America’s Class 1 railroads are dispatching trains ranging between 10,000 to 15,000 feet in an effort to boost productivity, become more efficient and slash operating costs.

The railroads also contend that longer trains maximize locomotives, crews and fuel while presenting dispatchers with fewer trains to handle.

These long trains are double the typical train size of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet.

However, not all Class 1 routinely operate such monster trains.

BNSF, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and, yes, CSX, operate 10,000 plus foot trains on a case-by-case basis although any trackside observer of CSX and, increasingly, NS might swear that nearly all of their trains are monster length.

At Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Union Pacific long trains are routine.

The Association of American Railroads said that 95 percent of trains in the U.S. are less than 10,000 feet in length, but that Class 1s have been seeking to lengthen train length for several years.

A CSX spokesman told Progressive Railroading magazine that longer trains did not begin with E. Hunter Harrison and his precision scheduled railroading operating model.

“CSX data shows that over time, train length has evolved as business demands have warranted,” said CSX spokesman Christopher Smith.

He said that the demands of shippers and supply chains have led Class 1 railroads to lengthen average train length.

Nonetheless, during the first quarter of 2018 the average train length for all CSX road trains was 6,890 feet, or 5 percent longer than the same period in 2017.

Smith said that the scheduled railroading model that the late Harrison implemented has increased train lengths by consolidating train profiles to achieve efficiencies.

“Increased train length contributed to a significant reduction in the number of trains operated on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Year over year, [we] reduced the total number of active road trains per day by approximately 26 percent, or about 222 trains per day.”

Another benefit has been a decrease in grade crossing accidents because there are fewer opportunities for trains and motor vehicles to collide at crossings.

The result of longer trains has been that Class 1 railroads are lengthening sidings to at least 10,000 feet and laying more double track.

Positive Train Control is also expected to enable railroads to lengthen trains.

Longer trains have not always been well received by railroad workers. The SMART Transportation Division unsuccessfully asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order limiting train length.

But the FRA declined, saying there is no evidence to justify such an order.

SMART argued that a traint that is 2 or more miles in length can interrupt crew radio communications, block grade crossings for long periods and increase the probability of a mechanical failure.

“In mountain territory, a conductor can walk quite a ways from the locomotive, making communication with the cab difficult. That puts workers in dangerous situations,” said SMART National Legislative Director John Risch, who was a locomotive engineer for more than 30 years.

He also said that additional in-train forces can make it more difficult to keep a long train intact.

“When you double a train from 100 cars to 200 cars and then the train breaks up, the efficiencies the railroads talk about go out the window,” he said.

In the meantime, the Government Accountability Office is conducting a study on the effects of long trains and their potential safety hazards.

Railroad managers have countered that there is no evidence to support the arguments of the unions that operating employees lack sufficient training in handling long trains and say their companies are doing all they can to improve safety.

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