Posts Tagged ‘Double-stacked container trains’

Going Green

October 28, 2018

A lot of companies with which you do business through the mail are trying to entice you to switch to online payment of bills.

They often use the slogan “go green,” to make it seem as though paying online is environmentally sound.

It might be in the sense that it creates less paper, but I’ve always suspected that the real motivation is cost cutting.

This image of a westbound Norfolk Southern stack train rumbling through Olmsted Falls gives another meaning to the phrase “going green” as the first block of containers are all painted green.

Short Stack

September 1, 2018

Although CSX has become well known for its long trains in the past year, all Class 1 railroads have followed a trend of longer trains.

From a management perspective, that means fewer crews, fewer locomotives and less expense. Wall Street analysts like it, too, because they are fixated on cost cutting.

Some of these monster trains approach or exceed two miles in length.

So when this stack train passed through Olmsted Falls last March on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern, it got my attention for being so short.

I was able to easily fit the entire train into my viewfinder. Apparently, NS decided that moving this cargo outweighed holding it a day to make up a longer train. There might be other explanations for why this train is so short.

But it is the exception and not the rule for traffic patterns these days.

Rail Intermodal Traffic Hits Plateau

March 7, 2018

A consultant on intermodal traffic recently told the Rail Equipment Finance conference that he sees growth in railroad intermodal traffic as having reached a plateau.

Ron Sucik, principle of RSE consulting, expects continued rail intermodal growth in the United States, but is not sure how much that will be.

He also said an electronic logging device mandate for the trucking industry has changed the nature of the motor carrier market although it remains to be seen what this means for railroads.

Sucik expects occasional surges of growth, but rail intermodal growth has exceeded the U.S. gross domestic product by two and sometimes three times only six times in the past 12 years.

The American Trucking Association has predicted that rail share will not likely divert many trucks from the highway to rail even if rail intermodal growth doubles.

Truckers believe that during the next decade or more they and not rail will continue to grow market share because there is that much potential freight.

Sucik said his sources have indicated that trucking companies such as JB Hunt, Schneider and Swift move less than 20 percent of containerized freight, excluding dimensional, flatbed and liquid, whereas railroads move less than 10 percent.

Seventy percent of container traffic is moved by the rest of the trucking industry, particularly by independent truckers moving freight that doesn’t lend itself to hub-and-spoke movements between larger consumption centers.

In the meantime, trailer on flat car loadings have been declining at a rate of 5 to 6 percent due to the emergence of double-stacked containers.

However, TOFC traffic increased 7.6 percent in 2017 while container traffic was up 3.5 percent.

Sucik said one possible explanation is a “four corner” distribution system whereby traffic is was more dispersed.

Although some observers say that the opening of a third set of locks in the Panama Canal and Panamax ships carrying more containers has diminished West Coast intermodal traffic, Sucik expressed doubt that this has had the adverse effect that some say.

He said the industry has been talking about “all-water diversion” for years and has watched most of it already happen.

However, traffic originating at the ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver in British Columbia experienced growing traffic last year.

Railroad economist Jim Blaze believes that intermodal rail is concentrated into relatively few corridors with two-thirds of the freight moving in seven corridors. “Intermodal rail doesn’t go everywhere. Trucks do.” he said.

The only double-digit growth lane in North America, Blaze said, is the west-to-east Canadian corridor led by Prince Rupert’s rapid growth, which grew by 17.7 percent last year, exceeding all other rail intermodal lanes by a wide margin.

Sucik said that intermodal marketing people looking for new business don’t think like operating or financial people.

The marketing department might see short-haul traffic as a potential growth market, but the finance department replies why make the time and effort to move traffic with such a low margin of profit.

As the financial people see it, double-stacked container trains traveling longer distances can more easily pay for terminal infrastructure costs and for operations. So that traffic gets favored.

Shareholders are demanding lower operating ratios and low-margin traffic won’t help a railroad get there.

One wild card in the deck is that truck rates have posted the highest increases in years, hitting double digits in the past 12 months.

Shippers are paying 17 percent to 25 percent more on average than they did a year ago. Sucik sees in that some potential profit for railroads.

However, it might take an iron highway-type engineered rail platform to get it.

CSX and Canadian Pacific tried but have given up on the iron highway model.

Reviving the iron highway might require new trailer handling equipment that has yet to be developed.

Sucik said there is potential to gain additional intermodal rail market share in the short-haul range, but it would require a different approach that has thus far proven to be elusive.

Let Those Stackers Roll

December 20, 2017

Stacker is a term that some railfans use to describe a double-stacked container train. These trains are ubiquitous on all Class 1 North American railroads although they are more common on some lines rather than others.

If stack trains are your passion, you would do well to spend time along the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern in Olmsted Falls.

Unlike such routes as the CSX New Castle Subdivision, which has just one pair of stack trains a day through Northeast Ohio,  there are a dozen or more stack trains on the NS Chicago Line.

If you spend any amount of time on the Chicago Line no matter the time of day you’ll will see a stack train go by eventually.

Most of the stack trains on the Chicago line are bound for or coming from Chicago. Some will run through as interchange trains with other railroads while others will originate or terminate in the Windy City.

Although stack trains tend to have a uniform appearance, there is some variation in the colors and markings of the containers hauled on the trains.

And I’ve always wondered what was in those containers. Probably just about anything you can imagine that moves by rail.

Whole Lot of Orange Rolling By

October 18, 2017

You might find yourself in an argument if you asked what the dominant color of October might be. Some might say orange for pumpkins and fall foliage, but others might say gold, which tends to be the dominant fall foliage color in Northeast Ohio. A case might be made for red as well.

Whatever the answer, I thought this image of a long cut of Schneider National containers on CSX train Q015 passing through Kent was a nice seasonal image. Bring on the orange and the gold and the red.

Light, Shadows, Containers

March 12, 2013
An eastbound stacker approaches Ravenna Road on Track No. 1 as the motive power casts a jagged shadow over Track No. 2.

An eastbound stacker approaches Ravenna Road on Track No. 1 as the motive power casts a jagged shadow over Track No. 2.

Most photographers are keenly aware of how the available natural light illuminates their images and they do their best to work with that. But they may think of shadows as a nuisance to be worked around.

Recently I was reading an article about railroad photography that suggested using light and shadows to enhance an image. Trains magazine even made that a theme of a photo contest.

The article that I was reading was accompanied with a number of images that illustrated how shadows can be your friend in making photos because shadows provide contrast.

On a recent sunny morning, I noticed how a passing Norfolk Southern double-stacked container train cast an intriguing line of shadows as it rushed by.

NS ran a small fleet of stack trains in both directions on the Cleveland Line near Brady Lake and I made it a point to use the light and shadows as a focal point of the images that I captured.

Here is a selection of what I made.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

What I found most evocative about this image was how the shadow side of the containers contrasted with the ends and tops that are fully illuminated in the morning sunlight.

What I found most evocative about this image was how the shadow side of the containers contrasted with the ends and tops that are fully illuminated in the morning sunlight.

I’ve always enjoyed the uniform profile of stack trains, including the shadows that they cast.

I’ve always enjoyed the uniform profile of stack trains, including the shadows that they cast.

OK, it’s not a stack train, but I liked this image for the pattern that the shadows of the trees cast on Track No. 1 and the westbound manifest freight on Track No. 2.

OK, it’s not a stack train, but I liked this image for the pattern that the shadows of the trees cast on Track No. 1 and the westbound manifest freight on Track No. 2.

A few hours later the sun has moved around. When I photographed this eastbound CSX container train I had to contend with side and back lighting. The color didn’t look so good as result but converting it to a black and white image fixed that issue.

A few hours later the sun has moved around. When I photographed this eastbound CSX container train I had to contend with side and back lighting. The color didn’t look so good as result but converting it to a black and white image fixed that issue.

A lone truck trailer breaks up the uniform look of Schneider National containers that may have been added to this train at the North Baltimore, Ohio, intermodal facility. This and the photo above were taken on the CSX New Castle Subdivision in Kent.

A lone truck trailer breaks up the uniform look of Schneider National containers that may have been added to this train at the North Baltimore, Ohio, intermodal facility. This and the photo above were taken on the CSX New Castle Subdivision in Kent.