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Thread: Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

  1. #1
    MJL Guest

    Default Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

    Short question - how are empty cars routed after they are unloaded at one dock untill the next dock where they are re-loaded.

    Long explanation--- after reading thru the July02 TRAINS MAG with the article 'yards of the future', (the author has 2 pattent apps. in for yards and multi stage car sorting) and all of the other stuff that I have learned about car handling up till now, they always seem to deal with how only loaded cars are handled.
    (use a simple box-car as example)
    A) cars are picked up from client loaded w/ stuff (something easy like recycled paper)
    B)pre-blocked in the local yard,
    C) block of cars attached to the next train going in proper direction
    D) maby a mid route classification, resorting of blocks/ at UP's North Platte
    E) block of cars dropped at destination yard
    F) Local train delivers to customer, where the car is unloaded.

    but this seems like where the story always ends. and magicly the car is reloaded again and ready to is the car routed to the next dock for reloading??

    I understand that w/ 'special' cars and trains...they are on fixed paths ....
    the coal train goes loaded to a powerplant, empty to the mine
    the auto rack goes loaded from the factory, empty back from John Elway Ford
    some chemical cars might be only able to carry one type of thing, so with these special cars, you could just say 'reverse the process', and send it back the way it came, reversing the above steps.

    BUT, with a simple box car that can carry (nearly) anything, you always want it to carry something, or you are paying for 50% of its time to be a Habitat for Hobos, returning to the dock empty

    so you would prefer the car to do something like:
    Carry recycled paper Denver-Milwaukee,
    Carry shoes Chicago-Atlanta
    Carry lightbulbs Atlanta-Colorado Springs

    where most of the time the car is carying SOMETHING, but how does the empty boxcar decide where to go next?
    Are these single cars on sort of "mini-loops" that they just circulate around on, and I can always count on seeing the same car in the yard every 37 days.
    Or is it something frightingly simple as one yard master (or whoever is in charge of that stuff) calling around to the other yards "Hey, you got any boxcars over there?, whithout much graffetie??, NO?, ok, I'll try Omaha and see if they have any"

    I can see how this could be one of those logistics questions, that requires a big computer to get the nth degree of prefection on, but then how was it done back in the days when horsepower ment exactly that horse-power??

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  2. #2
    kevarc Guest

    Default RE: Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

    A RR owned car must be routed back to the owning RR. Some times the RR with the empty will "steal" them and reload. But the routing MUST be back to the owning RR. For free cars, they can be reloaded at another plant, etc. This was the premise of Railbox and the short lines in the 80's. The RR's pay per diem to the owning RR so they have incentive to get them back.

    Kevin Arceneaux

  3. #3
    MJL Guest

    Default RE: Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

    Thanks for the reply, however I wasn't woundering so much about one road using anothers cars, and the related car use fees, but what happens with a roads MT cars on the owning road. In your post one company must return another roads cars once they are free. What happens when the owning road gets its car back?, how is its new routing determined?
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 1999
    Where Standard Gauge is 3 feet between the rails.

    Default RE: Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

    Pretty simple really, it sits around until someone calls needing that particular car. And boxcars really aren't that simple, they are very specialized. There are 'rough' boxcars which carry garbage, scrap paper and anything it would be impossible to damage. There are food grade boxcars, with sliding bulkheads (2) which allow the lading to be locked in securely, there are insulated boxcars, which are used by companies like Coors here in Denver which will maintain product temperature without refrigeration. There are lumber boxcars, the ones with double doors, which can handle long lading similar to a flat car. There are auto parts boxcars, the big huge 86 footers with special racking which always return empty to the same auto maker over and over again, as do autoracks. There's probably a lot more.

    Coors, as an example, has an indoors facility with floodlights, where someone goes inside and closes the doors and inspects the car, if any light comes in, the car is rejected. Same for semi-trailers.

    To make it more complicated, intermodal equipment is almost NEVER interchanged, instead the trailers and containers are taken off and driven across down by trucks and put back on another train.

    Grain hoppers sit 9 months out of the year and don't do anything, if you live out west, you can go out in the middle of nowhere and see miles of cars sitting on sidings waiting for someone to need them. Wasteful? yeah, but no one said railroads are anywhere close to efficient.

    Once I was in Sterling Colorado, and the train had brought in a boxcar with a commodity I was supposed to be picking up, it was in the yard about a block from the warehouse, where it had been sitting for 3 days. The local rail crew came in, worked 8 hours and went home, whatever they didn't have done waited until the next day, and they weren't going to do anything out of order, so the customer had to just wait for the boxcar they could see out of their front window!


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 1999

    Default RE: Empty Car Routing Question, how is it done??

    Empty car management is getting to be one of those things that you have to do well, if you want to run to the "scheduled railroad" model. There are a lot of things to be considered when routing empties. Things like shipper demand, grade profiles, available power, etc. all make a huge difference in moving loads and empties. Most railroads are no realizing the fact that an empty that isn't where it needs to be is a load that can't happen. I know that we have one whole component of our car and train computer systems that specifically tries to optimize empty car moevements to fill voids hwre empties are needed.
    As far as those grain cars, its a little different up here in Canada, where the grain cars are not owned by the railroad, but by the government, and the car allocations/loadings are determined by the Wheat Board. Grain is also a pretty seasonal
    commodity. Farmers and wheat pools tend to hang on to grain until market prices are favourable. The grain you see moving now is probably last years crop. There are lots of slack times in the grain movement schedule. The real trick is how fast can you get those empties out of storage and into the system.
    As far as efficiency, its a lot better that it used to be. Look at the decrease in operating ratios of the major roads in the last few years. Or, if you have access to the data, check out the on-time train performance and yard dwell times stats.. Lots better than it was.
    There's still room for improvement, but we'll get there yet.



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