A question about rail cars I have always wanted to ask

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A question about rail cars I have always wanted to ask

  • I am new to this forum. Not new to trains though. I have always been a train-watcher, and as a kid I had a pretty elaborate layout in my parents' basement that I was always trying to expand.

    Throughout my life, even as a little kid, I always wondered, why do all the different cars on the train have different names? As an adult, not that long ago, I was living in a place that was near to a very busy CSX right of way, and I'd see freights roll through there every day, with cars of all stripes in them. Some of them would make me wonder (again) how they got there to begin with. UP, Southern Pacific, Norfolk Southern, etc etc. Now, I just bought a house and it happens to be about 2 blocks from a mercifully infrequently used branch of the NYS&W, and it's the same thing all over again as the CSX line - what are these rail cars doing here, how is in charge of them, and how to they keep track of them?

    So, the question is, why **are** all these railroads running rolling stock from all these different roads? How do Union Pacific or Norfolk Southern box cars come to be running down the rails on the NYS&W in New Jersey? (Norfolk Southern is a bad example b/c I know NS has an agreement with the NYS&W for use of their rails....)

    And maybe more importantly, how does the original railroad make money off their rolling stock when it's flung all over the nation? I assume that Union Pacific is getting paid for these box cars doing what they are doing, otherwise, why would anyone bother to spend the money to paint their rolling stock with their name and logo?

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  • First

    mercifully infrequently used branch of the NYS&W

    Clearly you meant to type "sadly infrequently used branch".

    Second, what you are "seeing" is Interchange of cars between railroad companies - consider this, a scrap yard in Newark, NJ wishes to ship gondolas of scrap steel to a mini-mill in Rancho Cucamonga, California - there simply isn't a single railroad company between the US coasts, the cars must travel on the rails of at least 2 rail companies (say NS and BNSF - I'm leaving off the cases of the mill being on a short line). Interchange, without it the rail system would have never grown to the extent it did.
    The railroads have had 150+ years to work out the various components, eventually with planning  from the AAR and rulings from at first the ICC and now the STB.  It can be pretty complicated, there's rules (or at least were) concerning division of payment between originating and terminating road, there were rules for bridge traffic, rules concerning payment to foreign roads to the car owner, rules concerning loading of foreign road cars so that they travel back torward their owning road (many such rules have changes over the years) - I'm sure several (thousand) books have been written about it, information from the web is usually PDF format.  Make sure you allocate many hours (days?) for your search

    BTW, due to your mistyping "mercifully" in your OP, you now have a homework assignment, which is to find a modern day (1990 and later) tank car in general revenue interchange service owned by and lettered for a railroad ...

    ...You probably can't, as except for one-offs here and there almost all tank cars are owned by private companies (usually denoted by reporting marks ending w/ 'X'). You will find a large portion of freight cars in speciality service e.g. cover hoppers and scrap/C&D service gondolas, are owned by either private owners (fleets, leasing pools, etc),  or are in multi-railroad owned pools (the big one nowadays is TTX - think not just intermodal but the good old Railbox "Next Load, Any Road" - but before that there was the huge refrigerator car fleets like PFE and FGE, among other fleets)

  • Good answer.   There are set "per diem rates for one railroad\s cars on another railroad.   They differ for different kiinds of cars, and in some casas with the age of the car and accessories.  In the old days this requried a lot of car shuffling and corresponance, today handled by internet and computer.

  • I accept this challenge. I feel like I can do this; I swear I've seen them. Canadian Pacific is one I feel like I've seen. I have noticed what you're saying about tank cars - GATX, etc. I see alot of those. The TTX intermodal cars were what the trains that went by my old place in Dumont were almost exclusively made up of. Those and the 3-decker auto carriers.

    I will be watching the trains going by; not that I wasn't anyway.

  • This is TTX's website. They describe what they do and how. They also have pages on their equipment. FYI http://www.ttx.com/TTXHome.aspx

    GATX also has a web site. But is not as informative about their equipment.

    Thx IGN

  • SnowMoJoe
    I accept this challenge. I feel like I can do this; I swear I've seen them. Canadian Pacific is one I feel like I've seen. I have noticed what you're saying about tank cars - GATX, etc. I see alot of those.

    The "challenge" was for tank cars only, not for covered hoppers, gondolas, or intermodal - those you can find railroad owned cars in North American revenue freight service ("service").
    Here, because I'm a fair guy (insert smart-alec smilie here), I'll give you a head-start: RR Picture Archive - Category Tank Cars.  Now that's not the entire NA tank car fleet, but there a lot of pictures (us railfans are an industrious group when it comes to taking pictures - approaches the level of kitten images on the web...well, ok, maybe 2 magnitudes less, but still that's a lot). The (relatively few) railroad-owned tank cars often have notes indicating they are in MOW or internal stores/support - the Alaska Railroad image roster, for example, has 6 different tank car listed, with notes on 5 entries indicating the tank cars are for MOW (fire supression) or support (lubricating oil) - so is the 6th tank car in revenue service or not?...the answer is Not- not only does the car have a frame and non-roller bearing trucks, it is also labeled "Waste Oil Only"

    BTW, the mention of non-roller bearing trucks is important, as there are certain requirements which freight cars must meet to be allowed in interchange service.
    Such things (over the decades) as:
    -Steel frames
    -Roller Bearing Trucks
    -No roofwalks unless required to reach roof-top hatches and fixtures.
    -50 year interchange lifespan (40 years if built pre-1974) unless major rebuild
    And so on - cars used on the home road only and not in interchange service need not meet some of those criteria (which is why you can still find old MOW cars with non-roller bearing trucks).

    The TTX intermodal cars were what the trains that went by my old place in Dumont were almost exclusively made up of. Those and the 3-decker auto carriers.

    TTX (originally Trailer Train, and there's a lot of history behind it) is an example of a freight car pool - pooled cars were not subject to some interchange rules like "load the foreign car with loads destined to bring the car toward it's parent road", and so they could have higher utilization rates.  I guess you could say the same of such car leasing fleets as GATX (not just tank cars).

    Per Diem rates.. a great example of how per diem rates can shape railroad investment and resource allocation is the Incentive Per Diem Boxcar boom of the 1970s...

  •  A word of thanks to you old heads (including those of you with less than a thousand posts) who have been contributing to these forums over the years. You make it possible for the contributors who are just beginning to learn about railroading and are not afraid to ask questions to learn much without having to spend a lot of money on books and magazines.

    When I was beginning to really be interested, I relied on books (mostly in public libraries) and Trains--the first issue I ever saw was the April, 1952, issue, which I found on a newstand, bought it, scraped up enough for a one year subscription--and have received every issue since. Back then, much of the basics of railroad operation was covered in the magazine; now it seems that we have to depend for such on the interchange of knowledge on forums such as these that Kalmbach provides. I also learned from conversations with men in road service, and by watching them in their work (even participating in their work at times, which is pretty much a no no now). I continue to learn, as I read the posts that interedt me.