Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Longer Trains

The WSJ reports that freight trains keep getting longer.
The freight train is now on track to stretch up to 3 miles long, with 200 cars or more.

CSX Corp., for instance, in April said its average train length rose 5% in the first quarter from a year earlier, a signal to investors and analysts that the railroad is gaining efficiency.

The relative sizes of fixed costs and marginal costs seem to be behind this. Long trains mean fewer, more efficient trains which save on fuel and crews. This also means fewer but longer delays at crossings, perhaps better for residents to plan around but worse unplanned trips by, say, emergency vehicles.

There are challenges:
Operating trains that are double the length of standard size trains involves mastering the distribution of weight and pulling force. The longest, heaviest trains may have four locomotives in front, two in the middle and two at the end.


  1. "This also means fewer but longer delays at crossings, perhaps better for residents to plan around but worse unplanned trips by, say, emergency vehicles."

    What if I don't want to plan because I believe them making me wait a long time, helplessly, to be wrong. You are arguing might makes right and I should revel in their efficiencies over my inconvenience. Their benefits are being subsidized by my costs.

    I wonder if you complain about rising interest rates and the cost to society while ignoring the income savers are now getting and the benefit to society now that they have rising incomes to spend.

    1. Suppose there were six 5 minute train crossings per day before, but now there are four 7.5 minute crossings per day due to fewer, but longer, trains. If you do not plan, you still have 30 minutes per day of potential delays. On average, you wait no more if you do not plan around them.

      But if you really hate getting stuck for up to 7.5 minutes, you can shorten this by learning their schedules to avoid these delays. If anything, you wait less.

      Making you wait may be wrong, but longer trains doesn't make it more so.

      FYI, I personally would benefit from higher interest rates, not that I would advocate for them professionally.

  2. This is still a 'might makes right' explanation.

    Economies of scale are fine in a closed system where the system owner bears the entire cost. The RR is in an open system where I have as much right to the roads they block as they have to block them from time to time. Your argument ignores the fact the roads should be shared equitably, with 'equitably' being defined by both parties.

    Re rates: We're on the same page.

    Also, I'm sad about the economics profession being hijacked by people who profit from bad to fake economics, such as low to negative interest rates. It's career suicide to point out the obvious flaws in a low rate policy.