An Introduction to North American Freight Train and Rail: part 6

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Such centralization reflects the overall pattern of the operations of American railroads. Since their first days, the railroads have always been subject to a vibrant pattern of financial give-and-take characterized by a gradual but steady movement toward consolidation. The process of mergers and acquisitions has gradually created a smaller number of larger railroad operators, and the result of modern mergers have national rather than regional or state implications. Two of the more recent alterations in the status quo of American railroad operations have been the mergers of the Chessie and Family Lines systems to form the CSX Corporation with 26,600 miles (42810km) of railroad, and of the Burlington Northern and Frisco systems to bring 27,300 miles (43935km) of railroad under one management. The pattern inevitably continues as surviving railroads look for economies that can often be found only in operations on a grand scale.

The Norfolk & Western Railroad, for example, resulted from a series of mergers and acquisitions. In 1959 it combined with the nearby Virginian Railway, and in 1964 it absorbed the Wabash & Nickel Plate as well as three smaller railroads. The first merger consolidated the operator’s position as a leading coal carrier, while the second extended its activities into areas such as automobile parts and also enlarged its operating area into the grain- producing areas of Kansas and Nebraska, added a main line into Canada, and provided it with access to many important cities.

The pattern of mergers is likely to be accelerated by the 1980 Staggers Rail Act. This changed the conditions under which the Interstate Commerce Commission can approve railroad mergers, but also relaxed the regulations for the abandonment of lines and lifted many of the regulations governing freight rates. American railroads carry more than 900 billion ton-miles of freight each year:

this has been translated as the carriage of some 1.5 million tons of freight moved 600 miles (965km). Coal is still the single most important type of freight, but the pattern of freight is subject, like all other economic factors in a free state , to market forces that may alter this situation. One of the most significant areas of growth has been piggyback container traffic, as noted above, and this is second only to coal in the lives of the railroads. The growth of importance in the market for piggyback transport has led many operators to take an innovatory look at their operations in the hope of boosting their share of this traffic, which is still very small by comparison with that of road haulers. The most obvious area in which improvement ran be effected is that of speed. One operator which has made a determined effort to compete with road transport in terms of speed is the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. This railroad’s Slingshot high- speed container service links Chicago and St. Louis with delivery of the 300-mile (485km) distance in just 7 hours.

Another step toward more efficient container handling is the Ten-Pack concept of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The system is based on the use of specially designed container cars with only a skeleton bed to support the trailer’s lower structural frame, and the cars are also very low to the track to reduce drag. The combination of lower weight and reduced drag makes possible significant fuel savings by 100-car sets on the long haul between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Another form of the integration of road and rail transport is the roadrailer, with two types of running gear to allow it to operate on roads and rails. After the failure of a pioneering attempt on this concept in the first part of the 1960s, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad revived the concept in the late 1970a with a roadrailer incorporating running gear that can be switched between its two modes in less than 3 minutes, and has been hauled at more than 100mph (160km/h) in 75-car trains.

It should be noted, though, that while some aspects of railroad freight operations have increased in volume and financial importance, others have declined to greater or lesser extents. One of the most significant of these is the movement of cattle, which was one of the primary reasons for the extension of the railroads into the region of Kansas, where cities such as Abilene and Dodge City provided the points at which cattle herded from Texas were gathered for railroad movement to the great stock yards of Kansas City and Chicago. Speed of movement is clearly important in the transport of live animals, and here the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was among the leaders with average speeds of nearly 50mph (80km/h). In the early l960s, as the railroad movement of live cattle was beginning its decline, trains regularly covered the distance from Denver in Colorado to Chicago in less than 30 hours with double-deck stock cars. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad also undertook trials of special livestock containers that could be carried on ordinary flatcars an that it would not need to buy and maintain the special stock cars that were used for only a small part of the year. By this time, though, the meat- packing companies were moving their facilities nearer to the cattle-producing area, and the practice of moving large numbers of cattle by railroad had effectively disappeared.

The same has happened to the railroad movement of mail. The mail was first carried by trains in 1838 on a regular basis following the decision of the Congress that all railroads should be post carriers, although some mail service had been operated before this. From 1838 onward, the movement of mail by the railroads grew steadily in capability and volume. Whereas the first mail had been moved in locked compartments, from the 1860t more effective use was made of the concept after the railroad had reached St. Joseph and the jumping-off point for the Pony Express service for mail deliveries to California. Following the suggestion of a member of the U.S. Postal Service in St. Joseph, it was decided that mail would be sorted on board the train to avoid the delay inherent in sorting before being loaded onto the train. It August 1864, therefore, mail sorting facilities, as already used in Canada and therefore modeled on the British pattern, were pioneered by the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. Post office cars then became standard on many of the faster railroad services, the teams in these cars sorting the mail for the various points on the route. As the volume of mail increased, dedicated mail trains were operated. Like the cattle trains, though, mail trains have become a thing of the past.

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