Quantifying recent trends in class 1 freight railroad train length and weight by train type

C. Tyler Dick, Jiaxi Zhao, Xiang Liu, Steven W. Kirkpatrick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Railroads have a strong economic incentive to maximize the length and weight of freight trains. Since the mid-1990s, various technological innovations have facilitated operation of longer and heavier trains, and railroads have made infrastructure investments to accommodate them. Recent shifts in railway operating and management strategies have placed added emphasis on long trains but have also drawn public and agency scrutiny. The advantages and disadvantages of increased train size are difficult to analyze because public data on train length and weight over time are limited. Articulated intermodal railcars, artificially short local trains, and light empty unit trains skew industry averages across all train types and mask trends over time. To provide greater insight on the average and distribution of train length and weight for different train types over time, the research team conducted a detailed analysis of Class 1 railroad annual report financial data and Surface Transportation Board waybill sample data collected for the years 1996 through 2018. Dividing traffic statistics by train type allows for a specific focus on loaded unit train length and weight distributions that isolates many factors skewing overall averages. Over the past 23 years, the average length and weight of loaded non-hazmat unit trains have steadily increased. Train size distributions indicate that unit trains exceeding 140 railcars in length have become more frequent over the past 10 years, whereas hazmat unit trains are typically smaller in size. This information can aid researchers and industry practitioners in assessing the benefits and disadvantages of operating longer trains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTransportation Research Record
PublisherSAGE Publications Ltd
Number of pages14
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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