Inter-State Train Traffic

I live in a small town in rural midwest. There is an East-West Rail line which has heavy train traffic (about 2 trains per hour or 50 trains per day).

98% of these trains travel EAST. It is only occasionally that I see a train headed west, and the ones that do travel west, look to be dead-heading and are very short (20-30 cars) .

Is ‘oneway’ train track normal around the country? I assume it is a safety issue, and it probably has logistical benefits as well, but it is only an assumption.

We do have some small industries that utilize the railroad. I do think most of their freight travels EAST but if they needed to ship it west, I wonder how far EAST it would go before it got switched to a WEST bound train.

Just to eliminate the obvious possibility, you’re sure that the trains aren’t running west when you’re not watching (during the night, say)? My understanding is that many trains, even freights, operate on fairly predictable schedules.

Just an educated guess-if there is only one set of rails on that route thru your area, with that heavy amount of traffic, made up perhaps of deadheads (empty containers, cars), the east-west return traffic is probably on another track route further south or north of that one. Find out the rr company that owns the trackage and google or call them and ask. Or, if you can post the location of the route here, maybe a rr buff or guru can answer it.

Union Pacific, for one, has set up predominantly one-way traffic in some locations where it has two single-track routes between major city pairs (for example, in Texas UP can use a mix of former Missouri Pacific, Missouri-Kansas-Texas and Southern Pacific lines to various destinations). Having predominantly one-way traffic on such lines allows a larger number of trains to transit the route, since there is less need for trains to take siding to meet opposing traffic.

If I were to guess, I’d say the ‘deadheading’ trains operating against traffic mentioned by the OP are probably locals that collect cars from, and deliver to, industrial sidings en route; these usually operate as out-and-back runs from a single terminal.

Time of year may have something to do with it. Right now I can wander over to my local UP double-track main line and see 100+ car freight trains loaded with coal heading east. Of course the coal-fired power plants back east are building up their inventory for winter.

Also going west-to-east, long trains full of grain and, of course, lots of imports from Asia that came into Seattle or Los Angeles.

Sending empty cars back West would suck financially.

With cars that are designed for a particular type of traffic, like coal or grain hoppers, it’s pretty much accepted that they’ll be empty one way on a return trip. At least they’re lighter and cheaper to haul when empty. For more general purpose cars, such as intermodal and gondola types, back loading is more the norm, if the flow of traffic is fairly even in each direction.

With all the trains running one way through town, there’s almost certainly another route back, some place else. You’d choose the best route for the direction based on the topography of the lines and the direction of the greater tonnage flow. Route A may be flatter than route B, and if there was more tonnage going, say, east, you’d favour A for that direction.

Dude, this is America they’re talking about - and heading east! Bermuda triangle, man! Those trains ain’t coming back.

So my speciality subject is the bleeding obvious. What? :smiley: