An aspect of the supply chain collapse most of us haven’t given a lot of thought to, if any.
Imagine a train 16,400 feet in length weighing 17,500 tons: That is three miles, 560 feet and 35 million pounds. One train. And it is hauling hazmat, tanks of say, chlorine gas, or anhydrous ammonia. Just one tank car alone weighs 131 tons, that is 262,000 pounds. To give an example from history, 262,000 pounds of chlorine gas is approximately two-thirds of what the German army used during the trench warfare of all of WWI. One tank car alone.
“And then we pick up more enroute! My conductor is three miles away while I reverse this train into an active rail yard! Crossings don’t matter, and communities? Are you kidding? No sane country would move materials like this. These trains exceed the coupler and drawbar limits of the very cars themselves. The risks the Class I carriers are taking is a race to disaster. It is absolutely dreadful and grotesque.
Another Precision Scheduled Railroading factor in supply chain failure: Even when the majority of these PSR trains make it, without dramatic ends, they rarely get across the road during a crew members hours of service (HOS) time limit, which is 12 hours. Several factors:
“The rail infrastructure, in particular rail yards and sidings, were designed and built during the great Industrial Age. They did a lot of things right: they overbuilt bridges, for one. But it is not a failure of imagination that they could not foresee, from a sane perspective, that someday the bosses would want to normalize 15,000-foot trains.
“Yards and sidings do not accommodate this scale. It is a clash of function and design. So, imagine this: A 15,800-foot train with distributed power locomotives placed in the middle and at the rear of a train, comes to work a station with 4,500-foot tracks and needs to pick up and set out cars in the middle and rear of the train. This will not be lickety-split.
Plenty more at the link, all of it both fascinating and terrifying at once. Bayou Pete follows up:
All I can say is, my hat’s off to anyone who takes on a job like that. The stress must be beyond most people’s imagination. Also, if something goes badly wrong and the train is involved in a major derailment or collision, the crew’s safety is probably anything but guaranteed. The inertia built up by such weights, at such speeds, makes it impossible to slow down or stop in any meaningfully short distance. The crew are going to have to jump for their lives (at speeds almost guaranteed to cause serious injury or death) or ride it all the way to impact, in the desperate hope they won’t be smeared all over the wreckage like strawberry jam. That’s not much of a choice.
When I think of the long, long trains of tank cars and chemical cars that I see rumbling through our little town every single day, and realize that even one of those cars carries enough potentially lethal cargo to kill every person within city limits in a matter of minutes…it puts a whole new perspective on rail safety.
Don’t it, though. Don’t it just. Over the years I’ve known a cpl-three guys who worked as train engineers, brakemen, even one out in Arizona who was a conductor, if I remember right, for Amtrak. My cousin Steve, who has had a huge fascination with trains his whole life and is locally famous for his incredible collection of HO-scale model railroad builds, used to say to me: “I really wanted to work for the railroad, until I found out the job would involve having to go out and decouple those big steel boxcars during a lightning storm. That’s when I lost all interest in it.” As it happens, that’s also when I realized how happy I was that I’d never had any interest in it to start with.