What drives the operation of a railroad?


N3V Games
What drives the operation of a railroad?
(Written and submitted by David A. Petersen. Forum Id: Dap)

The way a railroad is operated depends on the customers it serves. A private carrier railroad would be a logging road where its only purpose is to haul logs out of the forest. It carries one commodity for one customer (usually the owner) and as such is not regulated by any government agency and can be run anyway you want to as long as safety standards are observed.

On the other hand, if you want to run a railroad that provides transportation to multiple industries, your railroad will be classified as a common carrier.

Common Carrier - an individual or corporation undertaking to transport for compensation persons, goods or messages under license or authority provided by a regulatory body which may create, interpret, and enforce its regulations upon the common carrier (subject to judicial review) with independence and finality, as long as it acts within the bounds of the enabling legislation. A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is "fit, willing, and able" to provide those services for which it is granted authority.

Common carriers are legally bound to carry all passengers or freight as long as there is enough space, the fee is paid, and no reasonable grounds to refuse to do so exist. A common carrier may establish reasonable regulations for the efficient operation and maintenance of its business. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. These rates are based on the type of commodity the goods represent. Rates are in part, based on the commodities vulnerability to shipping damage. Pig iron ingots are almost impossible to damage in shipment whereas glassware is easily damaged of not properly packaged and handled. In the United States, rates have been set by the Interstate Commerce Commission since the passage of the Esch-Cummins Act of 1920. Prior to that, they were set by the railroads and at times, were quite unfair to various shippers.

The term common carrier is a common law term, which is seldom used in continental Europe because it has no exact equivalent in civil-law systems. In continental Europe, the functional equivalent of a common carrier is referred to as a public carrier (or simply as a carrier). (However, public carrier in continental Europe is defined differently than "public carrier" in British English, in which it is a synonym for contract carrier.) In some countries, the railroads are state owned and in others, they are privately owned and regulated by the government. Knowing the regulations and how they affect operations can be important.

Common carriers were very common in rural areas prior to motorized transport. Regular services by horse drawn vehicles would ply to local towns, taking goods to market or bringing back purchases for the village. If space permitted, passengers could also travel.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with creating a Trainz route. The answer is - it depends. If you are modeling an imaginary route where you are making up everything as you go, including the operations, then all this is meaningless. However, if you are modeling a prototype railroad and you want to develop prototype operations, then it can be important.

Let’s look at that definition of common carrier again and see how it affects operations.

- Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules . . .

First some basics. It would be impossible to handle each freight car independently. For efficient operations, most freight cars are gathered together at various points along the railroad. These are called Yards. In the yard, they are sorted according to direction of destination and possibly other criteria. Some may go east, some west, some south and some may go to another local industry. Some may be empty and are low priority. Some may be perishable commodities. They are sorted in the yard and when there are enough of one type or “class”, those cars are then assigned motive power and a road crew. When that happens that string of cars then becomes a train. The train will then be directed over the railroad by the Dispatcher. If there are no signals, it is said to be a “dark territory” where all train movements are controlled by time table and train orders issued by the Dispatcher. (I will discuss this in a later column)

As this train traverses the railroad on its assigned route, it may drop off and pick up cars at various industries and yards. Or, the train may run non-stop from one yard to the next, or from one major terminal to the next. With trains running like this on a regular basis, the freight will make its way to its destination in an orderly manner.

This general structure of operations is modified in various ways to meet the specific needs of each railroad. If 90% of a railroad’s freight is coal, their operations would be different from a railroad that serves a variety of industries where no one commodity makes up more than 10% of their traffic.

For operational purposes, most railroads are divided up into Divisions where each Division represents a specific portion of the trackage of the railroad. A division may represent a geological separation of terrain. A mountain division would be operated differently than an area where there are no major grades and no need of heavy motive power or pusher engines.

Management of railroads were organized either by department, the New York Central for example, or by Division like the Pennsylvania RR. Either way, each Division would have it own various managers in charge of the various aspects of running a railroad. Let’s look at divisional management. Here the Superintendent is the top dog. All department managers within his division would report to him.

The various departments are:

Transportation Department
- operations of stations, yards and movements of trains

Maintenance of Way - maintains track, bridges, signals
Equipment Maintenance - repair and maintains rolling stock and motive power
Plant maintenance - maintain and repair buildings and other infrastructure

The transportation department was always the biggest as it supported the primary function of the railroad. It may be organized under the Superintendent as follows:

Chief Dispatcher
- Assistant Dispatchers
- Clerks, crew caller

Train Crews
- Conductor
- Engineer
- Brakeman

Yard Master
- Car Inspectors
- Car Clerks, office clerks
- Yard Crews

The point of all this is that, as a common carrier, a railroad must have a set way of processing the transportation needs of its customers that is cost effective for the railroad. That is why railroads are operated the way they are - keeping a steady flow of traffic moving on a regular basis.

About a year ago, the question was asked on one of the forums, “What role am I playing when I am running a train?” This is a good question because there is no one role - there are many. The easy one to identify is the engineer, the person who controls the movement of the locomotive.

You become the conductor when, by examining your way bills, you determine that you have to spot a car at an industry, which car and where it is to be set. Then you become the brakeman, setting the track switch to get the car where it needs to go and pulling the pin to uncouple the cars.

If your AI trains are hung-up (as they do from time to time), you become the dispatcher, solving the problem and issuing new commands to the AI train crews.

I hope this has shed some light on why railroads operate the way they do. In future columns we will take a look at yards, signal systems, waybills and other prototype practices and discuss how they can be implemented in Trainz.
I'm not sure what the situation in other parts of the World was, but until the 1970's, Railroads were required to carry passengers in the US. After the law was changed, passenger service in the US was sketchy until Amtrak took over. While it fulfilled the need at the time, it was never the same with a couple of exceptions. I was a kid at the time, but I've heard stories and seen pictures of that Era.

In Germany, it was quite the opposite. To this day, Trains are a major part of the transportation system. It is the same in most of Europe today.


For germany, you can also say that our rail system is becoming an international affair.
A lot of foreign companies are operating on german tracks, most of them in freight business, but some are also operating long-haul passenger trains.

While it was pretty common for a good to travel through several countries, the option of getting into the german transportation service business itself is an evolution of the recent decades.
Most of european railroads were held by the governments. That changed in the 90ies.
Since then its possible for foreign and private companies to aquire european-wide transports.

Today, the german railroad (DB AG) mainly holds the passenger business and retreats from freight business (excepts container- and unit trains), which is deemed non-economical.
Some private- and foreign companies may have a different view on that.
In Trainz, a RR should have a purpose, at least 2 terminus, and should go somewhere, and perform a task ... and shold not just a run on to nowhere, an endless purposeless route.
Today, the german railroad (DB AG) mainly holds the passenger business and retreats from freight business (excepts container- and unit trains), which is deemed non-economical.

That's an interesting view, as DB is actively expanding across Europe - buying freight operators in other European countries...

What DB did in the early 2000s was a program called "MORA C" (Marktorientiertes Angebot Cargo = market-orientated offer cargo).
Announced in 01, it was coming into effect around 02 to 04.
This program divided customers into those which are profitable and those which are not.
Those customers which hadnt had a certain minimum of carloads werent serviced by rail anymore.
Sadly I havent found an english wikipedia entry about the whole thing.
As english isnt my native tongue, its a bit hard for me to explain.

As DB now also owns a former truckage company (Schenker), they got a large cut of the freight traffic anyway.
The whole structure of DB is pretty complicated.
Retreat from wide-spread single car traffic in germany doesnt mean that they are not looking for traffic anywhere else.
Maybe I should have told that as well.
Hmmm, I guess in europe rail compaines are still carrying passengers and freight? Here in america, those days are well gone.... There hasnt been a company to do that since 60's......
Outside of the US which lags behind other modern nations passenger is the thing and remains so. This is certainly the case across European countries and here in Great Britain so long may that continue.Although the Goods side is much smaller than when I was a boy I am very happy that passenger services make up the vast majority of services not just locally but nationally. Unlike England/Wales and Ulster we in the northern part of the Kingdom have had a number of re-opened lines and still not finished in that matter. In each cases they have tended to break the target for ridership. Somewhat naturally I tend to enjoy passengerr Trainz much more as that is the tradition here. The other good thing is the constant progress in most countries on this continent to constantly modernise and keep up with progress. Even with the closures of the Dr Beeching period and with our occasional moans of some service somewhere the constant rising numbers of users shows the importance of railto the community and country.
Well the train may run non-stop from one yard to the next, or from one major terminal to the next. With trains running like this on a regular basis, the freight will make its way to its destination in an orderly manner.
Yes sir.


Central station of the city I live in.
Foe example.

Your picture looks like a Z scale model railroad. :)

In response to your other thread, I used to work with Schenker a few years ago. They are a great company to do business with, and from what I understand, they now run a fleet of trains throught to Mainland China for freight. Is this true now?

I agree the freight and passenger service is much more efficient and better than the US. In part it is because the railroads were beaten up terrible by the airline and trucking companies which got big subsidies in the 1950s and 60s while the railroads had to pay for everything themselves. In fact all their taxes went to subsidize the competition, and they ended up cutting service to keep up. Today things are getting better, but a lot has changed, and sadly we've lost a lot too in the meantime that will never be regained.

In Europe too people are more accepting of railroads, their added value, and more respectful of the danger that they represent. In the US, the neighbors complain about the trains making noise and ruining their property values rather than seeing the rail service as a bonus to their transportation problems. In a local town near me, Winchester, MA, the locals are complaining about Tighe Trucking reactivating a freight siding. They're complaining already that a few deliveries a week are going to cause the neighborhood to devalue and there will be noise and polution. Oh by the way, the people complaining to the newspaper are also out of town real estate agents! One of the woman complaining doesn't even live near the tracks, but is complaining anyway because she can!

Many of these people also would rather sit in traffic for hours each way to work rather than taking the trains. People here also think nothing of walking on a ROW, and the parents will blame the railroad for hitting their children who walk on the tracks. It seems that the only time they like a railroad is when it becomes a rail-trail (path) for them to jog on with the old depots becoming ice cream parlors with a few freight cars on static display.

Thinking of that German picture, Glasgow Central the largest of our 2 city centre stations has to double up trains at rush hour on the platforms even though the number of them is in double figures. My understanding is that the Low Level which is suburban-based is getting near saturation stage. Some 5 companies are served, inter-city, south Glasgow suburban and a secondary route to Edinburgh (Glasgow Queen Street is the fast service to the Capital). I for one am really glad that Gt Britain still remains a passenger inclined railway and is very much part of the public transportation way.

When a country loses much of it's passenger train infrastructure like in America it is much harder to get anything worthwhile back.
Hmmm, I guess in europe rail compaines are still carrying passengers and freight? Here in america, those days are well gone.... There hasnt been a company to do that since 60's......

Actually, Alaska RR is in America, although it doesn't seem like it. Probably the only USA RR that still does both.
Hmmm, I guess in europe rail compaines are still carrying passengers and freight? Here in america, those days are well gone.... There hasnt been a company to do that since 60's......

Actually, Alaska RR is in America, although it doesn't seem like it. Probably the only USA RR that still does both.
I must correct you about this comment. There is a freight railroad that also operates passenger trains: the Alaska Railroad. This railroad is a small, 'regional' railroad. Some examples of this is the Montana Raillink and Iowa Interstate. The Alaska Railroad runs passenger trains all year round, including the winter. Their most well-known train is the Denali Star, which runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks, stopping at several places inbetween, including Denali National Park, home of Mount Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The number of passengers has resulted in the Alaska Railroad to purchase passenger cars when Amtrak was unable to purchase new cars, only able to repair older passenger cars to handle the increase in ridership (yes there are more and more people riding Amtrak. I wish that the people in Washington would notice the increase the ridership on Amtrak trains; that could get Amtrak more money). However, the Alaska Railroad is owned by the state of Alaska. Perhaps you should look into what services the Alaska Railroad offers on their trains.

I appreciate this thread, because it touches a subject, which has been occupying my mind since quite some time. The focus of my involvement with trainz stems from the option and challenge, to generate realistic visual and operational simulations of train traffic by allowing users to create content of all kinds. I am concentrating presently on the Grandduchy of Baden Railways which existed between 1838 and 1920, when it merged with other state railways to form Deutsche Reichsbahn, the national German state railway.

Here one has to keep in mind, that railways have changed considerably since the days of the Stockton-Darlington railway. These changes are occuring in three areas: 1) Increasing demands in passenger and freight carrying capabilties, as well as increasing demands on safety of operation. 2) Technological progress affecting all aspects of railway operation. 3) Increasing experience in how to manage railway operations efficiently.

Because of this, thorough knowledge is required not only on the design of locally used assets like track, signals, buildings and rolling stock, but also operational procedures, particularly the stage of development.

Since the developmental processes leading to todays railways occured parallel in many differnt countries all over the world, we can observe considerable differences not only in the hardware of contemporary railways but also operational procedures, the software, so to speak. I therefore think it a good idea to discuss and exchange of information on railway operations both, yesterday and today.

The other comment I would like to make is, that on a worldwide basis, some common trends can be observed: 1) If properly employed, railways are superior air and road traffic under certain conditions. Good transportation politics should be based upon considerations on the advantages and disadvantages of road, rail and air traffic.
2) Railways are capable of providing more rapid transport in passenger services than aircraft up to distances of about 500 km.
3) They have much higher capacity for passenger transport, they are therefore superior to automobiles in metropolitan areas.
4) In relatively thinly populated rural areas, on the other hand, automobiles and trucks are superior for both freight and passenger traffic.
5) Along major traffic lanes which see heavy freight traffic, railways are superior to trucks over long distances, mainly because their freight carrying capacity outweights the effects of congestion on motorways caused by trucks and effort to transship from trucks to trains as well as the relative inflexibility of freight train operation.
6)Up to the second half of the 20th century railway were considered a "natural monopoly" because it was believed, that ownership of the tracks and rail operation had to be in one hand. Nowadays it emerges, that railways can be very efficiently managed if ownership of trains and their operation is different from the ownership of tracks and fixed installations.

Examples can be seen in the US where is Amtrack is conducting passenger traffic over tracks belongig to different private railway companies.
In Europe, in most countries, ownership of the permanent way remains in the hands of national governments because it is considered part of the public infrastructure, while increasing numbers of railway companies are aquiring rights of way to conduct rail traffic with own or leased rolling stock in specified areas of railway traffic, like commuter traffic, carrige of specialized freight traffic ec.

From the early beginnings railway operations, the question of ownership in particular, has been subject to ideologically motivated debates. The continuation of these debates can be observed in both the US, here over the implementation of high speed passenger services in certain metzropolitan areas, as well as in the European community, where the European comission, dedicated to doctrines of economic liberalism, is pressing for opening rail traffic over existing state owned rail lines to private companies, while the supporters of state owned and operated railways are resisting fiercely.