Grain trains: New models are bigger, haul more

1. They’re lighter


The new generation of grain train is not your daddy’s grain train.

There are many differences, but two of the biggest changes are:

  • Railways are running longer trains.
  • New hopper cars can carry more grain.

Eventually Canada’s government owned fleet of grain hopper cars will be replaced, and when they are, crop movement will become more efficient.

That is because modern grain hopper cars can carry more grain in shorter, lighter cars.

The standard hopper car that was built decades ago can carry a volume of 4,550 cubic feet, weighs 62,000 lb. and is about 60 feet long.

Cars built today can carry a volume of 5,431 cubic feet, but weigh 2,000 lb. less and are more than four feet shorter.

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This means that each modern car can carry about 10 tonnes more grain.

And because they are shorter, there can be more cars on each train.

The result is that a train pulling all new grain cars would be able to move about 20 percent more grain than a train of the same length pulling the old cars.

The same number of train engines would be used, so the amount of fuel used to transport each tonne of grain would fall.

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The efficient use of locomotives is also behind the move to longer trains.

In the concrete elevator building boom of the 1990s, the state of the art was to have a 100-car siding to accommodate full trains.

The standard size grain train in Canada in recent years was 112 cars.

But Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific Railway president and chief operating officer, says the day of the 112-car train is dead and the new norm will be 134 cars.

The new generation of elevators built today has loop tracks able to accommodate and quickly load 134 cars.

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And with investment in new and expanded rail sidings, the railways say they are able to increase speeds by 25 to 30 percent in certain corridors.

3 Benefits of new grain cars

  • Higher-density grains such as wheat, durum, soy & peas benefit from NSC’s lighter car (226,000 lb. load limit).
  • Higher cubic capacity allows for drastically increased loading of low-density grains such as canola, oats & barley. And increased volume reduces total rail freight cost with NSC’s larger car (5,431 cu.ft.).
  • 55’8” car length allows railways to add cars to every train start. Shippers, rail carriers and ports benefit from 20 percent added track capacity and lower carbon footprint.