Trains account for a major percentage of the freight moving back and forth in this country every year. It doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about these trains and their freight, forward and backward, because if we trust our trains with so many of our goods, it must be a good way to get from Point A to Point B.
Shipping freight in this country by trains began back in the 1820s. Europe was beginning to use the train for these purposes and the United States had begun to look closely at what they were doing. In modern times heavy shippers like manufacturers, factories, and so forth build their businesses next to railways and have sections of track leading to their businesses so they can load up directly. These are called sidings. The other option, typically used by smaller shippers, is to transport their goods to the railway via trucks.
The logistics of the freight trains can become fairly complex. The next stage in shipping via freight train is often when the freight is taken to a freight station. This is generally so rail cars can be coupled to many others so a long distance train can take them all together in one gigantic load. Classification yards are part of this process. This is where cars and the goods on those cars can be sorted properly, according to where they are going.
If organized properly, traveling by freight train can make a lot of sense. That being said, there are certainly drawbacks. Of course, trains by definition are not flexible in how they travel to any particular location. While trucks driving the road can go virtually anywhere because of the vast expanse of highways and roads in this country, there are only so many tracks and paths a train can take.
What is interesting is the relationship the freight railway industry has with other modes of transportation. There is a close and dependent relationship with ocean-going freight. There is virtually no relationship between freight rails and the air freight industry, and its relationship with road freight is pretty much adversarial as they are often competing for the same work.
Compared to the other modes of freight, the railroad industry is loosely regulated. Freight cars are interchangeable and are regularly tossed from one carrier to the next. They are also loosely monitored, which has its pros and cons.
Overall, it is interesting and amazing how much freight shipping by train has not changed and still remains remarkably ingrained in America.