Rail speed is slowing

Average train speed dropped 8.9% to 22.4 miles per hour on the Union Pacific (UP), their lowest since 1999. This was nearly double the rate of North American railroads overall, which saw average train speed fall 4.5% in the 40th week of 2003 (September 28 – October 3) vs. the same period in 2002.

As train speeds were dropping at all but the Kansas City Southern (KCS), terminal dwell times were increasing. Hardest hit was the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe (BNSF), with a 10.9% increase on year-to-date terminal dwell times.

Most railroads ascribed at least part of the problem to track maintenance. BNSF says traffic imbalances led to spot crew shortages and flow imbalances that contributed to higher dwell times. The railroad reported it was moving more intermodal and less coal and grain. Canadian National (CN) comments that later interchanges from other railroads lowered its performance.

The bright spot in rail was faster train speed for KCS. The Norfolk Southern (NS) reported minimal slowdowns as it moved forward with its scheduled rail service. Fewer but faster trains led to some increased terminal dwell time, according to NS.

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