Our Region’s Rail Freight Network
Rail as a Resource to the Region
With 479 miles of track and 1,117 grade crossings, trains — after trucks — have the greatest freight presence in the OKI region. Two Class I railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS), operate within the OKI region. Sixty-four percent of all the rail miles in the region are operated by these two Class I railroads. Four short line or regional railroads operate within the OKI region; and they include the Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY), Central Railroad of Indiana (CIND), Cincinnati Eastern Railroad (CET), and Indiana Eastern Railroad (IERR).
At both national and regional levels, the number one cause of rail-related deaths is railroad right-of-way trespassing. Between 2016 and 2020, the total number of our region’s trespassing injuries and deaths was double those that occurred at rail grade crossings. Of the 66 rail-related incidents over the five-year span, 73 percent of the crossings had a device to warn drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to oncoming trains.
About 137 trains travel on rail tracks in the OKI region daily. The greatest number of trains, more than 100 daily, travel through the heart of the region along CSX’s Cincinnati Terminal Subdivision track, between Mitchell Street, just north of CSX’s Queensgate Yard, and Longworth Hall, just south of NS’ Gest Street Yard. About 37 percent of trains are traveling at a maximum speed of only 10 mph, which is partially due to the number of rail grade crossings. Seventy percent of all crossings are rail grade with public or private roadways.
According to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Freight Analysis Framework data, in 2017, rail moved more than 7.5 million tons of freight valued at nearly $6.9 billion in our region. The Surface Transportation Board’s 2019 Carload Waybill Sample (CWS) data, for the Cincinnati Business Economic Area (BEA), shows that while the total rail tonnage has decreased by 14 percent since 2010, the revenue generated from this same rail freight has increased by 22 percent.
Being such a valuable asset, there is great benefit to identifying challenges and opportunities to improve rail safety and efficiency, while advancing quality of life for our communities.
By examining a variety of rail data, OKI found that Butler and Hamilton counties are home to the top 10 least safe, least redundant, highest delay, and highest publicly important rail grade crossings for motorized roadway users in the region. This makes sense as these counties combined contain more than half of the region’s total 479 rail miles. Hamilton County has the greatest number of rail grade crossings at 35 percent; and 39 percent of the total 2016-2020 rail grade crossing safety incidences in the region occurred in Butler County.
Through OKI’s participation in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s development of Transport Ohio, the state freight plan, we learned that railroad operators report chokepoints and service delay in the region due to the lack of drivers or containers needed in the transport of intermodal freight between trucks and rail, as well as the lack of available rail cars.
When rail traffic is congested and chokepoints occur, the situation can often create a second impact – the blockage of rail grade crossings, which delay roadway users and stagnate mobility and reliability. The Hamilton County communities of Reading, Lockland and Sharonville frequently experience blocked rail grade crossings, which delay motorized vehicles or add considerable travel time to vehicles trying to avoid crossing blockages. The safety risks for citizens and potential damage to property are heightened if ambulance, police or fire emergency responders’ trips are delayed by a blocked crossing.
Nationally, it is reported that average train lengths are currently 1.2 to 1.4 miles, with instances of even longer trains being used on specific routes. Longer trains can further magnify the blocked crossing issue, in that multiple crossings could be blocked at the same time. In one reported location, St. Clair Township in Butler County, three rail grade crossings have been simultaneously blocked and without any other means of access, more than two hundred households become what OKI has termed as “a train cut-off island.”
Next to long delays at rail grade crossings, noise from train horns is a common complaint heard from communities located along the region’s rail corridors. Due to the impact of train horn noise on the quality of life for citizens, staff wanted to estimate the level of impact on our population. The results of this analysis found that 111,235 people, about five percent of the region’s population, or 50,226 housing units, are impacted by train horn noise.