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Rail Infrastructure Condition

Infrastructure Condition Overview

Although every OKI county contains some portion of the region’s 479 total miles of freight rail, the two counties of Hamilton (32 percent) and Butler (25 percent) combined contain over half of the region’s total rail miles.

Rail Classifications

Class I railroads are typically known for long-haul transportation of commodities with as few stops in between origin and destination as possible. The Association of American Railroads further defines Class I railroads as those with operating revenues of $490 million or more.
Source: Association of American Railroads. Overview of America’s Freight Railroads. (2020).

There are seven Class I railroads in North America. Two of the seven, 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. The greatest percent of Class I miles (35 percent) is located in Butler County.

Short line railroads (Class II and III) or regional railroads, provide short-haul connections between the Class I and customers. Short line railroads therefore serve as the first- and last-mile connections of the rail system. Short line railroads often take many smaller customer shipments and group them together on one train, which can lower transportation costs and increase service. Four short line railroads operate within the OKI region. Half of all miles are in Hamilton County alone.

  • The Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY) and Central Railroad of Indiana (CIND) were both purchased by the railroad holding company of Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. (G&W) in 2012. IORY and CIND have rail miles everywhere in the OKI region except the three northern Kentucky counties.
  • Cincinnati Eastern Railroad (CET) has its operations headquartered in Cincinnati. CET services Clermont and Hamilton counties. It provides its customers connection to NS from the NS Clare Yard in Mariemont, Ohio and operates from the yard east to Peebles, Ohio.
  • Indiana Eastern Railroad (IERR) services Butler and Hamilton counties connecting customers with CSX in Cottage Grove, Indiana.

CSX is the owner of the most rail miles in the OKI region at 44 percent. CSX operates all rail miles in Campbell County and 74 percent of Kenton’s. Boone County has a an even split of rail ownership between CSX and NS. Seventy-two percent of all Warren County’s rail is owned by the IORY. Eighty-one percent of all Clermont County’s rail is owned by CET.

Rail Cars

Before discussing rail infrastructure, an overview of the five primary rail freight vehicle or car types might be helpful to the reader. Just as trucks vary in size and design to handle the transport of different products, so too do rail freight cars. All definitions were gathered from CSX’s online Railroad Dictionary.

  • Box Car  – An enclosed car which has doors. It is used for general service and especially for products which must be protected from the weather.
  • Flat Car – An open car without sides, ends or top, used principally for hauling lumber, stone, heavy machinery, TOFC/COFC equipment, etc.
    • TOFC (Trailer on Flat Car) – Freight loaded in trailers and transported by rail on flat cars. Sometimes called piggyback, pig, or tote.
    • COFC (Container on Flat Car) – Freight loaded in containers and transported by rail on flat cars. COFCs can be single or double stacked.
  • Gondola Car – A car without a top covering which has straight sides and ends, the floor or bottom of which is level or approximately level. Used for freight in bulk. Types: High side, low side, drop end, drop bottom, general purpose, and convertible.
  • Hopper Car – A car with a sloping floor which will discharge its load by gravity through the hopper doors.
  • Tank Car – A car the body of which consists of a tank for carrying liquids such as oil, molasses, vinegar, acids, compressed gasses, and granular solids.

Rail Infrastructure

The similarities between rail and roads continues in that rail infrastructure is just as diverse as our road network to handle the movement, parking, and loading/unloading of trains. A variety of tracks, facilities and signals are designed to transport rail freight safely and efficiently. Since most of us only witness trains as we are stopped at rail grade crossings, a listing of the primary rail infrastructure elements is provided to inform the reader as to the components of the vast network in operation throughout the OKI region.

Rail Tracks

  • Rail – A length of track, usually 39 feet long.
  • Track – The space between the rails and space of not less than four feet outside each rail.
  • Main Line – That part of the railway, exclusive of switch tracks, branches, yards, and terminals.
  • Main Track – A track extending through yards and between stations. It is other than an auxiliary track.
  • Double Track – Two parallel main tracks.
  • Auxiliary Track – A track other than a main track.
  • Single Track – A main track upon which trains are operated in both directions.
  • Siding – An auxiliary track for meeting or passing trains. It is designated in special instructions.
  • Private Siding – A side track owned or leased by an individual or firm.
  • Side Track – A track adjacent to the main track for purposes other than for meeting and passing trains.
  • Stub Track – A form of side track connected to a running track at one end only and usually protected at the end by some form of bumping post or other solid obstruction.
  • Running Track – A track designated for movements that may be made subject to prescribed signals and rules, or special instructions. OR A track reserved for movement through a yard.
  • Spur Track or Spur – A stub track that diverges from main or other tracks which provides access to industrial or commercial areas. It usually dead ends within an industry area.
  • Secondary Track – Any designated track upon which trains or engines may be operated without timetable authority, train orders or block signals.
  • Receiving Track – A track used for arriving trains.
  • Public Delivery Track or Team Track – A track subject to use by the general public, with facilities for loading and unloading cars.
  • Industrial Track – A switching track serving industries, such as warehouses, mines, mills, factories, etc.
  • Wye Track – An arrangement of tracks in the form of a “Y”, used for turning engines, cars, and trains.
  • Scale Track – A track on which a permanent scale is located and may be used also as storage track for cars needing to be weighed.
  • Repair Track or Rip Track – A track designated for use to repair cars.

Rail Facilities

  • Yard – A system of tracks other than main tracks and sidings. A yard is used for making up trains, for storing cars, and for other purposes. NS’s Clare Yard in Mariemont and former N&W Berry Yard in Bond Hill are small, additional bases for NS local switching operations.
  • Classification Yard – The place where cars are segregated by carriers according to their destinations or deliveries and are made ready for proper train movement or delivery. NS’s Gest Street Yard serves double duty as a general freight car classification yard and an intermodal terminal.
  • Hump Yard – A switching yard with an elevated track or hump over which cars are pushed by a switch engine so that they travel by gravity to classification tracks. CSX Queensgate Yard in Cincinnati is served by a hump yard.
  • Terminal – A facility owned by a railroad on its line for the handling of freight and for the breaking up, making up, forwarding, and servicing of trains. OR Point where train and engine employees originate and/or terminate their tour of duty. OR A designated area within a metropolitan area where one or more rail yards exist.
  • Multimodal Facilities – A facility that connects two or more freight modes. These facilities are often categorized based on the type of freight (containerized, bulk), available modes, or the specific commodities served.
    • Intermodal Terminal – A yard that handles the transport of freight without it being removed from the original transportation equipment, namely a container or trailer. Technically, intermodal shippingmeans moving freight by two or more modes of transportation. When rail shippers talk about “intermodal,” they usually mean shipments that travel between trucks and trains in containers. There are four intermodal terminals in the OKI region.
    • Transload Facility – A transload facility is very similar to an intermodal yard in that products are transferred between trucks and trains. However, with transload facilities, the freight does not stay in the same container or transport vehicle for its entire trip. For example, products on pallets or large items like steel coils may be moved from truck to train by a forklift or crane. There are 10 transload facilities in the OKI region with direct access to rail.
    • Marine Terminal – Fourteen marine or river terminals in the OKI region have direct access to rail and the ability to transload directly from barge to rail car or vice versa. Although a marine terminal can be a public or private facility, all marine terminals in the OKI region are privately owned.
    • Grain Elevator – There are two grain elevators in the OKI region with access to rail and road. Four additional grain elevators have access to both road and the Ohio River for barge freight transport. Grain elevators are critical for the safe storage of agricultural product.
    • Automotive Ramp Facility – Automotive rail ramps are where cars come to be loaded on trains for rail transport or are unloaded at the end of their rail trip. Most are in metro areas, near auto manufacturing plants or major distribution centers. One automotive ramp with access to CSX rail exists in the OKI region in Cincinnati for General Motors unloading.
Man seated in front of multiple computer screens and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Interior View of CSX Queensgate Yard’s Centralized Traffic Control Tower
Source: The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). (2008).

Rail Signals

Similar to traffic signals along roadways, the rail network has its own set of rail signals which directs train traffic and conveys instructions regarding the driver’s authority to proceed. Without rail signals, trains could not safely operate especially along shared single track lines.

Rail signals contain color lights that are red (stop or danger), green (track clear), and yellow (warning). However, unlike a roadway traffic signal, color lights are most often used simultaneously to convey track conditions ahead and how the train should be operated. Multiple tracks are accompanied by multiple rail signals. As rail signals are understood and acted upon, train crews report their actions via radio communication with dispatchers. To learn more about rail signals, the reader can visit YouTube and use the phrase “how to read rail signals” to search for educational videos created by CSX, NS and other railroad operators for public audiences.

Rail Crossings

Although 70 percent of rail crossings in the OKI region are rail grade crossings with public or private roadways, not all crossings are at grade or intersect with a roadway. Crossings can also be completely separated from roadways via an overpass (railroad bridge) or underpass. Crossings can also be publicly- or privately-owned given the adjacent property ownership or type of roadway. Ninety-four percent of all private crossings are at grade. Most crossings (67 percent) are public. Hamilton County is home to the greatest number of crossings at 35 percent of the region’s total.

Crossing Purpose

While the purpose of most rail crossings is to carry trains over, under or across roadways, 23 of the region’s crossings are pathways for pedestrians. Over half of these pathway crossings are in Hamilton County.

Crossing Development Type

Most public rail crossings are found in residential (34 percent) and commercial (26 percent) areas, while the greatest number of private rail crossings are in either farm (35 percent) or industrial (30 percent) areas. These percentages reflect the history of our communities in that people and businesses were established to have direct access to the railroad for goods and personal travel. Development type data was not published for four rail crossings.

Crossing Physical Characteristics

Seventy-five percent of all rail crossings report their roadways as being paved. Asphalt or a combination of asphalt and timber is the primary crossing surface description for 61 percent of crossings.

For the rail crossings that had pavement marking type data recorded, 57 percent report having no pavement markings of any kind. Thirty-nine percent have stop lines and about four percent have railroad crossing symbols.

Data on crossing illumination was reported for about half of all crossings. The data available shows that 72 percent of rail crossings do not have lighting. Only about 20 percent of public rail crossings and five percent of private crossings were said to be illuminated.

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