Are High-Speed Freight Trains in Our Future?

Some interesting ideas were recently presented by Hunter Harrison, president and CEO of Canadian National Railway, who laid out his view of the future of freight rail in a speech to the Canada Maritime Conference.

First of all, Harrison predicts that multiple mergers will create two mega railroads in place of today’s “Big Six”: Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the two Canadian railroads, Canadian Pacific and his own CN.

Reducing existing freight railroads to just two would, Harison said, make it easier to introduce high-speed freights to North America. And when he says “high-speed” he really means it. He sees freights eventually traveling at 100 miles per hour.

CN already deals with 100-mph VIA Rail passenger trains using their track, but freights moving at that speed would require new high-speed rolling stock to be designed and built, not to mention the elimination of most or even all grade crossings. That, of course, means building thousands of overpasses or underpasses for automobile traffic.

Harrison said that if just 10% of freight now being hauled by trucks were to shift to rail, it would save a billion dollars a year in fuel alone and account for a significant reduction in emissions. He also quoted a factoid used in a current CSX television commercial, noting that railroads can move one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. “Imagine,” he said, “your car giving you that kind of performance.”

Wow! I’m still trying to imagine a 100-car coal train roaring through small-town-USA at 100 miles an hour!