Transportation Geography and Network Science/Freight rail networks

Freight rail networks are one of the networks transport goods by using railway networks.

History of freight rail networksEdit


America railroads started to build 190 years ago and have become an essential part of America’s development. [1]

Key Dates[1]
1830: America’s first intercity railroad — the 13-mile Baltimore and Ohio Railroad — is completed
1850: More than 9,000 miles of the railroad is in operation
1887: Interstate Commerce Act creates the Interstate Commerce Commissions (ICC)
1916: Rail mileage peaks
1917: 1,500 U.S. railroads operate around 254,000 miles and employ 1.8 million people
1920: Rail employment peaks
1928-1933: Great Depression devastates railroads, with rail industry revenue falling 50%
1937: More than 70,000 miles of railroad are in receivership, representing around 30% of all rail miles
1949: Rail traffic has fallen 28% from 1944 level
1950s-1960s: Many railroads are bankrupt have abandoned service and deferred maintenance
1970: The Rail Passenger Service Act creates Amtrak and relieves freight railroads of most of the huge losses (around $850 million in today’s dollars) incurred in passenger service. Freight conditions continue to deteriorate.
1976: More than 47,000 miles of track operated at reduced speeds because of unsafe conditions. Railroads have billions of dollars in deferred maintenance
1978, the rail share of intercity freight has fallen to 35%.
1970-1979, the rail industry’s return on investment never exceeded 2.9% and averaged just 2.0%.
1980: Congress passes Staggers Rail Act Today: The North American freight rail network is the safest, most efficient in the world.
Today: The North American freight rail network is the safest, most efficient in the world.


Key Dates
1825: The world's first permanent public transportation facility for steam locomotives, which was designed by George Stephenson, the Stockton-Darlington railway in the United Kingdom was officially opened. The official opening of the Stockton-Darlington railway marked the beginning of the modern railway transportation industry.
1830: The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened, and it became the first modern railroad and it was a public carrier that carries both passengers and freight.[2]
1870: 13,500 miles (21,700 km) of railroad existed.[2]
1914: The mileage of track was about 20,000 miles (32,000 km) and run by 120 contending companies.[2]
1923: All the companies were combined into four main groups by the British government as an economy measure.[2]
1939: Britain’s railroads were under government control.[2]
1947-1948: The Transport Act nationalized the railways and it was taken place by the British Transport Commission (BTC) and the name of British Railways was given.[2]
1962-1963: BTC was replaced by the law of the British Railways Board. The board’s management emphasized the large-scale movement of major trunk lines and the closure of loss-making branches and warehouses.[2]
1963-1975: The routes were shortened from 17,500 miles (28,000 km) to 11,000 miles (17,000 km) and the personnel was shortened from about 475,000 to about 250,000 by the board. In 1966-67, the west coastline from London to Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool began to be electrified, and the electrification was extended to Glasgow in the early 1970s. Track improvements and the diesel train High Speed Train (InterCity 125) with a speed of up to 125 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour) shortened the travel time between major British cities. The computerized freight service introduced in 1975 can monitor the movement of more than 200,000 freight cargos.[2]

Why choose freight rail?Edit

Rail freight can make sure that a number of cargos can be hauled at the same time while shipping.[3] It can transport goods as many as they can to reduce the cost. Rail transportation can ensure that goods are transported in a single batch of trucks.[3] Furthermore, rail can provide the most cost-effective cost mode to ensure that goods can be delivered if it needs to be transported for a quite long distance.[3] Besides, different goods such as cars, manufacture goods, and flowers can be transported at the same time rather than transporting them separately.[3] Flexibility is also the main choice for rail transportation. This is because the railway network can cover the furthest countries, and it is possible to transport trucks to all parts of the world by truck.[3] Rail freight transportation can ensure that the goods can be delivered to those areas which have the most convenient location of delivery as possible because some areas are way too far and have poor infrastructure such as roads for other types of transportations to develop.[3] Meanwhile, during transportation, safety is a crucial factor to be considered. Rail transportation is regarded as the safest way to ship goods since railways are safe and containers can be provided to protect the goods so that theft can hardly happen.[3]

Freight train names[4]Edit

  • Super C
  • “Juice Train”
  • Reilex
  • Eurasian Land Bridge

Unlike the passenger train, the freight train is hardly ever named.

U.S. Railroad Mileage: 1830-1920

Freight railway network developed in AmericaEdit

America’s first railroad was built in 1830. Nowadays, there are almost 140,000 miles of freight routes in operation.[5] The U.S. freight rail network is widely regarded as the largest, safest, and most cost-effective freight system in the world.[6]On the seven Class I railroads, they produce nearly $80-billion freight rail industry.[5] It provides more than 167,000 jobs in the United States and provides side benefits that other modes of transportation cannot provide, including reduced road congestion, fatalities on highways, fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, logistics costs, and public infrastructure maintenance costs.[7]

The technology used in freight rail networksEdit

Innovative “Ears”[8]Edit

For a long time, ultrasound technology is used in freight railroads to examine the track whether it is health, like the way a doctor examines the health of a human body. This technology helps people to test the track where they cannot find by their bare eyes before the dangerous happens during the transport. Although ultrasonic technology has been proven to be effective, rail freight researchers have recently questioned whether they can further improve safety by listening to (rather than just looking for) track defects. When a train travels on any section of the track, energy is transmitted from the train through the track to the underground. These energies can be measured as a series of sound waves, which are collectively called acoustic features. The acoustic characteristics of the track depending on the health of the track. In 2013, scientists installed fiber optic cables next to the test track of an industry test facility in Colorado. As the train ran overhead repeatedly, they began to listen to the sound characteristics of the track. The track is designed to break the rules, and once it is done, the experts will get the data they need. Specifically: the sound characteristics of a healthy track, the sound characteristics of a broken one, and the sound characteristics of a nearly broken.[8]

Sci-Fi “Eyes”[8]Edit

In recent days, railroads can be monitored from the sky. This cannot be imagined in the past 20 years ago. For example, the BNSF Railroad Company flew unmanned aerial vehicles or drones on tracks in parts of Texas and Oklahoma and installed high-definition video cameras, which were flooded several years ago. Security experts monitored the drone's video input to see exactly where the rails were washed away and to check the condition of the iron bridges, some of which were hit by debris. By identifying the location of the damage, BNSF was able to safely deploy employees after the flood receded and quickly restore the safe operation of the railway line. Today, Class I railways across the country are deploying drones for various safety and environmental purposes. In remote areas, drones are used to explore thousands of miles of tracks to ensure that freight trains continue to safely traverse this unforgiving terrain. Drones are also used to test air quality to ensure compliance with federal and state environmental regulations, and to inspect bridges and telecommunications infrastructure.[8]

Extra ReadingEdit


  1. a b A. O. A. RAILROADS, "A Short History of U.S. Freight Railroads," August 2020. [Online]. Available:
  2. a b c d e f g h The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, "British Railways," Britannica Britannica, inc., 5 March 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 September 2020].
  3. a b c d e f g J. Shefer, "Rail Freight Transportation: How To Save Thousands Of Dollars & The Environment," move it with jon, [Online]. Available:
  4. "Rail freight transport," Wikipedia, 11 August 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 24 September 2020].
  5. a b A. o. A. Railroads, "Railroad 101," August 2020. [Online]. Available:
  6. "Freight Rail Overview," U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration, 8 July 2020. [Online]. Available:
  7. Railroad Facts, 3 ed., Association of American Railroads, 2020.
  8. a b c d "The Eyes & Ears of Freight Rail," Association of American Railroad, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 24 September 2020].