I was yarding 203 (an intermodal freight) at Inman Yard today and I
noticed 4 welded rail (a/k/a ribbon rail) trains in the yard.
Three of which were up on the north end in the Local Yard and the 4th
was actually being loaded in real time at the rail fabrication plant
next to the intermodal yard. All but one of the rail trains had a box
car on the end opposite from the hydraulic loading/unloading car.
I noticed the shorted of the trains had only 18 flat cars. The
longest one appeared to have about 24. This stands to reason, because
welded ribbon rain is generally loaded in lengths of 1/4 mile or
roughly 1320 feet. I've actually run a few of these trains in through
freight service to Greenville, SC, and if I recall they're usually
about 1600-1700 feet long, which stands to reason, because the time
you add a few hundred feet to account for the locomotive (usually one,
but I have seen two on occassion). Also the rear hydraulic car, and
the boxcar(s) that are on the head end account for another 50 to 100
feet of the train length.
As someone pointed out, they indeed have only TWO racks per car for
the rails to slide on. The Norfolk Southern rail trains have racks
that are tall enough to hold six levels of rail. I've never counted
how many rails wide each rack is. Just taking a wild guess I'd say
either 10 or 12 wide. So that'd be somewhere around 60 or 72 or so
rails per train. It may not be 10 wide, but I think it is atleast
that wide. But say it's only 60 rails per train...that'd be 15 miles
of rail (or 7.5 miles if you consider it takes two rails per mile)
Rail trains like this are often used to REPLACE worn rail. The rail
is delivered on location by a crew in "work train" service. The track
department will have a number of employees there to assist and direct
the unloading of the new rail at the location. Then the work train
leaves. At some point later, the track department will come in and
replace the worn rail with new rail and move the old rail aside.
Eventually another work train (empty) will be called and the track
department will assist that crew in loading up the old rail to be
taken somewhere. I'm not sure what they do with the old rail...I'm
guessing it's melted down and recycled into new rail or other steel
Just in case you're wondering, work trains (whether rail trains,
ballast trains, cross tie trains, etc) are the most boring of all
trains on the railroad, because you wind up doing a lot of sitting and
waiting. Maybe pulling ahead a few hundred feet and stopping again
for long periods of time, repeat ad infinitum...trust me...very
You could literally bring a barbeque grill and set it up and have a
picnic waiting for the next move to be made (and I've heard tale that
in the OLD days this very thing happened on some work trains where
they had SD40-2's with the long "porches".
Anyway, getting back to the rail trains. Perhaps instead of trying to
model a welded ribbon rail train, someone might prefer modelling a
sectional rail train. It's very common to see entire trains made of
flat cars (or in some cases gondolas) loaded with sections of jointed
rail anywhere from 25 feet to about 40 feet long. You might have a
train with 50 or 60 of these in the consist. There's no limit to how
long or short, since they're loaded in individual cars rather than a
Ribbon rail flats have the knuckles "locked" using a nut and bolt to
lock the pin and prevent the cut lever from working. Sectional rail
trains usually don't have this, as they may not all be going to the
same destination. You also see a lot of sectional rail cars mixed in
with various through freights.
It's also common to occassionally see a welded ribbon rail unit train
on the head end or rear end of a mixed freight. Sometimes you'll see
2 or 3 empty welded rail trains moved together in a single train.