Surprise at Lena; Canadian National Monster Freight—How many cars??

As noted in yesterday’s post, I’d been inspecting a maintenance train parked on the siding at Lena, when lo and behold, the signal cleared to green.

I alerted John Gruber and we took positions to make photographs.

So there we were along the old Illinois Central at Lena, Illinois in the fading glow of the evening sun. This had been IC’s line from Chicago via Dubuque to Council Bluffs, Iowa and Back in the mid-1990s it had been operated as a regional called the Chicago, Central & Pacific, before being re-incorporated into Illinois Central on the eve of IC being absorbed by Canadian National.

Looking west on the old Illinois Central. Fuji film X-T1 photo.
John Gruber (at left) is poised to capture the action.

A headlight twinkled into view, and I could see that a freight was coming, but not very fast.

As it grew closer I had the innate sense that it was a really huge train.

Finally it roared by with CN SD70M-2 in the lead. Many cars into the train was a lone CN DASH8-40C employed as a DPU (distributed power unit, modern railroad lingo for a radio controlled remote.)

This was a real monster! A land-barge. Just simply huge. Eastbound at Lena, Illinois in the fading evening light.
Meet with the odd-maintainance train feature in yesterday’s Tracking the Light.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I counted the cars. And do you know what? This was the largest/longest train I’d ever seen on the move. That’s with more than 40 years of watching trains. Any guesses as to how many cars? Trust me, it was a doosie!

(To those of you that I’ve told about this already, please keep the correct answer under your hat. And if anyone was working this monster, perhaps you have greater appreciation for its size than I do.)

The answers will be revealed in an up-coming post!

Tracking the Light Posts Daily


9 comments on “Surprise at Lena; Canadian National Monster Freight—How many cars??

  1. Michael Walsh on said:

    Interesting discussion. I like that CPT Index. Also niuce application of Fermi’s method to home in on possibilities for the train length.

  2. When I go out fanning one of the things I take into account is “cost per train” as in just how many trains am I going to catch per tank of gas. Ever since the CN started running these monster trains my CPT has gone way up and my frequency of fanning the CN has gone way down.

  3. It is my understanding CSX has already trimmed the list of carload trains, although drawbar limitations in the Berkshires will preclude operating of the monster trains I saw on CN. Brian S.

  4. Wonder when CSX trains will become fewer but monstrous on a scheduled B&A – ha! Proposal for a new song title: Breakapart in the Berkshires.

  5. tom rochford on said:

    …178 cars.

  6. I’m guessing it was likely a train nearly 20,000 feet long. I guessing somewhere between 200 and 240 cars depending on the type of car since car lengths can vary between 50 foot tanks to 89 foot auto racks.
    It also looked like a “manifest” train (box cars and the like) but I think CN mixes and matches their trains with intermodal and manifest cars.
    In addition, the train in question had what looks like 3-4 units on the point and it was noted a DPU cut in.
    I was surprised by the lack of power that is (can be) used in the flat lands of the mid-west and (at the time-early 90’s) units with no dynamic brakes. Ugh!
    I digress!
    I wonder if they were likely all empties? Draw bars and knuckles become a problem (weak link) on long manifest trains. They start ’em and run em’ to where there going. NO STOPS! If they stop it better be a valid reason of someone’s head will be on a stick!

  7. 261 cars

  8. Dennis Hage on said:

    I would guess 180 Cars. The New Guy at CSX tries to run that many cars.
    I was in Atlanta in July and we had to wait about 10 plu minutes for a long CSX freight to pass at about 25-30 mph.
    I think shorter and faster freights would really serve the public much better than these long trains with about 4-5 polluting diesels over working.

  9. Scott Marsh on said:

    Yep they run some long ones even at that they are not as long as they ran as they have to meet and pass others.

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