Our Network

Rail 101

New to Rail?

Few industries have played as significant a role in America’s progress as the railroad industry. CSX and the rail industry provide customers with access to an expansive and interconnected transportation network that fuels North American commerce.

On average, trains are four times more fuel-efficient than trucks, and CSX can move a ton of freight nearly 450 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. Rail transport also alleviates highway congestion, reduces air pollution and saves energy. Read more about the environmental benefits of rail

The Process of Shipping via Rail

There are several key steps to moving freight by rail:

  1. Establishing Service
  2. Loading Freight
  3. Defining Routes
  4. Sorting and Delivering

Establishing Rail Service

A customer with plans to ship goods via rail must find or build a location on a railroad’s network. In some cases, a preapproved site may be available, while in others, an original site-establishing plan may be required. Our Industrial Development and Site Design teams work to help businesses begin shipping or receiving by rail. 

Loading Merchandise Freight

The customer’s next step in shipping via rail is to load the freight into one of many rail car types and organize its plan for shipment. Planning at this stage includes:

  • Determining the type, volume, origin and destination for the freight involved in each shipment
  • Determining the weight, height, width and depth of each loaded car
  • The customer providing the shipper with instructions for the freight’s delivery
  • The customer communicating with the railroad operator about the status of the shipment

The Load Engineering and Design Services (LEADS) team at CSX works with customers to design loading patterns to maximize capacity while protecting freight. 

Railroad Routes and Yards

It may seem intuitive to assume that the closer a rail car origin is to its unloading destination, the faster the freight will be shipped. However, loaded rail cars must first be transferred to a central “processing center” location, called a classification yard or terminal.

Just as with the U.S. mail, a railroad shipment must first be transferred to a central location before it can continue on to its destination. In some cases, it will proceed through several terminals depending on the origin and destination of the freight.

Factors that will impact a customer’s specific rail routes, or “corridors,” include:

  • Maximum train speed based on the condition of the track
  • City, county or state requirements
  • Curves in the track
  • Hills or grade changes in the track

After arriving at an interim terminal, a loaded rail car is sorted using a bar-coded label, or AEI (Automatic Equipment Identification) tag, directing the shipment to its next train or final processing location.

Sorting and Delivering Freight

A loaded rail car will make its final stop at a processing location, where its freight will be sorted and classified. Final delivery is provided by local area trains that perform a service similar to that of the postman. Once the cars are unloaded, the journey starts again when the empty car is sent back to its origin — usually along the same route — to be loaded and shipped again.

Every situation, project and shipment is different, but the purpose of rail remains the same: to safely, smoothly and efficiently transport goods from one location to another.