Skip to main content

On some layouts I have seen a variety of road names being pulled by a single engine. Think a NYC engine pulling NYC, PRR, B&O, etc. cars. How common was this prototypically? How would you know what cars would reasonably appear in a train while others wouldn't for a given railroad? Is it all guesswork, or did agreements exist between the different railroads to lease/"borrow"/etc. each other's cars?

I'm not quite sure where this topic fits best but since I'm thinking of modeling prototypical train consists I'll stick this under the 3RS forum.

Last edited by 0-Gauge CJ
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Prototypically this was a common practice in years past. Depending on the era the ratio of home road, interchange (generally adjacent and/or partially owned by the home road) roads, distance roads, and other has changed. It is also effected by the commodities primarily carried by the home road, the actual routes, typography, etc. Read about the Clinchfield, Bangor & Aroostook, or the D&H. Anyway i'm sure others here will be more specific and detailed in their answers.

To answer your first question succinctly: Yes, it was common. I'll leave the rest of your questions to those who are more knowledgeable. I used to have a listing of the ratios (in 1950) published by the American Association of Railroads; if i can find it i'll post it.

Last edited by modeltrainsparts

O-GaugeCJ -  Prototypical railroads interchanged/interchange freight cars on a daily basis. It was/is a common practice/ business as usual.   For instance, since you mentioned New York Central, it would be common to see a NYC freight with cars from western roads such as Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and southern roads such as RF&P, Southern , Florida East Coast, plus midwestern and northern roads such as Boston and Maine, Milwaukee Road, Illinois Central, Rock Island, Chicago Burlington & Quincy.  

Up until the 1960's before there were many mergers, well over 100 class one railroads existed in the US.  All interchanged freight cars.

Before May 1, 1971 the birth of Amtrak, most major railroads ran their own passenger trains.  There were nondescript ( ordinary ) type of passenger trains and there were name first class trains such as; the Santa Fe Super Chief, Illinois Central Panama Limited, B&O Royal Blue and National Limited, NYC 20th Century Limited, Pennsylvania Broadway Limited, Burlington Zephers, etc.  It was not unusual to see some cars ( usually sleepers ) of a western road on a train of an eastern road.   One of B&Os trains from Chicago to Washington DC included a Santa Fe sleeping car and one of Santa Fe's trains from Chicago to LA included a B&O sleeper.   Some N&W passenger trains included cars of the NYC and RF&P.  

Last edited by trumptrain

Basically, it works like this: if a shoe company in California ships a boxcar of shoes to NY, a boxcar, say belonging to the Santa Fe carries the shoes to the end of the Santa Fe, gets switched out and picked up by a connecting railroad, say Pennsylvania, and put in one of their trains heading East. When it gets to the end of their line, it may be turned over to another railroad, say the NYC, who serves the customer. All the way, that boxcar is tracked by the number on the sides and ends, for instance,”SF 20345”. Once the shoes are unloaded, the reverse happens, and the car is returned to the Santa Fe on a train headed West. That’s why trains are made up in huge yards, and sorted to head in the direction of the ultimate destination.

Gosh, I hope a professional railroader will jump in and clarify!

As I recall, the first class train on the IC was the Panama Limited, not the City of New Orleans.

As for the boxcar example, the car services rules would allow a foreign boxcar to be reloaded with a load as long as it was heading back in the general direction of its home road. The railroads made a concerted effort to avoid hauling empty cars around.

Making up prototypical consists for you trains is fun.  I suggest you refer to you tube videos and books on real life railroads for examples of which cars will fit your engine's railroad. The era you are trying model does figure into you choices.   

I model mostly the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad and its predecessors. I try to include freight cars that I have seen on this railroad in publications and from memories of trains that  I recall from my youth. So, for example, there are Pittsburg and Shawmut coal hoppers on my E-L trains.  I also have Canadian Pacific "PACMAN" box cars hauling newsprint.  The E-L had many connections in the northeast so almost any eastern box car can show up in my trains.  Refrigerator cars bringing produce can come from as far away as California so western road names can show up too.  Even passenger operations can show some variety.  I like to add a Nickle Plate coach, sleeper, or baggage/express car to my E-L consists as they appeared years ago on the mainline where I live.  A visiting business car from the D&H (Well, the president of the road brought it with him) may bring up the markers.

When running these consists on our club's  modular layout it makes for good conversation. Do some research and have some fun. 


Some information you may find useful for the transition era - credit to Bob Bartizek:

Overall, the US freight car fleet in 1948 had the following percentages:

  • 36% Boxcars (mostly single-door 40-foot)
  • 31% Hopper Cars
  • 8% Tank Cars
  • 7% Refrigerator Cars
  • 7% Gondolas
  • 3% Stock Cars
  • 3% Flat Cars
  • 3% Automobile Boxcars (mostly double-door 50-foot)
  • 1% Covered Hoppers
  • 1% Other

Some large adjustments must be made for different regions of the country. For example, most of the hoppers were on eastern lines like the PRR, N&W, VGN, B&O, C&O, LV, etc. Western roads had only about 10% of the hoppers during this railroading era. Let’s ignore seasonal shipments such as fruit, vegetables, and cattle and focus on typical railroad consists.

Now, what road names do you include in your consist? How many “home road” cars should there be? It depends a lot on the railroad. I have some information listed below from 1944 that details the percentages of the home road and other road cars that were mixed in with the following railroads.

Erie, Wabash, CNJ, ACL, Southern, Rock Island, SP, and MoPac ran a mix of 25-30% home and 70-75% others.

D&H, B&O, IC, C&NW, CB&Q, and UP ran a mix of 35-40% home and 60-65% others.

PRR, Milwaukee Road, GN, NP, ATSF, and D&RGW ran a mix of 45-55% home and 45-55% others.

The champion is N&W, which ran 78% of its home road equipment. The runners up in second and third place are C&O and L&N with 68 and 66% home road freight cars respectively. At the other end of the spectrum are NKP and B&M with 16 and 17% home road cars. Boston & Albany came in last with only 5 percent (although technically NYC cars should probably also be counted as home road).

About three-fourths of the “other” cars should be from roads that interchanged with your railroad. The right regional mix of cars can really make your train look realistic.

If you primarily model one railroad, like I do with PRR, then freight car purchases can be made with the above data in mind. You can limit what you buy to the cars that will “fit” your region of the country and the time frame for the railroad (my railroad is circa 1953). You can buy less and yet have more fun.

Oh, by the way, in the steam era the Pennsylvania Railroad owned about 30% of the entire nationwide interchange fleet, so you cannot possibly go wrong with having some Pennsy on your roster (a shameless plug). B&O and C&O owned about another 35% of the nationwide interchange fleet, so they were widespread as well.

Now, just how long should that consist be? If there are grades on your railroad then the answer is, “Shorter than you think!” The C&O had to negotiate Cheviot Hill outside Cincinnati, which was at a 1.9-% grade westbound. C&O K-1, K-2, and K-3 Mikado’s, which were some of the heaviest 2-8-2s ever built, could each pull only 11 loaded 50-ton hoppers (these are the short 2-bay hoppers like those made by Weaver) up the grade. This required 50-car hopper trains to have five 2-8-2s, one or two on the lead, one or two cut in the middle, and two trailing pushers. These were not the only locomotives that labored as they pulled the steep grades common to the C&O railroad. Their mighty H6 2-6-6-2 articulated locomotives were only capable of pulling 16 to 17 loaded hoppers up the 2.5% grades common in the coal country of West Virginia. If you have 2% or 3% grades on your layout, then trains should not be very long unless they have multiple engines.

For diesel fans, most first-generation diesel units like the FT, F-3, FA, and RS-3, could only handle about two-thirds of the load of a typical 2-8-2 steamer. The FT diesels used by the Santa-Fe were rated at one loaded car per axle when traversing the Cajon Pass grade. This loading factor limited a FT ABBA set to hauling only 16-cars up its grade. Both steam and diesel motive power could handle about 3 or 4 times as many cars on level terrain as they could on a 2% grade.

If you are interested in replicating a prototypical consist on your layout, fewer cars in the train and less variety in road names can both be very realistic.


Last edited by Rich Melvin

While I appreciate boxcars etc. being switched by different railroads until they get to their final destination (due to the lack of availability of point-to-point service by the originating railroad), what I've always found fascinating/intriguing is seeing different RR's ENGINES in multiple unit consists travelling across the country together (eg. BNSF & CP engines pulling together in Southern California or UP & CN pulling together in Texas etc. etc.).  It's only been in the past few years that I've learned there's an understanding among all railroads that engine use is tracked and a comparable amount of use on the 'other' rr is provided as payback in due course.

I live near Rochester, NY and as such I can do train spotting on the CSX line through Rochester.  My experience is that, as many have suggested, it is and was very common to see multiple rail lines present in each and every train.  My observation has shown that only on type of train has similar cars.  That is the "Garbage" trains.  Every single one of those cars are the same, Very, Very, Very, Very, ad infinitum, Dirty.  (LOL)

@PH1975 posted:

...what I've always found fascinating/intriguing is seeing different RR's ENGINES in multiple unit consists travelling across the country together. It's only been in the past few years that I've learned there's an understanding among all railroads that engine use is tracked and a comparable amount of use on the 'other' rr is provided as payback in due course.

It's called "Horsepower Hours." If you have a 3,000 HP locomotive and you use it for an hour, you've racked up 3,000 HP/HRS.

The railroads have found that it's much faster, efficient, and more cost effective to keep the motive power intact  on a given train and run it through from origin to destination. That's why you may see locomotives from several different roads, all on the same train. The power inevitably gets all mixed around as motive power consists are changed.

Horsepower hours are tracked on a daily basis. They are typically paid back via more horsepower hours from home road power on other lines. There are whole departments at the railroads dedicated to the tracking and billing of Horsepower Hours.

Someone knowledgeable on the topic might want to chime in regarding so-called 'Billboard' cars...reefers, tankers, boxcars, etc., etc.. 

IOW, although very colorful, fun to collect models thereof, and once very popular among major companies...e.g. meat packers, beer brewers, oil refiners/producers...the rules changed re interchange and trying to eliminate the costs/penalties of returning empties only to the same origination point.   

It makes for a great train show visual/photo-op, but seeing an SD70MAC and its contemporary brethren pulling a long string of billboard beer reefers on a display layout would be hard to find in the 1:1 world.   

OTOH, I have a favorite 3x5" card from the former McKean scale model kits (HO) that I keep handy for these occasions...


It works.



Images (1)
  • MyRR

This is a great thread.  Thanks for starting it.  On my own railroad, I pretty much always run a mix with the exception of a tank train.  I really thought a set of approximately 10 Atlas 33k black tanker cars looked great together.

Back in the day when I was in public accounting, one of my clients was the Chicago & North Western railway.  We did a revenue accounting project, and it was amazing to me how complex the billing was.  There was an entire section of a floor of the old C&NW building that was the rating room where row after row of rating agents determined the bill.  Rule 11, modified Rule 11, rating for switches, tariff rates, etc.

Thanks for bringing back these memories.


Add Reply

OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
Link copied to your clipboard.