Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

But Freight Speed Doesn’t Matter

An odd thing to be using here as evidence that lots of money must be spent on the rail network:

Trains in parts of northern England run at “painfully slow” speeds barely quicker than a horse and cart because of congestion, research has found.

A study published today says that improvements to the network simply cannot wait for the construction of new high-speed lines in 20 years’ time.

It says that freight trains in the north travel at average speeds of 16mph on major east-west lines, with a knock-on impact on passenger services.

The knock on effect – whatever it is – might matter but the speed of the freight doesn’t. Freight transport is a matter of cost, not time. People transport is a matter of speed as the time of people is valuable. Whether it takes 1 hour or 30 to get a train of coal to somewhere doesn’t matter. The capital cost – the interest that has to be paid on the greater stock in movement – is trivial.

Freight train speeds just aren’t important:

Average journey times for Transpennine freight are as low as 16mph and 17mph.

We don’t care and it’s not worth spending money upon.

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SadButMadLad
SadButMadLad
11 months ago

Plus passenger has priority over freight. So freight will have to stop and wait for passenger trains. This will decrease average speeds.

Addolff
Addolff
11 months ago
Reply to  SadButMadLad

Hi SadButMad, that isn’t the case anymore. In the old days Class 1, 2 passenger would get priority over anything else, but if a Class 4 freight train is running late they will put it in front of a passenger train – especially if it is booked to go up the East / West coast main lines

Arthur the Cat
Arthur the Cat
11 months ago

If we’d built the Grand Contour Canal as proposed back in the 40s & 50s a lot of freight would have been pootling around the country at 3-4 mph. Doesn’t matter a toss provided it’s not perishable.

Spike
Spike
11 months ago

I call BS. “Average journey times…16 mph”? Through cities, maybe; surely not average for the entire journey. (Journey times, by the way, are not measured in mph.)

Perhaps parts of the rail network need to be modernized. Shouldn’t there be honest (independent) cost/benefit analysis? Perhaps upgrading the rail network would even obviate HS2.

Grendel
Grendel
11 months ago

Surely this cannot be true? For one, delivery time is a cost in any just in time system as slower deliveries necessitate larger inventory across all components and commodities to cope with uncertainty. Also, whilst in many cases the throughput is more important than the latency, in any place where track or vehicles are a scarce commodity, slower freight will decrease efficiency. We know this is true in practice as most freight vessels slow down for greater efficiency in recessions and speed up (once they are a scarce commodity) in periods of growth. Whether this offsets the capital cost of… Read more »

Spike
Spike
11 months ago
Reply to  Grendel

Well said, especially with your final sentence. One way of improving the efficiency of an operation is to improve delivery, so you are neither paying the carrying cost of material that arrived too early nor losing money waiting for components that are late.

That doesn’t make Tim wrong (except in his absoluteness). Material whose on-time arrival is that crucial doesn’t go on the freight train at all. Might be nice if it could, but this is not “evidence that lots of money must be spent on the rail network.”

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
11 months ago
Reply to  Grendel

“For one, delivery time is a cost in any just in time system as slower deliveries necessitate larger inventory across all components and commodities to cope with uncertainty.”

how do you figure that out? If it’s a steady supply at 16mph, you can still run a JIT system. There’s still a continuous feed of product coming.

Bathroom Moose
Bathroom Moose
11 months ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

Even in a JIT arrangement, the inventory still exists and is owned (and therefore paid-for) by somebody.

It still walks, quacks, and presents a time-value-of-money cost like inventory, whether it’s sitting in a warehouse or on a slow train.

John B
John B
11 months ago

Freight trains being heavier than passenger trains have speed restrictions to prevent wear on track and ballast because of load and vibration, and (momentum) have longer braking distances – high speed freight trains really are not a good idea.

Freight trains can run through the night too. Since there are only two rush-hour periods each day, then outside those if the lines are congested it is because passenger services are being maintained despite them having few passengers. The answer could be to reduce frequency of passenger services – assuming there is a problem.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
11 months ago
Reply to  John B

Most modern rail freight can run at 75 mph given decent track, which helps to keep them from getting in the way of passenger trains. But yes, 200 mph freight (other than postal services, possible) would be silly.

jgh
jgh
11 months ago

Plus the energy required to move a mass proportional to (speed squared), so moving a million tons of coal twice as fast makes it four times more expensive.

Bloke in Germany
Bloke in Germany
11 months ago

Thanks. This neatly explains why not-in-time logistics is such a thing and there are dozens of cargo-only airlines.

Got it!

Chertiozhnik
Chertiozhnik
11 months ago

If the freight is containers being trans-shipped from, say, Rotterdam to New York via Felixstowe and Liverpool, the time might matter. I thought this was the whole idea of HS2, to whisk containers between the UK ports faster (and cheaper) than they can be boated up the North Sea or along the Channel… but maybe that was just another passing pooh-stick i got the wrong end of.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
11 months ago
Reply to  Chertiozhnik

Not at the moment, but when the trains are mostly empty on the current line because everyone works from home more and more, they might do that and then justify that was why we had it in the first place.

Bongo
Bongo
11 months ago

These freight trains I see carrying imported biomass from the UK port of entry to Drax are hypnotically long – so yes, slow speed is a good idea.
I suspect the trains taking the wood chips from Tennessee to the US coast are even longer and slower, but an American would be more likely to have an idea about this.

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