We drive through southeast Iowa to visit family. About 20 minutes of our journey parallels the BNSF railway (Burlington Northern – Santa Fe). It is a heavily used freight line and is also used by the California Zephyr of Amtrak between Chicago and San Francisco. We usually see at least one freight train during the time we are near the tracks. Often, we see a long train loaded entirely with coal. The road is often only 100 ft or so from the track giving us good views. Try zooming and dragging this window to change your view.
I’ve wondered how many cars typically make up the coal trains. It is not easy to count them, especially while I am also driving. My guess has been around 100 cars. I wondered if Google Maps might help me find out. I located the route in Google Maps and started scanning the tracks between Ottumwa and Burlington. It didn’t take long to find a long train. I zoomed in for a closer view.
Two BNSF engines were pulling and one engine was in the rear of the train. Each car was full of coal headed east from Wyoming. I counted 139 coal cars and 3 engines. I used the measure tool to find the train length was 1.40 miles. Using those values, I calculated a coal car length to be 53.2 ft. The web site for CSX, manufacturer of open-top hopper cars like these, says their cars are 52.5 ft long.