Freight Train Schedules

A very common question I receive is: how do I know when a train is coming? An alternate question is: can I get a freight train schedule?

The short answer is, unfortunately, there’s no public schedule, and there’s no easy way to know if a train is coming.

Freight Train Schedules

Freight trains have “call times” when the crews are due to start work. This is not when the train leaves the depot, but when the crews arrive. They check in, get their paperwork for the train (destination, what’s on the train, daily operating bulletins (DOBs), special instructions), then get on the train and get it ready for departure. This may involve switching cars before departure, checking the brake system, etc. so it could be an hour or two after the call time before the train actually leaves.

These call times are not published publicly. I don’t have them.

Many things could prevent a train from departing at or near the call time, including traffic, lack of crews, mechanical issues, weather… so a train that is called at, say, 8 AM may not leave until the afternoon if there are issues.

If you observe the railways long enough in an area, you will get a sense of when trains do run. For example, in Winnipeg you may notice that CN switches the Fort Garry area in late morning, or the BNSF Manitoba transfer train generally leaves their yard around 11 AM (these are examples, and are not necessarily correct).

Knowing if a Train is Coming

If there are signals around, they can help tell you if a train is coming.

Most signals are “approach lit”, meaning they are dark when there are no trains around, and light up when a train is nearby. This is done to save power, as some signals are battery powered.

If a signal is lit up and shows all red lights, it is possible that there is a train approaching from “behind” the signal as shown in the photo above.

If a signal is lit and shows a green light at the top, that means it is cleared for a train to approach from the lit/facing side, so a train may be coming. This is no guarantee and it could be literally hours before a train comes. This site might help interpret Canadian railway signals.

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25 thoughts on “Freight Train Schedules”

  1. HI I am looking for information on approximate frequency of fright train traffic through Moncton New Brunswick. I know there are three VIA trains a week but info on freights (number and approx times) is harder to pin down. If you can help it would be apprecaited

    Reply
    • Hi Dave, thanks for your comment. There’s CN 120/121 that runs between Montreal and Halifax through Moncton. There’s CN 407/408 that runs between Moncton and Dartmouth. There’s CN 307/308 that runs between Moncton and Montreal. Then there’s CN 406 that runs down to Saint John and back again. That’s 8 daily freight trains, plus there’s several local trains that service Moncton industries, and the train up to Miramichi and Bathurst. As far as times go, they vary… it’s hard to predict, as this article says.

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  2. I just moved to PERTH, Ontario and my property backs onto the railway tracks. I notice a few daily and evening trains. Is it possible to get a schedule of how often trains pass on a daily basis. It is not for my purpose but for my cat. He has become very frightened of the load horns and if I knew when it was going to happen I would move her to a place in the house that is more sound proof. Thankyou.

    Reply
    • Hi Carla, it is not possible to get a freight train schedule. The best you can do is take notes as trains go by to get a feel for when they tend to go by.

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    • We are thinking about moving to Perth ON beside the train track as well… we have a similar concern about our old yorkie. How often do the trains come and are they loud? He would also be frightened . Thank you!

      Reply
      • Perth is on the CP Belleville subdivision, which is a fairly busy rail line. I have never been to Perth so I wouldn’t be able to say how loud the trains are through there. You could ask if there is a no-horn bylaw for the town.

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  3. We are interested in purchasing a home in a rural community of Atascadero, California. We noticed there were train tracks about three housing lots away. There are some roads further away so don’t know if the train would blow its horn when crossing them. It seems difficult to find out anything about the activity and noise level. Do you have any recommendations?

    Reply
    • Hi Carol, my best recommendation is to talk to your potential neighbours to ask their experience. Rules for blowing the horn vary by state and province. You might look for white posts with a “W” on them a quarter mile from the crossings – these tell the train crews it’s time to blow the horn for the crossing. If you see a sign with a W with a line through it, that means no horn at that crossing.

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  4. Thank you so much for that information! It will come in handy while looking for a home in that area. Take care!

    Reply
  5. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for writing down this article. I am a newbie researcher on the freight trains and found there is little research on it. My friend told me as far as he knows, there is no schedule on frieght trains. I googled a bit and it led me here. May I ask in your article, which country/region are you referring to?

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  6. Hi Steve, are you able to tell me if the CN tracks that cross over Ford Drive in Oakville, Ontario are still in use? I’ve been driving down that street for 5 months now, and have never seen a train, but curious. I can’t seem to find any relevant information on that section. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi Jon, that is the CN Oakville subdivision, running between downtown Toronto and Hamilton. I’d imagine there is a lot of traffic – maybe a lot runs at night?

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  7. we are looking at buying near yonge and summerhill and wondering how often, and for how long the trains run and from when to when.
    thanks J

    Reply
    • I’m assuming you mean the Toronto area. The line crossing Yonge a few streets south of Summerhill is the CP main line, so you should expect fairly frequent traffic and long trains. However they don’t appear to cross roads at grade so there shouldn’t be horn noises or blocked crossings.

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  8. I live in Chatham Ontario. The train traffic here has increased dramatically. There’s used to be about a 6 trains a day pass by. Now there are at least 20. Seems strange such a large increase.

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  9. My son and I frequently go train spotting on Sundays to Washago In Ontario . We would dearly like to knowcapproximate times. Recently observing both CN and CP seem active between 1- 4.pm any thoughts. Company on Thanksgiving we would like to show. We have to travel from Midland

    Reply
    • Hi Ev, good luck but I’m afraid I don’t have any ideas of when a freight train would go through Washago. VIA Rail’s “Canadian” does go through there so you could check their web site.

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  10. Hey Steve, there’s a train that passes through my old school, slightly north-west of the Bayview and Steeles intersection. Do you know any times that the train would pass, and what type of train it is?

    Reply
  11. Hi Steve,

    You do such amazing work. Really appreciate your time.

    I am looking at a property at 1 Station in Parry Sound. It doesn’t look like it has passenger trains but freight. Any idea how busy this would be?

    Reply

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