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.

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4 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.

      Reply
  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.

      Reply

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