How Busy Is a Railroad Track?

People who are moving into an area often wonder how many trains run over nearby railway tracks. They don’t want to hear a lot of train horns, so they’d like to know the frequency of trains passing. It’s hard to figure this out, but here are some guidelines that may help you.

The process is basically as follows:

  1. Figure out what railroad company operates on the tracks
  2. Look at the condition of the tracks
  3. Look for signals, crossing types, and other clues
  4. Look for passenger trains

You can check this out locally by walking up to railroad crossings – don’t trespass! – or using a tool like Google Street View or Microsoft Streetside View to view the area from afar.

What Railway Owns These Tracks?

There are a few ways to determine what railroad owns the rail line. You can look at the back of railway crossing signs, or nearby equipment boxes, for labels that should tell you what railway operates here.

Railway crossing sign
Crossing sign

Many railroad crossings now have blue signs that give an emergency contact number for the railway, but also show the host railroad.

The sign above shows that the railway running through this crossing is CN. “SUB: RIVERS” and “MP: 21.91” are also clues. The “SUB” is the subdivision, a section of track that usually runs between two cities or railway intersections. The “MP” indicates the mile. You can search the Internet for “CN Rivers Subdivision“, for example, to possibly find more detailed information.

Railway crossing in winter
Labels showing railway ownership

The image above shows two labels at a crossing that show the owning railroad. Please observe these from a safe location and do not trespass.

In North America, there are “class 1” railways (Union Pacific, CSX, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CN, CP) who tend to operate higher speed, more frequent railways. There are many “short line” railways that operate shorter sections of tracks, and some “regional” railways. Short line railways usually run slower trains and often only one or two trains per day on a particular section of track.

Track Condition

Overgrown railway tracks
Overgrown, abandoned railway tracks

The condition of the tracks will tell you a lot about how many trains operate over the tracks.

Rusty, overgrown tracks (as shown above) indicate that very few trains run on the tracks, if any. It is possible for a shortline railway to operate over these tracks, but they will run slowly and infrequently.

Well-maintained tracks with no plant growth indicate a more heavily traveled railway line. The photo below shows a pair of railway lines. If there is double track like this, this is an indication of higher railway traffic.

Well-maintained, frequently-traveled tracks
Well-maintained, frequently-traveled tracks

Signals, Crossing Types and Other Clues

Railway signals
Railway signals

Railway lines with higher traffic use automatic signals to regulate traffic, much like a city’s traffic lights. If there are signals along the railway line you are interested in, it is an indication of higher traffic.

Railway speed limit sign and signals
65 MPH railway speed limit sign, and signals

You may also notice speed limit signs along the railway. These are in miles per hour in North America. If you see speed limits above 30 MPH, this indicates a higher speed railway line and likely more traffic.

Passenger Trains

Amtrak train in Albany, NY
Amtrak 709 in Albany, NY

If the rail line hosts passenger trains like Amtrak, VIA Rail or GO Transit, it will be a higher speed line and probably hosts several trains a day at least. You can see train stations on Google Maps or other mapping programs, or go the web site for Amtrak or VIA Rail and search for a nearby city.

Your Turn

Do you have any other suggestions for determining how busy a railway track is? Leave a comment!

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2 thoughts on “How Busy Is a Railroad Track?”

  1. I want to know the time schedule when commercial trains come through Bloomington Texas. The railroad off in Bloomington Texas told me that is not public information.


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