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August 11, 20207 min read

Weather-Driven Delays Cost Rail Companies $10 Million a Year

As a rail operator, you’ve probably experienced the nightmare of a train derailment a few times in your career.

A high velocity cross-wind catches your train at the exact wrong moment, and boom. The train is blown off track and shipments are completely destroyed. A weather-related derailment can cost anywhere from $1 million up to $30 million, conservatively, depending on the type of cargo on board. 

However, derailments don’t happen everyday. Even the largest rail operators experience on average 5 derailments a year. On a day-to-day basis, you’re more worried about standard operations, keeping trains running on time, and more. 

So while a massive storm can cause catastrophic derailments, daily weather can also have a major impact on your bottom line. In fact, weather-driven delays alone cost rail companies today at least $10 million per year

With flooding, snow, and heat all causing delays, you need to stay on top of the weather and adapt your operations to become more efficient. Here’s how.

The impact of day-to-day weather

While massive storms are always covered by your weather forecast, day-to-day weather isn’t always easy to apply to your business operations. But so much of the forecast matters to the operational efficiency of your business.

For example, a heat wave could impact the rails and cause them to buckle. Rain in a specific area could cause flooding and put parts of your tracks under water. Cold or icy weather can cause a switch to freeze and halt your trains immediately.

railroad operations weather

These types of weather events fall under the heading of predictive maintenance, or smaller weather events that impact your operations daily. While this daily weather may not make headlines, it can have a huge impact on your business operations. 

The cost of train delays

When we talk about impact, we really mean costs. And when it comes to weather, the cost is mainly in delays. 

The average cost of a single delayed train is $45,000. Of those delays, 18% are directly caused by weather conditions — which makes sense. Major railway companies like BNSF have more than 30,000 miles of track in the US. It’s easy to see that at almost any given point in the year, there’s a storm impacting some part of those tracks in some way, whether a snow storm, flooding, or even high winds. 

Even though a wind gust or minor flooding may not be a catastrophic event like a derailment, it can still delay your train by a few hours. And each hour your train is delayed costs you money. A lengthy delay could be destructive for perishable goods especially, but even the small delays can add up. 

While it may not be a massive problem like a derailment, day-to-day weather delays can cut into your bottom line. In fact, we found that weather-driven delays cost the average rail company a total of $10 million per year.

Adapt rail operations to the weather

Those numbers are staggering, but what can you do about it? Today, you likely wake up each morning and look at the weather forecast to understand what may or may not impact your lines today. However, your standard forecast simply won’t show you the immediate impact of the weather on your business operations each day. 

If you knew an incoming wind storm would hit a specific portion of the tracks and delay your train later in the week, what would you do today to change your operations? 

For example, you may already have different rail cars that can handle different wind thresholds. 

  • Heavier cars can withstand winds up to 80 MPH without blowing over
  • Lighter cars can only handle 40 MPH 

high winds rail operations

Knowing that there’s a wind storm hitting Track 1 on Wednesday with a forecast of up to 77 MPH winds, you could change the planned train routes, sending only your heavier cars or single stack cars on Track 1 and diverting lighter cars and double stack cars to Track 2 — on a route that won’t be impacted by the wind. 

This example holds true no matter what the weather event. Incoming icy rain? Or heat wave? Or flooding? You can understand the weather thresholds that hold true for your unique business operations, adjusting exactly to the incoming weather and making sure your trains run on time — no matter the weather.

Get fewer alerts, and take more actions

However, you’re not a meteorologist, and you don’t really want to look at weather software to figure out exactly what could hurt your operations today. 

But by building these parameters and rules into a weather intelligence dashboard, you can not only understand the weather, you get a quick, visual insight into which lines are at risk in the coming days. If you know your trains can only operate within specific rain, wind, cold, and heat parameters, you can build out alerts that will send only when the weather exceeds those specified thresholds. 

rail operations dashboard climacell

You can see above that the red lines are at-risk, while the others are operating within the safety parameters. 

This type of dashboard can also eliminate your alert fatigue. Instead of getting an alert for every incoming storm, you will only get alerts when the weather is likely to exceed your specific equipment’s threshold for danger. So instead of hundreds of daily weather alerts, you only get a select few that matter most — on the exact lines that you have to adjust operations. 

Instead of dealing with millions in delays each year and hundreds of alerts each day, you can adapt your railway operations to the weather, minimizing delays and minimizing your headaches at the same time.

Want weather intelligence for your rail company? 

Talk to ClimaCell today. 

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