Mega coal trains on the horizon?

We Energies and Union Pacific are testing the waters

We Energies and Union Pacific Railroad testMega train

If you have noticed mega coal trains along the Union Pacific railroad lines, there’s a reason for that.

We Energies is working with Union Pacific to test the concept of having the trains run twice as long as the ones they normally run. This move concerns some Racine officials because of the slow speed restrictions on that portion of the track.

We Energies’ standard trains consist of 147 cars. The mega trains are 270 cars. Two mega trains have run since April 23, with one more on the horizon. If they are successful at getting coal to the plant faster, We Energies may incorporate the longer trains into their normal delivery system, said Brendan Conway, manager of media relations for We Energies.

“At this point, we do not plan to use the longer trains for all shipments. It is still just something being tested,” he said said.

The advantage of using a mega train instead of two small trains is the cycle time. There is a shorter duration for a longer train to travel from the Wyoming mine to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant and back, according to Conway.

WATCH: 270-car train passing Zion, Illinois on UP’s Kenosha Subdivision. Trains Magazine, Chris Guss.

“Total time wise there is no difference between a longer train vs two shorter trains. The long train would travel across an intersection as long as two trains would during the course of their trip,” Conway said.

While this may be true, it is much more convenient for citizens to wait five minutes at two different times of the day rather than wait 10 minutes for one time in the day. Officials with the Racine Fire Department have voiced concerns about the street-level railroad crossings being blocked by slow-moving or stopped coal trains.  

They also worry about response times from Racine Fire Station 6. Plans are already in the works to relocate that station from 2101 – 16th Street to near the railroad underpass at Highway 11 and Highway 32, said City of Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen.

“By having Fire Station 6 closer to the Highway 11 overpass or at least in the area of Dekoven and Memorial Drive, it gives responding emergency crews the ability to better visualize the status of trains departing the Dekoven Avenue siding. Thus allowing them to make a critical decision on whether they should head south for the Highway 11 underpass or head north for the 9th Street underpass,” he said.

Hansen also noticed that the coal trains are getting longer and more frequent with the closure of the Pleasant Prairie power plant. The Pleasant Prairie Coal Plant is completely offline and the department has heard the plant may be removed in the future.

Racine Fire Department staff have physically timed the regular 147-car trains, which are taking anywhere from 9 to 16 minutes to clear at grade railroad crossings in the City of Racine beginning at Dekoven Avenue. These times were found under the best conditions and assuming there are no mechanical failures to the trains, Chief Hansen said.

When will We Energies decide?

There is no timetable at this point on when a decision will be made to keep the mega trains coming.

With these tests being conducted we could have longer train wait times to look forward to, but there would be fewer of them.

“Over the course of time, we need to deliver the same amount of coal which may require an additional train in service occasionally to make up for the lesser number of cars arriving on a double train.  Alternatively, the railroad may try to increase the train length to 294 cars to equalize the total number of tons delivered with single or double trains,” Conway said.


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