US Rail Station Captivity Map

Making Your Moves More Important to Railroads

The Rail Station Captivity Map

A basic rule to follow in getting more attention to your issues from railroads:

If you have the ear of people that are important to your railroads, then you make your moves more important to railroads.

Politicians have a big influence on railroads and can have a very positive impact on shipper’s rail negotiations. Politicians are also easy to access as they want to talk to shippers for self-serving reasons. Obtaining political support for your position in rail negotiations costs very little to pursue and can yield a positive return. The Rail Station Captivity Map was developed by Escalation Consultants to support discussions with politicians on railroad issues.

The Rail Station Captivity Map shows that 78.4% of all rail stations in the United States are captive to one Class I Railroad.

Figure A is color coded to show the percentage of all rail stations by state, that are captive to a single Class I railroad. Rail stations are captive if they don’t have either direct or indirect access, through a short line, to more than one Class I Railroad.

Making your movements more important to your railroads, USA


The number of states in each captivity range are shown below.

Breakdown of Rail Station Captivity in the US

# of States
% of Stations Captive to One Major Railroad
10 90% – 100%
18 80% – 89%
13 70% – 79%
5 60% – 69%
3 50% – 59%
0 25% – 49%
0 1% – 24%
Note: Hawaii is not included.

Railroads are always concerned about politicians, as they can have a significant impact on how railroads are allowed to operate. Unfortunately for railroad customers, it is frequently difficult to get the attention of politicians on rail rate issues. This is because the problems shippers experience with railroads are complex and not easy to explain.

It is easier to get a politician’s attention with an easy-to-understand picture, highlighting the importance of rail to specific areas they represent. Figure B shows this as it contains the rail station captivity by County for the state of Minnesota. Rail Station Captivity Maps are available, by county and Congressional District, for all states in the United States.

Making your movements more important to your railroads MN.

Escalation Consultants is making state maps available for rail shippers. Simply contact Escalation Consultants to request the Rail Station Captivity Map for your states of interest.  

The State Rail Station Captivity Maps are effective at getting the attention you need to help resolve problems. When shippers want to make movements more important to railroads, getting the attention of Congressmen and Senators is a good way of accomplishing this. Please note: all politicians do not have the same amount of sway over railroads. In addition, there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with politicians. This needs to be understood, and allowed for, in your discussions with politicians.

Rail Station Captivity Maps, for a specific area, are an excellent way of showing railroads and politicians why production will not increase, and capital investment will not be made at an existing location that is captive to one Class I railroad. Captivity maps illustrate areas that will have difficulty in achieving economic development from companies that rely on rail freight.

Shippers need to be able to show that railroads’ monopoly power over captive movements at a facility creates problems for both politicians and railroads.

Rail Station Captivity Maps are proof of the expression: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Shippers are encouraged to use these maps to increase their leverage in rail negotiations.


Rail Cost Control (“RCC”) is a program developed by Escalation Consultants, Inc. to help shippers reduce rail expenses by managing costs and empowering negotiations. For more information about RCC and other related articles, visit the RCC Blog.”

Rail Cost Control

Track Rail Rate Increased Over Time

Use Past Rail Rate Increases to Reduce Current Rates

Would your position on a proposed rate increase of 3% for a rail move be different if that rate had already increased by 40% in prior time periods?

Many shippers answer this question with a resounding YES! The reason – Your railroad knows how its rates have changed.  If your past rate problems are not addressed in current rate negotiations this either indicates that:

  • You have forgotten about the large rate increases of the past; or,
  • Large rate increases are not causing you a problem.

Either situation can be detrimental to a shipper’s rates, as silence does not send the proper message to a railroad.

If rates increased 20% over two bid cycles, it doesn’t matter whether the 2021 or 2019 rate increases caused the problem. The 20% rate increase is the problem!

Past performance can be a powerful source of leverage for obtaining lower rates from railroads. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to keep track of the impact past rate increases have had on current rates and volumes for specific moves. This is especially true when you have employee turnover as you lose the knowledge of people previously involved with your moves.

Large rail rate increases make an effective Database Management System (DMS) an essential tool for shippers. This is the reason for the DMS in the Rail Cost Control Program (RCC).  The DMS automatically identifies and quantifies past rate problems and establishes an effective source of leverage for shippers. The RCC makes rail negotiations more productive and helps better control the cost of rail freight.


Rail Cost Control (“RCC”) is a program developed by Escalation Consultants, Inc. to help shippers reduce rail expenses by managing costs and empowering negotiations. For more information about RCC and other related articles, visit the RCC Blog.”

Database Management System

Railroad Strategic Alliances

Creating Effective Alliances with Railroads

Develop Strategic Alliances to Create Greater Value for You and Your Railroads

The term partnering is overused. Many rail shippers refer to any contractual agreement with a railroad as a partnership. The term partnering is even used in agreements with high rail rates for moving shippers’ commodities with thin profit margins. To obtain a better rate structure from railroads, shippers should focus on creating strategic alliances with railroads.

Strategic Alliances establish a process with defined goals for improving revenue and profits for both shippers and railroads.

The alliance needs to detail what is expected from each party and the outcome (goals) each party will receive from the process. Strategic alliances that impact rail rates normally have little to do with the captive or competitive nature of movements. A strategic alliance starts by first identifying common goals between shippers and railroads. An effective alliance then works to better accomplish these goals.

Some alliances are simple while others are complex. A prime example of a complex alliance involves foreign imports. Greater value can frequently be obtained by working together than apart on import issues. This makes imports a prime candidate for a strategic alliance between shippers and railroads.

When imported products become a threat to a company’s domestic production, the shipper and railroad have the same goal – STOP THE BLEEDING.

Imports cause both shippers and railroads to lose volumes and revenue when they impact a company’s domestic production. Railroads have a lot to lose with imported products, as they:

  • Lose all inbound movements needed for domestic production
  • Miss out on outbound movements to customers
  • May not move imported products from the port

Consider the impact of each additional container of imported paper. The railroad loses inbound moves of wood chips, slurry, chemicals, and potentially, coal to the paper mill. This loss of business has a big impact on railroads, suppliers to paper companies, and of course the paper company on outbound moves. This scenario demands a strategic alliance amongst impacted companies, because everyone loses if the paper company can’t compete with imports. All impacted companies need to reduce their costs to stop the bleeding. It doesn’t matter whether a railroads moves are captive when high rates only lead to a loss of revenue. To protect the vested interest in the output of the paper company, rates are determined through the alliance, and not the competitive status of rail movements.

Dealing more effectively with imports is an example of a complex strategic alliance. There are, however, many less-complex types of basic agreements struck between shippers and railroads that accomplish a common objective. A shipper’s capital investment to maintain or improve plant output frequently results in an alliance with its railroad. Capital Investment that also benefits a railroad, should not be made without first receiving an incentive from the railroad to make the investment. This is best accomplished through a strategic alliance which details what is needed from each party.

Not all leverage with railroads stems from the operational parameters of a movement.

With smart people on both sides of an opportunity creating value, great things can be accomplished. Rail shippers need to identify these opportunities because they will determine the best rates and contract terms for moving rail traffic.

The path to a more reasonable rate structure frequently starts by understanding common goals you have with railroads. This process leads to more productive rail negotiations and the creation of greater value for shippers and their railroads.


Rail Cost Control (“RCC”) is a program developed by Escalation Consultants, Inc. to help shippers reduce rail expenses by managing costs and empowering negotiations. For more information about RCC and other related articles, visit the RCC Blog.”

Rail Cost Optimizer

railroad car on sunny day at industrial plant

8 Ways to Improve Your Captive Rail Rates

Many rail shippers believe that if they are captive to a railroad at a location, they have little leverage to negotiate better rates.

The graph below shows why this isn’t a good way to look at your rail traffic. The graph contains rail rates for Iron or Steel Strip (STCC 33123) going into the captive rail market of Nashville, TN.

The question to answer with this graph is:

Why Are Rates So Different At a Destination Market Like Nashville, TN that Is Completely Captive To CSXT?

Improving captive rail rates graph


The graph shows that some rates are below $2,800, while other rates going the same distance, are above $7,000. The question is: If Nashville is a captive market, then why aren’t all rail rates above $7,000?

There are many reasons why rates for specific movements vary, but the big picture answer is very simple, Effective Strategic Planning. Shippers that make railroads look at their traffic differently get better rates from their railroads.

Strategic Planning causes captive moves to have different rate levels. Significant downward pressure on rail rates can be generated when the following issues are addressed by shippers in strategic planning.

Eight Ways to Get Better Rail Rates at Captive Locations

  1. Railroads need to compete for your business when you have multiple plants that produce the same product.
    • Even when a location is captive to a railroad, a shipper can use geographic competition to obtain lower rates from railroads.
  2. Large shippers that bundle all their rail traffic in an RFP can get better rates at captive locations.
    • In order for a railroad to get more of a shipper’s competitive traffic it must reduce its rates on captive traffic. More traffic is always better than less traffic in rail rate negotiations. RFP’s that take advantage of a shippers entire book of potential business increase negotiation leverage.
  3. Forward storage of products at captive locations.
    • To avoid bottle necks at captive locations, explore forward storage options at sites with rail competition, then truck to captive locations. You don’t have to bypass railroads at captive locations forever. Railroads get the message.
  4. Take freight costs out of the system with commodity swaps.
    • Commodity swaps work best when you have a competitor serve your customer when it’s facility is closer to the customer and you serve a competitor’s customer that is closer to your plant. The greater your rail expenses, the greater the benefit from commodity swaps. Commodity swaps can be a short-term action as a railroad gets the message pretty quickly.
  5. High rates create the economic incentive to invest capital to increase your logistics options.
    • The railroad needs to make it uneconomical for a shipper to take traffic off its system. If its rates are too high then other logistic and capital investment options become more attractive. A railroad must reduce cost to make these options less attractive.
  6. Railroads need to compete against trucking on short and mid distance moves.
    • Large rail rate increases allow trucks to compete with rail for longer distance moves. The cost of trucking and transloading needs to become the ceiling price for short and mid distance moves.
  7. Political pressure!
    • One of the best and easiest sources of leverage to create is political pressure. Politicians want to talk to you as your company is a great source for tax revenue, political contributions, and you employ many voters. Politicians can be a great benefit because if you have the ear of someone that is important to the railroad, then you become more important to the railroad. There is a right way and a wrong way to address politicians and all politicians are not equal which should be considered in your strategic planning.
  8. Foreign Imports: 
    • It doesn’t matter if a railroads moves are captive, if imports are reducing your domestic production. The shipper and railroads have the same goal with imports – STOP THE BLEEDING. Additional information on this topic will be contained in an upcoming Blog Article, on 2/10/2021.


For the last forty years, Escalation Consultants, Inc. has conducted the most highly recommended Rail Negotiation Seminar for shippers, and we have seen the results of changing how railroads view a shipper’s traffic.

Our Rail Cost Control program and consulting services are used extensively by shippers to reduce the rate structure for their movements.

Rail Cost Control (“RCC”) is a program developed by Escalation Consultants, Inc. to help shippers reduce rail expenses by managing costs and empowering negotiations. For more information about RCC and other related articles, visit the RCC Blog.

Rail Cost Optimizer