Unit Trains

Unit trains usually have the same type of car and all cars carry the same type of commodity. The commodity may be steel coils, ethanol, or various types of grain. The train is assembled at one terminal and remains as a unit until it reaches the final destination. Loaded grain trains begin with the letter G and empty trains with the letter X.

Grain Trains

These are the most common unit trains you will see go by the Flagstaff cameras. Loads always go west and empties east, so there will be a lot more power on the westbound trains. Tonnage on loaded trains is around 16,000 tons and power configurations vary from a simple 2 unit DPU (distributed power unit) in a 4+2 configuration to two sets of DPUs in 3+3+2 or 4+3+2 or other combinations. The cars are mostly BNSF brown 3 bay covered hoppers. Most of the grain is going to chicken farms or dairies in the San Joaquin Valley of California. These were some of the more common train symbols during June and July 2018. Notice that the section number is always a nine.
FRS Fresno GGMNFRS9, GSURFRS9, and GBWKFRS9 These had an average of 113-0:16142T 6567ft at a ratio of 2.46 tons per linear foot.
GUC Guernsey GBAYGUC9, GSURGUC9, and GPHPGUC9 These had an average of 113-0:15579T 6500ft at a ratio of 2.40 tons per linear foot.
KIN Kings Park GBDEKIN9 GBETKIN9, GFUNKIN9, GHASKIN9, GONLKIN9, and GREDKIN9 These had an average of 113-0:15945T 6589ft at a ratio of 2.42 tons per linear foot.
SWA Swanson GAVISWA9, GBETSWA9, GHDNSWA9, GLINSWA9, GNENSWA9, GPHPSWA9, GREDSWA9, GTIASWA9, and GTMRSWA9 These had an average of 112-0:15766T 6556ft at a ratio of 2.40 tons per linear foot.
TCA Trigo GBNBTCA9, GJSDTCA9, GONLTCA9 These had an average of 109-0:15598T 6407ft at a ratio of 2.43 tons per linear foot.

The grain comes from a variety of elevators in the Kansas, Iowa, and upper Mississippi region. Here are a few of the origins:
AVI Arvilla, ND
BAY Bayard, IA
FUN Funk, NE
HAS Hastings, NE
HDN Hardin, MO
NEN Brunswick, NE
ONL O'Neil, NE

Occasionally there will also be shipments of DDG (distillers grain) in grey 4 bay covered hoppers. DDG is a by product from ethanol production and most is used as cattle feed. DDG is lighter than grain so a standard covered hopper would only hold about 72 tons of DDG. That is why DDG is carried in 4 bay 6,300 cubic feet jumbo covered hoppers. Notice that the section number is always a five.
GUC Guernsey GABEGUC5, GGTOGUC5, and GMNSGUC5 These had an average of 99-0:14040T 6850ft at a ratio of 2.05 tons per linear foot.
KIN Kings Park GHKNKIN5 GMNSKIN5 and GMNXKIN5 These had an average of 100-0:13368T 6992ft at a ratio of 1.91 tons per linear foot.
MOD Modesto GMNSMOD5 GSPIMOD5 These had an average of 100-0:13577T 6899ft at a ratio of 1.97 tons per linear foot.
SWA Swanson GCBLSWA5, GMNXSWA5, and GWTRSWA5 These had an average of 107-0:13683T 6894ft at a ratio of 1.98 tons per linear foot.

Ethanol Trains

Loaded ethanol trains have traditionally begun with the letter G and empty trains with the letter X. However, the G and X were changed to U in 2018 for both loaded and empty trains. The trains to Watson usually have 96 to 103 tank cars, the trains to Phoenix had just 80. Power for these train is usually in a 3+2 configuration. All trains have an idler car between the tank cars and the locomotives. So on most trains you will most often see a 3 bay covered hopper separating the tank cars from the engines. Sometimes the idler will be an airslide covered hopper or a conventional hopper. The idler cars are generally half full of sand to act as ballast. Notice that the section code is always a seven.
PHX Phoenix, AZ UHKNPHX7, URAVPHX7, and occasionallly UWWOPHX7 These had an average of 82-0:11084T 4869ft at a ratio of 2.28 tons per linear foot.
WAT Watson, CA UADMWAT7, UAXTWAT7, UCCEWAT7, UCLHWAT7, UGDNWAT7, UHERWAT7, UJOEWAT7, UPLXWAT7, URAVWAT7, and USIOWAT7 These had an average of 100-0:13674T 5932ft at a ratio of 2.31 tons per linear foot.

In May 2019, BNSF began combining some of the empty ethanol trains with marine stack trains near the harbor. These trains run in a 4+2+1 or 3+2+1 power configurations with marine containers in the first half and the empty ethanol tanks and idlers as the second half right behind the mid-train DPU. These trains are generally split at Clovis. The symbol for these trains is the regular symbol for the empty ethanol train, such as UWATADM7.

There is a unit crude oil train operating between Carlsbad, NM and the Plains All American oil unloading facility located southwest of Bakersfield, CA on the old Sunset Railway. The train uses around 103 mostly GBRX and some PROX Procor tank cars, plus two idler cars (one 3 bay covered hopper and one airslide in September), so this train at first glance will look just like a unit ethanol train. The loaded symbol has either been UCBXBAK or UCBXLVP and it opeerates once or twice a month. The ethanol trains generally use GATX, BRGX, CBTX, TILX, TCBX, and UTLX, tank cars and run several times a week through Flagstaff.

Unit Coil Steel

This strange looking train runs several times a month. It moves coils of steel from Madison, IL to Pittsburg, CA. United States Steel & Pohang Iron & Steel manufactures cold rolled, galvanized and tin mill products from 1,440,000 tons of hot rolled steel per year. The train usually has 50 coil cars and power is an odd 1+2 configuration. The symbol during June and July 2018 was UMADPIT from Madison, IL. Other symbols have been UBIRPIT from Birmingham, AL and USTLPIT from East St. Louis. Earlier in 2018 the interchange point was at Galesburg, IL and the train ran as UGALPIT. So far in 2019 all of the trains have orginated in East St. Louis. The USTLPIT1 had an average of 49-0:6452T 2349ft at a ratio of 2.75 tons per linear foot.

Revised 7-9-2019 with data collected Jan to June 2019

BNSF Train Symbols
Bare Table Trains
Manifest Trains Westbound
Manifest Trains Eastbound
Q Trains Westbound
Q Trains Eastbound
Marine Stack Trains
Vehicle Trains
Z Trains Westbound
Z Trains Eastbound