As you stand trackside watching a train pass by, the incredible variety of freight cars makes one wonder who owns these cars and how does the accounting for them get done?
Because several freinds have asked me to explain what is apparently a confusing mismash, I thought I would try to explain how the system works. There are about 1.5 million freight cars in the US and Canada and Mexico. Nearly all of those cars can move on any railroad. A uniform accounting system is in place to keep track of when cars are interchanged between railroads, and when repairs are made to cars.
There are two ways freight cars are "owned". The first of course, is when a railroad owns or leases freight cars. These cars can be identified by reporting marks on the car ( no, not the graffitti!) such as BNSF, UP, KCS or NS, or many short line railroads. Railroad reporting marks do not end with "X", with one exception. Can you think of the exception?
Railroads exchange information about cars as they pass from railroad to railroad. If a railroad has a "foreign" cars on its line, it will pay an hourly rental, perhaps 75 cents per hour, and a mileage fee of perhaps 10 cents per mile. Car hire accounts between railroads are settled by a clearing house monthly. On a railroad annual report, look for the expense item "equipment rentals" . I do not know if the figures shown include locomotive hoursepower hours. Some roads earn a net income from freight car rents, others pay out a bit annually.