So That’s What That Was: CP And UP Horsepower Hours Owed To NS

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In past posts I’d commented largely on the influx of Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific power plying the rails off Norfolk Southern. Specifically, the Sunbury line. Well, it seems that this anomaly was the by-product of horsepower hours owed to NS by the other two roads.

If you’re not familiar with how horsepower hours work, here’s a quick crash course: Let’s say NS borrows a UP SD40-2 (@ 3,000 h.p.) for a day. NS will then owe UP 72,000 horsepower hours. Now NS can pay UP back by sending them a 6,000 h.p. unit for 12 hours or two 3,000 h.p. units for 24 hours…. Either way the debt will be canceled and that’s one example.

Another example is if a train with three 4,400 h.p. units comes onto a railroad at 03:00 on September 5 and the engines go back at 17:00 on September 8, then that would be 13,200 h.p. x 86 hrs = 1,135,200 h.p. hrs.. The total accounts of h.p. hrs. between railroads can easily run into the hundreds of millions so what each railroad has to track is what railroad they got the locomotive(s) from, how much horsepower do they have, when did they receive it and when did they give it back…. Although it’s relatively simple information, there’s a heck of a lot of it to keep track of!

So each railroad (usually the power desk) keeps track of each others railroad h.p. hr. balance and if a railroad gets a lot of horsepower hours in debt with another railroad they’ll usually send the owed railroad a bunch of units to pay off the debt. This means that the owed railroad can pretty much use the units anyway, anytime and anywhere they want which could mean that the foreign power units may end up at the farthest points of the owed railroad’s line.

But getting back to the Northeast, take the image above of the (2) CP diesels and (1) UP pulling unit crude oil Train 65X southbound to Enola…. It would be ironic if CP were using the UP GE to pay off h.p. hrs. owed to NS!

Whatever the case, now you know what was up with all of the red and yellow diesels seen on NS trains over the last few months!


As I continue to learn about the rail culture and operations of America, along the way I run into (a lot of) things that I can’t always answer in the beginning…. But eventually all of the mysteries of railroading reveal themselves to me and when they do I always say to myself, “So that’s what that was!”

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Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

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