You would have to agree it is a little unusual to see a layer of corn spread out evenly on railroad tracks. I guess that is one way to feed the wildlife? When I saw the picture I had a pretty good idea what happened and how the corn was spilled. I have never loaded hopper bottom rail cars. I called Mike who manages an elevator and has loaded thousands of rail cars over the decades.

MN Train Tracks
Photo Credit: Mike Parker via Twitter

Mike agreed with my theory that the door on the bottom of the rail car was not shut completely before it was loaded. The door is on guides and a hand or power crank is used to open and close it. If there was just a little crack of an opening the corn may have bridged up over the small opening when it was loaded. Then with the vibration and bouncing as the rail car was moved down the tracks the corn began to flow out of the little opening.

Mike said that if a power opener and closer is used for the doors he has seen that the door can get a little off of the guide and then would have a small opening. It is easy to understand how this could happen when a crew is loading a unit train. A unit train is 110 rail cars. Typically a hopper bottom rail car can hold 3,600 bushel of corn. There are four compartments in the rail car each with the door on the bottom for unloading.

Do the math, in each unit train there would be 440 doors to make sure they were closed properly! I read that 900 bushel of corn was spilled. If a hopper bottom rail car holds 3,600 bushel and there are four compartments each one holds 900 bushel. Everything makes sense, just one door was not closed properly!

The final question is who owned the corn that was spilled? I thought maybe the railroad company. It was in their cars on their tracks. Mike said the railroad would be responsible only if there was a derailment. So, depending on the contract between the elevator and the end-user, one of them still owned the grain that was spilled.

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