From lawn ornaments to ornamental rugs — virtually every good and commodity sold in America is transported by freight railroads. In fact, as part of America’s integrated transportation network, railroads help ship 54 tons of goods per American, every year. Equally impressive is what is inside those 54 tons.
Here are just 7 of our most unusual — and exciting — shipments.
1. Live Octopus
Commercial fishermen in Prince William Sound rely upon freight trains to transport seafood to market, which makes for some memorable train rides. Once, a commercial fisherman even caught a giant squid and put it directly into a huge vat of water to be shipped to Anchorage and made into calamari.
2. Oil Refinery
It took 200 rail cars to ship an entire oil refinery — section-by-section — from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Seattle, Washington. The cargo aboard was so large, the train needed to stop while en-route in order to rearrange the freight so that it could fit through a tunnel. Once in Seattle, the rail cars carrying the refinery were loaded onto two train car barges — barges with tracks built into their decks so that they can transport rail cars. After loading all of the rail cars on board, the train car barges set sail for a 1,400 mile journey over water before docking and transferring the freight back onto land to complete its journey.
3. Elephants, Lions and Tigers
Specially designed rail cars are used by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to transport more than 7,000 tons of circus equipment each year. Elephants, lions and tigers (among other animals) are transported in customized rail cars that are designed to meet the needs of each animal. From heating and misting systems that keep animals comfortable to food storage locations that allow staff to feed animals while on the move, the circus train is built to keep humans and animals content as they travel the U.S.
4. Submarine Parts
Roughly once every 18 months, a mysterious train travels from Massachusetts to Groton, Connecticut. Onboard is a shrouded load of parts destined for a shipyard where U.S. Navy submarines are built. Few individuals know the exact load carried on board, but once delivered, these parts are used to build high-tech submarines that protect the U.S.
Long before travelers rocket into the sky onboard a Boeing 737-100, the airplane travels from Wichita, Kansas to Renton, Washington — on a train. Loaded onto customized flatcars, newly-constructed airplane fuselages are transported more than 2,000 miles to Boeing’s Washington facility where final construction is completed and the plane is tested before it begins carrying passengers around the world.
6. Wind Turbine Blades
A single wind turbine blade can be as long as an airplane and weigh 77,000 pounds. Transporting them presents an enormous challenge, which is why shippers call on freight rail. By relying upon carefully planned routes, railroads are able to transport the massive wind turbine blades to their final destination, where they are assembled and connected to America’s electricity grid to begin producing clear and renewable power.
7. Passenger Buses (with passengers)
Trains are so versatile that they have even been used to transport buses full of passengers. In Alaska, flat rail cars have been used to carry buses loaded with passengers to remote inland wilderness for a day of exploration. Once the day of sightseeing was complete, the buses were loaded back onto the train and passengers returned to their ship to continue their journey.