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Rail News Home Mechanical

January 2009

Rail News: Mechanical

Freight-Car Builders Develop atypical cars for not-so-typical cargo

by Jeff Stagl, managing editor

Railroads use tens of thousands of box, flat, gondola, hopper and other cars to move all kinds of freight.

But there are a few cargo types that can’t be efficiently loaded, transported and unloaded in standard freight cars.

From sand to taconite to steel coils to refrigerated products to wind power-generation equipment, certain materials need to be carried in a rail car that can meet unique unloading requirements or accommodate unusually heavy and/or wide cargo. So, freight-car builders continue to develop atypical cars for not-so-typical cargo.

Following are five builders — FreightCar America Inc., The Greenbrier Cos., Kasgro Rail Corp., Millennium Rail Inc. and TrinityRail — and a few of the special-purpose cars they offer.

FreightCar America

At the Railway Supply Institute’s annual convention held Sept. 21-24, 2008, in Chicago, FreightCar America introduced the VersaFlood™ aggregate car designed for moving sand, rock and minerals. The low tare-weight car features steel hoppers, aluminum upper side sheets and end assemblies with a conventional hopper end structure and no interior cross bracing.

The car also is equipped with FreightCar America’s MegaFlo IA™ (independent automatic) door system, which is designed to operate the hopper doors independently or all at once. The VersaFlood also is available in an all-steel version.

Last year, FreightCar America also introduced a bottom-dump ore car with a custom door-trapping mechanism that can haul 138 pounds-per-cubic-foot of taconite ore; and a rotary-dump, high-side ore gondola car that features a flat floor and tapered sides with no interior bracing. In addition, the company obtained Association of American Railroads (AAR) loading-procedure

approval for the nine-trough VersaCoil™ car designed to haul steel coils ranging in width from 30 inches to 72 inches, and accommodate various loading options in its transverse troughs.

In 2007, FreightCar America introduced the hybrid BethGon® gondola car, which Norfolk Southern Railway is using on electronically controlled pneumatic brake-equipped coal trains. The car combines stainless steel and aluminum to provide extra capacity and durability vs. an all-steel car it replaces, FreightCar America officials said in an email.


Greenbrier offers an 85-foot heavy-duty flat car designed to carry multiple heavy containers, such as two 40-foot or four 20-foot containers. The car is suited for municipal waste moves and can accommodate 12-foot-high containers, according to the company’s Web site.

An open-deck design keeps the car at a lightweight 60,000 pounds and increases loaded capacity, according to the company. The car is 90 feet, 6.5 inches in length over the couplers and 85 feet, 2.5 inches in length over the end sills.

Kasgro Rail

A number of heavy-duty cars built by Kasgro Rail can handle loads weighing more than 200,000 pounds and up to 900,000 pounds, or deck heights starting at two feet to accommodate loads with height requirements, company officials said in an email.

Since 1996, Kasgro Rail has offered four-, eight-, 12- and 16-axle cars to railroads, electrical and wind-power generation companies, and heavy equipment users. The cars include the 450-ton, 16-axle, 32-foot depressed car designed to haul oversize dimensional loads; and 370-ton, 12-axle FM flat car with 48-foot loading platform and 744,000-pound load limit.

Kasgro Rail also builds depressed-center cars designed for cranes, tanks and containers that haul nuclear casks, and provides various side-dump cars.

Millennium Rail

Millennium Rail offers a four-axle, 50- or 55-ton Maxon scale test car featuring end-of-car cushioning. The Ram II scale test car can be operated by one person to move on and off scales under its own propulsion, eliminating the need for a switch engine and crew, company officials said in an email.

The car also can be transported in “regular” freight trains at normal operating speeds to reach the next scale to be tested. One Ram II car can replace two or three older scale test cars, according to Millennium Rail. So far, the company has built one Ram II car each for BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway and NS.

Millennium Rail — which became a Watco Cos. Inc. subsidiary in 2007 — also builds a mechanical refrigerated car that meets or exceeds all AAR requirements. The 100-ton Plate E box car features 15-inch end-of-car cushioning, a steel superstructure, steel plug doors, steel ends, welded steel roof, aluminum free-flow floor and wall restraint system. Refrigeration is supplied by an exterior end-mounted carrier refrigerated unit designed for the rail market, officials said in the email.

Since 2000, the company has built more than 400 of the box cars for CSX Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad, which use them to move fresh orange juice for Tropicana Products Inc. from Florida to California and New York.


TrinityRail offers the 4,323-cubic-foot RDL™ longitudinal discharge coal hopper. The car features a continuous steel center sill to provide strength and durability to meet the rigors of coal unit-train operations, according to the company’s Web site. The hopper also comes equipped with an adjustable door system designed to increase overall capacity and unload coal quickly and efficiently between rails. The RDL can be equipped with rotary couplers if a customer chooses a rotary dump option.

TrinityRail also offers the RDL-A, a 2,402-cubic-foot, all-steel longitudinal discharge hopper designed to accommodate aggregate, limestone and other similar materials.

The two-pocket, rapid-discharge car features independent door operation and an adjustable door system for fast and efficient unloading operations, the Web site states.

Not Exactly a Booming Freight-Car Market

Several sobering business forecasts released in late 2008 don’t bode well for builders of most freight-car types in 2009.

In November, Rail Theory Forecasts L.L.C. projected car deliveries will total 31,500 units this year, down considerably from the firm’s September 2008 forecast of 42,000 units. For the first time since doublestack well production began in 1985, builders might not produce any intermodal cars in 2009, Rail Theory Forecasts predicted.

Economic Planning Associates Inc.’s (EPA) third-quarter “Outlook for Rail Cars” report released in late October wasn’t quite as pessimistic. The firm expects deliveries to total 41,000 units this year, then fall to 39,000 units in 2010. The weak economy will not support much demand for any cars other than coal, grain, DDG and tank cars, EPA officials wrote in the report.

Meanwhile, FTR Associates in November projected that ’09 car orders won’t exceed 29,000 units because of a fall-off in freight traffic.

Another development that occurred prior to 2008’s end reflects bad times in the luxury rail-car market, as well.

Colorado Railcar Manufacturing L.L.C. ceased operations on Dec. 23 because of “major liquidity problems,” the company announced on its Web site. At year’s end, Colorado Railcar was in the process of liquidation and no longer had any employees, the announcement stated.

— Jeff Stagl


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.