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A string of flatcars carries tanks (under tarps) in April 1943 Loaded flat cars, covered loads.jpg
A string of flatcars carries tanks (under tarps) in April 1943
The Fraser Valley Historical Railway Society single vehicle does not use a trolley-pole, instead it is powered by a generator towed on a small flatcar. Interurban and 'pusher' cart.jpg
The Fraser Valley Historical Railway Society single vehicle does not use a trolley-pole, instead it is powered by a generator towed on a small flatcar.

A flatcar (US) (also flat car, [1] or flatbed) is a piece of rolling stock that consists of an open, flat deck mounted on a pair of trucks (US) or bogies (UK), one at each end containing four or six wheels. Occasionally, flat cars designed to carry extra heavy or extra large loads are mounted on a pair (or rarely, more) of bogies under each end. The deck of the car can be wood or steel, and the sides of the deck can include pockets for stakes or tie-down points to secure loads. Flatcars designed for carrying machinery have sliding chain assemblies recessed in the deck. [2]


Flatcars are used for loads that are too large or cumbersome to load in enclosed cars such as boxcars. They are also often used to transport intermodal containers (shipping containers) or trailers as part of intermodal freight transport shipping.

Specialized types

Boeing 737NG fuselage being transported by rail. Boeing 737 fuselage train hull 3473.jpg
Boeing 737NG fuselage being transported by rail.

Aircraft parts flatcars

Aircraft parts were hauled via conventional freight cars beginning in World War II. However, given the ever-increasing size of aircraft assemblies, the "Sky Box" method of shipping parts was developed in the late 1960s specifically to transport parts for the Boeing 747 and other "jumbo" jets of the time. The "Sky Box" consists of a two-piece metal shell that is placed atop a standard flatcar to support and protect wing and tail assemblies and fuselage sections in transit (originally, depressed-center or "fish belly" cars were utilized).

Boeing 737 aircraft have been shipped throughout the United States on special trains, including the fuselage.[ citation needed ]


Flatcars with tie down chains, tie down straps or stake pockets

Bulkhead flatcars

Worn ICE stakesided bulkhead flatcar in the RBMN Duryea yard in July 2012 FAB's IMG 4267 Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad-ICE 66210 HIghend-stakesided-Flatcar.JPG
Worn ICE stakesided bulkhead flatcar in the RBMN Duryea yard in July 2012

Bulkhead flatcars are designed with sturdy end-walls (bulkheads) to prevent loads from shifting past the ends of the car. Loads typically carried are pipe, steel slabs, utility poles and lumber, though lumber and utility poles are increasingly being hauled by skeleton cars. Bulkheads are typically lightweight when empty. An empty bulkhead on a train puts it at a speed restriction to go no more than 50 mph (80 km/h). Since bulkheads are lightweight when empty, hunting can occur when the car is above 50 mph (80 km/h). Hunting is the wobbling movement of the trucks on a freight car or a locomotive. If the wheels hunt against the rails for a period of time, there is a high risk of a derailment.

Centerbeam flatcars/lumber racks

BC Rail #871027, a centerbeam flat car, leaves Burlington Northern's Eola Yard, in Illinois in 1992. BCIT 871027 19921006 IL Eola.jpg
BC Rail #871027, a centerbeam flat car, leaves Burlington Northern's Eola Yard, in Illinois in 1992.

Centerbeam flatcars, centerbeams, center partition railcar, or "lumber racks" [1] are specialty cars designed for carrying bundled building supplies such as dimensional lumber, wallboard, and fence posts. They are essentially bulkhead flatcars that have been reinforced by a longitudinal I-beam, often in the form of a Vierendeel truss, sometimes reinforced by diagonal members, but originally in the form of stressed panels perforated by panel-lightening "opera windows", either oval-shaped (seen above) or egg-shaped. These flatcars must be loaded symmetrically, with half of the payload on one side of the centerbeam and half on the other, to avoid tipping over.

Heavy capacity flatcars

A heavy duty flatcar with load in Ontario in 2004 Heavy duty flat.jpg
A heavy duty flatcar with load in Ontario in 2004

Heavy capacity flatcars are cars designed to carry more than 100 short tons (90.72  t ; 89.29 long tons ). They often have more than the typical North American standard of four axles (one two-axle truck at each end), and may have a depressed center to handle excess-height loads as well as two trucks of three axles each (one at each end) or four trucks (two at each end) of two axles each, connected by span bolsters. Loads typically handled include electrical power equipment and large industrial production machinery.

Circus use

A circus train is a modern method of conveyance for circus troupes. One of the larger users of circus trains was the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (RBBX), a famous American circus formed when the Ringling Brothers Circus purchased the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1907, merged in 1919, and closed permanently as a merged company in May 2017.

Remote control use

Some companies, such as CSX Transportation, have former wood-carrying flatcars rebuilt into platforms which mount remote control equipment for use in operating locomotives. Such platforms are fitted with appropriate headlights, horns, and air brake appliances to operate in the leading position on a cut of cars (i.e. coupled ahead of the locomotive).

Intermodal freight use

COFC (container on flat car) cars are typically 89 feet (27.13 m) long and carry four 20-foot (6.10 m) intermodal containers or two 40-foot (12.19 m)/45-foot (13.72 m) shipping containers (the two 45-foot or 13.72-metre containers are carryable due to the fact that the car is actually 92 ft or 28.04 m long, over the strike plates). With the rise of intermodal-freight-transport–specific cars, and given the age of most of these flats, numbers will decline over the next several years. Indeed, when the first well cars appeared, allowing double stacking, many container flats were re-built as autoracks. The few "new build" container flats are identifiable by their lack of decking, welded steel frame, and standard 89-foot (27.13 m) length. One variant is the 50-foot (15.24 m) car (which usually carries one large container as a load); these are actually re-built old boxcars. Common reporting marks are FEC, CP, SOO and KTTX. The ATTX cars, which feature non-sparking grips and sides, are built for hauling dangerous goods (ammunition, flammable fluids, etc.).

Spine car

A spine car with a 20 ft tanktainer and an open-top 20 ft container with canvas cover Railroad car with container loads.jpg
A spine car with a 20 ft tanktainer and an open-top 20 ft container with canvas cover

A spine car is a car with only center and side sills and lateral arms to support intermodal containers.

Trailer-on-flat car

A Trailer-on-flat-car, or piggy-back car allows two 28.5-foot (8.69 m) trailer pups or one semi-trailer up to 57 feet (17.37 m) to be carried. Like well cars, these usually come in articulated sets of five or three.

A longer TOFC (trailer on flat car) is usually an 89 ft (27.13 m) car. In the past, these carried three 30 ft (9.14 m) trailers which are, as of 2007, almost obsolete, or one large, 53 ft (16.15 m), two 40-foot (12.19 m) or 45-foot (13.72 m) trailers. As intermodal traffic grows, these dedicated flats are in decline. Most have been modified to also carry containers as well. One notable type is Canadian Pacific Railway's XTRX service—dedicated five-unit flats that only carry trailers.

Skeleton car

Similar to the spine car except that it is designed to carry lumber or utility poles, a skeleton car is composed of a center sill and lateral arms only. No deck, sometimes no side sills and sometimes no end sills. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Idler flatcars

In some marine services, the linkspan between a ferry or barge and its dock is very weak. In order to avoid loss of cargo or heavy locomotives, an old flatcar (which is usually the lightest car available) is used as a bridge between the locomotive on the dock and the cars on the ferry or barge.

Idler flatcars are also used in oversize freight service, as loads such as pipe often overhang the ends of most standard-sized flatcars. Empty flatcars will be placed on both ends of the loaded car. This protects the cargo ends from damage and ensures that the loads don't bind and damage the ends of adjacent cars.

Often a flat car is placed directly in front of a crane ("big hook") in order to:

Idler flatcars are also used to mount one kind of coupler on one end and another kind on the other end. This is called a match wagon or a barrier vehicle.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Containerization</span> Intermodal freight transport system

Containerization is a system of intermodal freight transport using intermodal containers. Containerization is also referred as "Container Stuffing" or "Container Loading", which is the process of unitization of cargoes in exports. Containerization is the predominant form of unitization of export cargoes, as opposed to other systems such as the barge system or palletization. The containers have standardized dimensions. They can be loaded and unloaded, stacked, transported efficiently over long distances, and transferred from one mode of transport to another—container ships, rail transport flatcars, and semi-trailer trucks—without being opened. The handling system is completely mechanized so that all handling is done with cranes and special forklift trucks. All containers are numbered and tracked using computerized systems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road train</span> Type of trucking vehicle

A road train, land train or long combination vehicle (LCV) is a trucking vehicle used to move road freight more efficiently than semi-trailer trucks. It consists of two or more trailers or semi-trailers hauled by a prime mover.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intermodal container</span> Standardized reusable steel box used for transporting goods

An intermodal container, often called a shipping container or a freight container, is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport, meaning these containers can be used across different modes of transport – from ship to rail to truck – without unloading and reloading their cargo. Intermodal containers are primarily used to store and transport materials and products efficiently and securely in the global containerized intermodal freight transport system, but smaller numbers are in regional use as well. These containers are known under a number of names. Based on size alone, up to 95% of intermodal containers comply with ISO standards, and can officially be called ISO containers. Many other names are simply: container, cargo or freight container, shipping, sea or ocean container, container van or sea van, sea can or C can, or MILVAN, SEAVAN, or RO/RO. The also used term CONEX (Box) is technically incorrect carry-over usage of the name of an important predecessor of the international ISO containers, namely the much smaller prior steel CONEX boxes used by the U.S. Army.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Railroad car</span> Vehicle used for carrying cargo or passengers on rail transport system

A railroad car, railcar, railway wagon, railway carriage, railway truck, railwagon, railcarriage or railtruck, also called a train car, train wagon, train carriage or train truck, is a vehicle used for the carrying of cargo or passengers on a rail transport system. Such cars, when coupled together and hauled by one or more locomotives, form a train. Alternatively, some passenger cars are self-propelled in which case they may be either single railcars or make up multiple units.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boxcar</span> Enclosed railroad car used to carry freight

A boxcar is the North American (AAR) term for a railroad car that is enclosed and generally used to carry freight. The boxcar, while not the simplest freight car design, is considered one of the most versatile since it can carry most loads. Boxcars have side sliding doors of varying size and operation, and some include end doors and adjustable bulkheads to load very large items.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intermodal freight transport</span> Cargo transport using multiple containers

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation, without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. Reduced costs over road trucking is the key benefit for inter-continental use. This may be offset by reduced timings for road transport over shorter distances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trailer (vehicle)</span> Towed cargo vehicle

A trailer is an unpowered vehicle towed by a powered vehicle. It is commonly used for the transport of goods and materials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Autorack</span> Railway rolling stock used to transport automobiles

An autorack, also known as an auto carrier, is a specialized piece of railroad rolling stock used to transport automobiles and light trucks. Autoracks are used to transport new vehicles from factories to automotive distributors, and to transport passengers' vehicles in car shuttles and motorail services, such as Amtrak's Auto Train route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rail freight transport</span> Train that carries cargo

Rail freight transport is the use of railroads and trains to transport cargo as opposed to human passengers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">M250 series</span> Japanese train type

The M250 series, branded "Super Rail Cargo", is a freight electric multiple unit (EMU) train type operated by Japan Freight Railway in Japan. It entered service in 2004 with the objective of reducing emissions and carrying general freight for small package forwarders. The M250 series is JR Freight's first container train with distributed traction. It is manufactured by Nippon Sharyo, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Toshiba.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Semi-trailer</span> Trailer vehicle without a front axle

A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle. In the United States, the term is also used to refer to the combination of a truck and a semi-trailer; a tractor-trailer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flatbed truck</span> Type of truck

A flatbed truck is a type of truck which can be either articulated or rigid. As the name suggests, its bodywork is just an entirely flat, level 'bed' with no sides or roof. This allows for quick and easy loading of goods, and consequently they are used to transport heavy loads that are not delicate or vulnerable to rain, and also for abnormal loads that require more space than is available on a closed body.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Well car</span> Type of railroad car

A well car, also known as a double-stack car, is a type of railroad car specially designed to carry intermodal containers used in intermodal freight transport. The "well" is a depressed section which sits close to the rails between the wheel trucks of the car, allowing a container to be carried lower than on a traditional flatcar. This makes it possible to carry a stack of two containers per unit on railway lines wherever the structure gauge assures sufficient clearance. The top container is secured to the bottom container either by a bulkhead built into the car, or through the use of inter-box connectors (IBC). Four IBCs are needed per wellcar. In the process of an inbound train becoming an outbound train, there are four processes: unlock to unload the top container of inbound train, remove then unload bottom container, insert after loading bottom container of outbound train, lock after top container loaded.

A specialized set of jargon describe the tools, equipment, and employment sectors used in the trucking industry in the United States. Some terms may be used within other English-speaking countries, or within the freight industry in general. For example, shore power is a term borrowed from shipping terminology, in which electrical power is transferred from shore to ship, instead of the ship relying upon idling its engines. Drawing power from land lines is more efficient than engine idling and eliminates localized air pollution. Another borrowed term is "landing gear", which refers to the legs which support the front end of a semi-trailer when it is not connected to a semi-truck. Some nicknames are obvious wordplay, such as "portable parking lot", in reference to a truck that carries automobiles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lowboy (trailer)</span>

A lowboy is a semi-trailer with two drops in deck height: one right after the gooseneck and one right before the wheels. This allows the deck to be extremely low compared with other trailers. It offers the ability to carry legal loads up to 12 ft (3.66 m) tall, which other trailers cannot. Lowboys are used to haul heavy equipment such as bulldozers and large industrial equipment.

Trailer on flatcar, also known as TOFC or piggyback, is the practice of carrying semi-trailers on railroad flatcars. TOFC allows for shippers to move truckloads long distances more cheaply than can be done by having each trailer towed by a truck, since one train can carry more than 100 trailers at once. The trailers will be moved by truck from their origin to an intermodal facility, where they will then be loaded onto a train, typically by a rubber tyred gantry crane, for the bulk of their journey. Alternatively, trailers may be driven onto the flatcars via ramps by a terminal tractor. Near the destination, the trailers are unloaded at another facility and brought to their final destination by a tractor unit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flat wagon</span> Railway goods wagon

Flat wagons, as classified by the International Union of Railways (UIC), are railway goods wagons that have a flat, usually full-length, deck and little or no superstructure. By contrast, open wagons have high side and end walls and covered goods wagons have a fixed roof and sides. Flat wagons are often designed for the transportation of goods that are not weather-sensitive. Some flat wagons are able to be covered completely by tarpaulins or hoods and are therefore suitable for the transport of weather-sensitive goods. Unlike a "goods wagon with opening roof", the loading area of a flat is entirely open and accessible once the cover is removed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Double-stack rail transport</span> Railroad cars carrying two layers of intermodal containers

Double-stack rail transport is a form of intermodal freight transport in which railroad cars carry two layers of intermodal containers. Invented in the United States in 1984 it is now being used for nearly seventy percent of United States intermodal shipments. Using double stack technology, a freight train of a given length can carry roughly twice as many containers, sharply reducing transport costs per container. On United States railroads special well cars are used for double-stack shipment to reduce the needed vertical clearance and to lower the center of gravity of a loaded car. In addition, the well car design reduces damage in transit and provides greater cargo security by cradling the lower containers so their doors cannot be opened. A succession of larger container sizes have been introduced to further increase shipping productivity in the United States.

Daseke, Inc. is the largest owner and a leading consolidator of flatbed and specialized transportation in North America, comprising 16 operating companies with over 5,200 trucks and over 11,000 flatbed and specialized trailers.


  1. 1 2 "Guide to Railcars". Archived from the original on 2011-03-08.
  2. "NP Flat Car Diagrams". Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  3. "Model of a skeleton car". Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2011-03-15. Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Another model". Archived from the original on 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2011-03-15. Archived 2011-04-03 at the Wayback Machine
  5. 40 ft (12.19 m) log flat car with side stakes [ dead link ]
  6. 42 ft (12.80 m) log flat car with side stakes [ dead link ]
  7. Skelleton logging car, 80,000 lb (36,000 kg) capacity