Railroad car

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A passenger car from Taiwan Railway TEMB2076.jpg
A passenger car from Taiwan Railway
A freight car (boxcar type) for the South Australian Railways, 1926 South Australian Railways M class boxcar (goods van) 7016, new, in 1926.jpg
A freight car (boxcar type) for the South Australian Railways, 1926

A railroad car, railcar (American and Canadian English), [lower-alpha 1] railway wagon, railway carriage, railway truck, railwagon, railcarriage or railtruck (British English and UIC), 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 (a railroad/railway). 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.


The term "car" is commonly used by itself in American English when a rail context is implicit. Indian English sometimes uses "bogie" in the same manner, [1] though the term has other meanings in other variants of English. In American English, "railcar" is a generic term for a railway vehicle; in other countries "railcar" refers specifically to a self-propelled, powered, railway vehicle.

Although some cars exist for the railroad's own use – for track maintenance purposes, for example – most carry a revenue-earning load of passengers or freight, and may be classified accordingly as passenger cars or coaches on the one hand or freight cars (or wagons) on the other.

Passenger cars

Passenger cars, or coaches, vary in their internal fittings:

In standard-gauge cars, seating is usually configured into ranges from three to five seats across the width of the car, with an aisle in between (resulting in arrangements of 2+1, 2+2 or 3+2 seats) or at the side. Tables may be provided between seats facing one another. Alternatively, seats facing in the same direction may have access to a fold-down ledge on the back of the seat in front.

Passenger cars can take the electricity supply for heating and lighting equipment from either of two main sources: directly from a head end power generator on the locomotive via bus cables, or by an axle-powered generator which continuously charges batteries whenever the train is in motion.

Modern cars usually have either air-conditioning or windows that can be opened (sometimes, for safety, not so far that one can hang out), or sometimes both. Various types of onboard train toilet facilities may also be provided.

Other types of passenger car exist, especially for long journeys, such as the dining car, parlor car, disco car, and in rare cases theater and movie theater car. In some cases another type of car is temporarily converted to one of these for an event.

Observation cars were built for the rear of many famous trains to allow the passengers to view the scenery. These proved popular, leading to the development of dome cars multiple units of which could be placed mid-train, and featured a glass-enclosed upper level extending above the normal roof to provide passengers with a better view.

Sleeping cars outfitted with (generally) small bedrooms allow passengers to sleep through their night-time trips, while couchette cars provide more basic sleeping accommodation. Long-distance trains often require baggage cars for the passengers' luggage. In European practice it used to be common for day coaches to be formed of compartments seating 6 or 8 passengers, with access from a side corridor. In the UK, Corridor coaches fell into disfavor in the 1960s and 1970s partially because open coaches are considered more secure by women traveling alone.[ citation needed ]

Another distinction is between single- and double deck train cars. An example of a double decker is the Amtrak superliner.

A "trainset" (or "set") is a semi-permanently arranged formation of cars, rather than one created "ad hoc" out of whatever cars are available. These are only broken up and reshuffled 'on shed' (in the maintenance depot). Trains are then built of one or more of these 'sets' coupled together as needed for the capacity of that train.

Often, but not always, passenger cars in a train are linked together with enclosed, flexible gangway connections through which passengers and crewmen can walk. Some designs incorporate semi-permanent connections between cars and may have a full-width connection, effectively making them one long, articulated 'car'. In North America, passenger cars also employ tightlock couplings to keep a train together in the event of a derailment or other accident.

Many multiple unit trains consist of cars which are semi-permanently coupled into sets: these sets may be joined together to form larger trains, but generally passengers can only move around between cars within a set. This "closed" arrangement keeps parties of travellers and their luggage together, and hence allows the separate sets to be easily split to go separate ways. Some multiple-unit trainsets are designed so that corridor connections can be easily opened between coupled sets; this generally requires driving cabs either set to the side or (as in the Dutch Koploper or the Japanese 285 series) above the passenger compartment. These cabs or driving trailers are also useful for quickly reversing the train.

Freight cars

Freight cars (US/Canada), goods wagons (UIC), or trucks (UK) exist in a wide variety of types, adapted to carry a host of goods. Originally there were very few types of cars; the flat car or wagon, and the boxcar (US/Canada), covered wagon (UIC) or van (UK), were among the first.

Types of freight cars

Freight cars or goods wagons are generally categorized as follows:

Common Freight Car Underframe Components (North America)

Freight cars, as share in the above section, vary in appearance by the intended end use. The underframe components or running gear is similar between all car types to boost reliability and lower the railcar cost. The major parts groups follow and are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (US) and Transport Canada (Canada).

Aluminium cars

The first two main-line all aluminum passenger cars were exhibited at the 1933-35 Chicago World's Fair by Pullman Company. [5] Aluminum freightcars have a higher net-to-tare ratio of 4.9 than traditional steel based wagons, which have 3.65. [6]

Non-revenue cars

Typical American extended vision caboose BN caboose, Eola Yard, 1993.jpg
Typical American extended vision caboose

Military cars

Armored train Hurban located in Zvolen, Slovakia Pancierovy vlak-Zvolen.jpg
Armored train Hurban located in Zvolen, Slovakia

Military armoured trains use several types of specialized cars:

Mobile missile systems

Soviet RT-23 Molodets ICBM launch train, in the St Petersburg museum RT-23 ICBM complex in Saint Petersburg museum.jpg
Soviet RT-23 Molodets ICBM launch train, in the St Petersburg museum

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union fielded a number of trains that served as mobile missile silos. These trains carried the missile and everything necessary to launch, and were kept moving around the railway network to make them difficult to find and destroy in a first-strike attack. A similar rail-borne system was proposed in the United States of America for the LGM-30 Minuteman in the 1960s, and the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison in the 1980s, but neither were deployed. [9]

Radar bomb scoring

The Strategic Air Command's 1st Combat Evaluation RBS "Express" deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base with radar bomb scoring units mounted on military railroad cars with supporting equipment, to score simulated thermonuclear bombing of cities in the continental United States. [10]

See also



  1. In the US, a "railroad car" is often referred to more simply as a "rail car" or "railcar", but this should not be confused with the self-propelled railcar.


  1. "Oxford Learner's Dictionaries - Find definitions, translations, and grammar explanations at Oxford Learner's Dictionaries". www.oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com. Archived from the original on 2011-08-07. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  2. Usatch, Brad (November 23, 2016). "Railroading sees a bit of rebirth". The Chronicle. Barton, Vermont. pp. 1A. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  3. Prestflo
  4. prestwin wagon
  5. John H. White Jr. (1985). The American Railroad Passenger Car. JHU Press. p. 163. ISBN   978-0-8018-2743-3. Archived from the original on 2018-05-05.
  6. Hargrove, M. (30 November 1989). "ECONOMICS OF HEAVY AXLE LOADS". Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 5 May 2018 via trid.trb.org.
  7. "General Code of Operating Rules: Section 5.12: Protection of Occupied Outfit Cars". Archived from the original on 2002-12-28. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  8. "Index of /dodx". www.csxfan.railfan.net. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  9. Gen. Thomas S. Power, USAF (September 1960). "Strategic Air Command" (PDF). Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 30 Aug 2010. A special SAC task force was established at Hill AFB, Utah, to conduct a series of deployments with a Minuteman Mobility Test Train. The first deployment ended June 27 after seven days of random travel over existing civilian rail facilities in the Ogden area. The test series will continue through the fall of 1960 with other rail movements in the Far West and Midwest....
  10. "In regards to the SAC radar bomb scoring squadron mounted on railroad cars" (PDF). Mobile Military Radar web site. 22 Feb 2007. pp. 12K. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 30 Aug 2010. The trains were 21 cars long, 17 support and 4 radar cars. The radar cars were basically flat cars with the radar vans and equipment mounted on them. The other 17 consisted of a generator car, two box cars (one for radar equipment maintenance, and one for support maintenance). A dining car, two day-room cars, supply cars, admin car, and 4 Pullman sleepers.... The Commander had the very last room on the tail of the train.... The trains would go to some area in the U.S. which was selected for that period by a regular contracted locomotive which then just parked us there and left, usually pulled onto a siding.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Train Series of powered rail vehicles

In rail transport, a train is a series of connected vehicles that run along a railway track and transport people or freight. The word train comes from the Old French trahiner, derived from the Latin trahere meaning "to pull, to draw". Trains are typically pulled or pushed by locomotives, though some are self-propelled, such as multiple units. Passengers and cargo are carried in railroad cars, also known as wagons. Trains are designed to a certain gauge, or distance between rails. Most trains operate on steel tracks with steel wheels, the low friction of which makes them more efficient than other forms of transport.

Boxcar 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 probably the most versatile since it can carry most loads. Boxcars have side doors of varying size and operation, and some include end doors and adjustable bulkheads to load very large items.

Intermodal freight transport 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.

Loading gauge Maximum dimensions for railway vehicles and their loads

A loading gauge is a diagram or physical structure that defines the maximum height and width dimensions in railway vehicles and their loads. Their purpose is to ensure that rail vehicles can pass safely through tunnels and under bridges, and keep clear of platforms, trackside buildings and structures. Classification systems vary between different countries, and gauges may vary across a network, even if the track gauge is uniform.

Rail terminology is a form of technical terminology. The difference between the American term railroad and the international term railway is the most significant difference in rail terminology. There are also others, due to the parallel development of rail transport systems in different parts of the world.

Ferry slip Docking facility for a ferry

A ferry slip is a specialized docking facility that receives a ferryboat or train ferry. A similar structure called a barge slip receives a barge or car float that is used to carry wheeled vehicles across a body of water.

Reporting mark Alphabetic code ID used on the North American railroad network

A reporting mark is a code used to identify owners or lessees of rolling stock and other equipment used on certain rail transport networks. The code typically reflects the name or identifying number of the owner, lessee, or operator of the equipment.

Refrigerator car Railroad car designed to carry perishable freight at specific temperatures

A refrigerator car is a refrigerated boxcar (U.S.), a piece of railroad rolling stock designed to carry perishable freight at specific temperatures. Refrigerator cars differ from simple insulated boxcars and ventilated boxcars, neither of which are fitted with cooling apparatus. Reefers can be ice-cooled, come equipped with any one of a variety of mechanical refrigeration systems, or utilize carbon dioxide as a cooling agent. Milk cars may or may not include a cooling system, but are equipped with high-speed trucks and other modifications that allow them to travel with passenger trains.

Autorack 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.

Tank car Rolling stock designed to transport liquid and gaseous commodities

A tank car is a type of railroad car or rolling stock designed to transport liquid and gaseous commodities.

Flatcar Type of railroad car for transporting large objects, containers, or machinery

A flatcar (US) 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 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.

Rail yard Enclosed area designated for railways

A rail yard, railway yard, railroad yard (US) or simply yard, is a complex series of tracks in a rail network for storing, sorting, or loading and unloading rail vehicles and locomotives. Yards have many tracks in parallel for keeping rolling stock or unused locomotives stored off the main line, so that they do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Cars or wagons are moved around by specially designed yard switchers (US) or shunters, a type of locomotive. Cars or wagons in a yard may be sorted by numerous categories, including railway company, loaded or unloaded, destination, car type, or whether they need repairs. Yards are normally built where there is a need to store rail vehicles while they are not being loaded or unloaded, or are waiting to be assembled into trains. Large yards may have a tower to control operations.

TTX Company is a provider of railcars and related freight car management services to the North American rail industry. TTX's pool of railcars – over 165,000 cars and intermodal wells – supports shippers in the intermodal, automotive, paper & forest, metals, machinery, wind energy and other markets where flatcars, boxcars and gondolas are required. Owned by a number of large North American railroads, TTX's pools allow members to share capacity to reduce costs and risk.

Rail freight transport Train that carries cargo

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

Mixed train

A mixed train or mixed consist is a train that contains both passenger and freight cars or wagons. Although common in the early days of railways, by the 20th century they were largely confined to branch lines with little traffic. Typically, service was slower, because mixed trains usually involved the shunting (switching) of rolling stock at stops along the way. However, some earlier passenger expresses, which also hauled time-sensitive freight in covered goods wagons (boxcars), would now be termed mixed trains. Generally, toward the end of the mixed train era, shunting at intermediate stops had significantly diminished. Most railway passenger and freight services are now administered separately.

Thrall Car Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of railroad freight cars in Chicago Heights, Illinois from 1917 to 2001. The company was sold to Trinity Industries in 2001.

Goods wagon Unpowered railway vehicle used for freight transport

Goods wagons or freight wagons, also known as goods carriages, goods trucks, freight carriages or freight trucks, are unpowered railway vehicles that are used for the transportation of cargo. A variety of wagon types are in use to handle different types of goods, but all goods wagons in a regional network typically have standardized couplers and other fittings, such as hoses for air brakes, allowing different wagon types to be assembled into trains. For tracking and identification purposes, goods wagons are generally assigned a unique identifier, typically a UIC wagon number, or in North America, a company reporting mark plus a company specific serial number.

Flat wagon 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.

Covered goods wagon Enclosed railway wagon used to carry freight

A covered goods wagon or van is a railway goods wagon which is designed for the transportation of moisture-susceptible goods and therefore fully enclosed by sides and a fixed roof. They are often referred to simply as covered wagons, and this is the term used by the International Union of Railways (UIC). Since the introduction of the international classification for goods wagons by the UIC in the 1960s a distinction has been drawn between ordinary and special covered wagons. Other types of wagon, such as refrigerated vans and goods wagons with opening roofs, are closely related to covered wagons from a design point of view. Similar freight cars in North America are called boxcars.