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Railroad pictures from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and beyond

Types of Freight Cars


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The red car with the open door that says Southern on it is a Box Car. Box cars are one of the most common types of railcars. They can be used to hual many types of commodities. The next car, painted the same color, but much shorter, is a Covered Gondola. Most Gondolas are not covered, but sometimes covers are placed on them to protect their contents. Gondolas are often used to transport rolled steel, pipes, scrap wood, scrap metal, etc.

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Pictured above are Gondolas or gons. The orange gon is used by the Norfolk Southern track maintenance department and is hauling some kind of scrap material. The next gon appears to be empty.

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The above cars are open top Hopper cars. The hoppers pictured here are used exclusively for coal hauling, but they can be used to haul rock, coal, sand, wood chips, etc. Also, the pictured car is made from Aluminum, but most hoppers are made from Steel. Hoppers are emptied from the bottom side. Notice the trianglular objects hanging from the underside of the car; these are opened to empty the car.

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This text was on the side of some hopper cars in coal service. Place "C" and "F" have to do with car sizes. There are standards set by the AAR (American Association of Railroads) as to how big railcars can be and what "plate" they fall under depends on their dimensions.

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The three cars (or 2.5 cars) in the above picture are all covered hoppers. Even though the car on the right looks very different from the other two, they are fundamentally the same. These cars are used to haul commodities that must be protected from the elements. Examples include wheat and some types of sand. These cars have hatches on the top that are opened to fill the cars, and hatches on bottom to empty the cars.

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The car in the center is a Lumber Car. There may be a better name for it, but I don't know it. This car is used to transport lumber and building materials, like dry wall. The cars to the right of the picture (blue and red) are box cars with their doors closed.

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The car in the foreground/center (red with wood on it) is a loaded lumber car. The cars in the background are auto racks (more below) and the car that is yellow and very low between the lumber car and auto racks is a well car or double stack car (more below).

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The car to the left of center with wooden stakes is either a flat car or a lumber car, I'm not real sure how you would classify it. This type of car is generally used to transport pipe or telephone poles. The car to it's right, painted red with a big NS on it is a Hicube Box Car. It is different from a regular box car in that it is taller, and perhaps more box-y. Hicube box cars are most often used to transport auto parts.

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The cars in the center and right of the picture are Steel Coil Cars used to transport rolled steel from steelmill to customer (generally automobile plants). The cover is removed to get to the steel. Sometimes this car travels uncovered with steel on it, or empty. They can be tricky to figure out what they are used for if they are coverless and unloaded as they look almost like a flat car, but not quite. (Yes, this is a bad angle on the picture... each car starts just left of the "NS" and ends after the "Protect III"; there are three in the picture, starting at right).

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Here is a better picture of some steel coil cars, but these are a little bit older.

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The cars in the above picture are all Tank Cars. Tank cars are used to transport all kinds of liquids by rail. Most toxic and highly flammable chemicals are shipped by rail because it is so much safer than truck (plus, they are shipped in a larger volume, reducing cost). Tank cars are used to haul natural gas, oil, antifreeze, acid, water, corn syrup, etc.

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This car is a retired Reefer car, or refridgerated car. It is used to haul produce and other products that must be kept cool and/or fresh. In the old days, ice was dropped into the ends of reefer cars (as is the case with the one pictured) and fans circulated cool air inside. Most modern reefer cars have diesel powered compressors to keep the merchandise cool, and most are shapped a bit more like a regular box car.

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This is a Caboose. While it isn't a freight car, it was once at the end of all freight trains. In the old days, they were required on all freight trains, now they are generally only used on local trains that have long reverse movements. This particular caboose has a bay window.

I do not yet have decent photos of all car types. Most notably, I have neglected intermodal cars (aka well or double stack cars) and flat cars. This is only because I do not have suitable pictures of these cars scanned in yet. Maintenance cars can be found throughout the site under the RR that owns each particular car.

I have also neglected passenger car types due to lack of time and pictures... they may or may not be added in the future.


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