Railroad engineers must walk a tight rope between capacity and clearances when designing any new piece of railroad equipment. Since larger cars are inherently more efficient, the desire to build ever-bigger rolling stock is obvious. Unfortunately, it is a lot easier to build a bigger boxcar than it is to upgrade every piece of rail, bridge and tunnel of the routes on which it will run.
In order to allow for an easy interchange, or exchange, of cars between lines, railroads have adopted standards for clearances, axle loading, couplers, air brakes and more. When one road wants to change its cars, it can have a ripple effect across the entire industry. Such was the case in 1931 when the Pennsylvania Railroad released its new X31 boxcar.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, autoparts and finished automobiles were an increasing source of traffic for railroads, especially in the Northeast. Many parts and finished vehicles are large, but not heavy for their size. This meant that railroads would fill the cubic capacity of their boxcars much faster than they would reach their weight loading limits. Bigger cars were an option, but not on all lines due to clearances. The worst clearance restrictions were generally found in the east – on the very railroads that were handling the rising auto traffic.
The Pennsylvania began pushing for lesser restrictions but faced resistance from smaller partners. Ultimately, a compromise design was found that made the best of the available clearance “box.” By bending the roof sheets to meet the sides vertically, the interior height of the car was raised to ten feet. The first cars entered service in 1933. In 1935, the design was modified slightly with a flush meeting between the roof and sides and an interior height of ten feet five inches in the center, ten feet at the sides. By 1936, the X31A had replaced the X29 as a general service car. In 1937, the design was adopted as a standard by the ARA. What seems like a small change had a huge impact on freight car design and helped open the doors for even bigger cars to follow.
Our model features the distinct design of the early cars, with an inset roof seem where it meets the sides. Initially offered in the single door arrangement, future plans will include the double-door cars as well. These were especially useful in finished auto service. Built as early as 1933, the cars remained in service into the 1960s. So these boxcars will look equally at home behind an M1 or an SD45.
Like many Pennsy designs, these cars were sold to more than just the “Standard Railroad of the World.” Seaboard and Norfolk and Western both had large fleets of single and double door cars. Similar cars were operated by many other roads as well.
The new 1:48 scale Lionel models will feature many fine details: a heavy die-cast frame for good tracking, separate metal underframe details, sprung metal trucks and couplers with recessed uncoupling tabs, and of course operating doors so you can park some vintage autos inside for delivery. The X31 will operate on O-31 curves. The X31A is scheduled for 2012 delivery and retails for $69.99. See your dealer and get your orders in now!