Freight Car Friday – Depressed Center Flatcars

28 10 2011

When it comes to moving oversized loads, the railroads are hard to beat. But even railroads still have to contend with clearance issues. To maximize capacity, railroads will often use special cars like depressed-center and other heavy-duty flatcars to haul the largest of loads.

transformer load

Large transformers are a common load. This one was seen on Norfolk Southern in March as part of a solid train of oversize loads which also included construction equipment.

The car type has been around for more than 100 years. Although never needed in great quantities on the railroads, they have always been popular for modelers both for their own unique look and the awesome loads they carry.

Size, design and capacities for these cars vary greatly. Small cars ride on a pair of conventional trucks and have a carrying capacity of about 90 tons. Larger cars may ride on 16 or more axles with 200+ ton capacities.

NP Flatcar

Depressed-center flatcars come in all sizes and so do the loads.

The need for cars this size is slim, but each move can mean big revenue for the railroads. Railroads that serve customers that ship oversize loads regularly often have their own fleet of cars. Many more are owned by heavy industries themselves and leasing companies like TTX (Trailer Train) and Kasgro Rail. These cars can be used for moves anywhere in the country.

PRR Flatcar

The Pennsylvania had a large fleet of cars to serve its industrial base. Notice how much the tie-down chains add to the model.

In addition to big revenue, oversize loads mean big operating headaches. Double-checking clearances, planning passing locations, speed restrictions and other limitations often put special loads in their own trains. Sometimes a single load becomes a train all to itself. If there are multiple restricted loads to move, they may be consolidated into a single train to save cost and avoid schedule disruptions. These trains can bypass switching yards to reduce the chance of damage. Loads that fit within normal operating parameters can be included in regular freights, as can empty moves.

A high and wide load is a great addition to any layout. And there are many great potential modeling projects out there for interesting loads. Don’t have the talent to build your own heat exchanger or turbine? A tarped load can be as simple as a block of wood, a plastic bag and some string or scale chain. Let your imagination do the rest!

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