Freight Car Friday – Corn Syrup Tank Cars

17 08 2012

As food manufacturers switched from sugar to corn syrup as a primary ingredient, railroads found a new market that has really “stuck.” The syrup is used to sweeten everything from candy and soft drinks to the adhesive in envelopes. Whatever your feelings about the taste and nutritional values of the stuff relative to sugar, corn syrup movements are now a steady part of the railroads’ diet.


A Cargill car delivers its load to the famous factory in Hershey, PA.

Since 1977 when market changes drove up the cost of sugar, corn syrup has been a growing commodity on the rails. For modelers and observers, the rail cars are often easy to spot. The cars, almost exclusively 37 feet in length, are often given large colorful graphics. ADM, Cargill, Minnesota Corn Producers, Corn Products, Staley and others’ cars are common on railroads across the country. To make it even easier, like other tank cars the commodity must be printed on the carbody. It is not uncommon to see cars from different manufacturers in the same train or at the same industry.


Lionel’s frameless tank cars are a good representation for the overall size of these prototypes.

These same corporate logos and lettering can also be commonly found on cars for corn oil service (along with other types of cooking oils). Those cars tend to be of longer length.

While all of the syrup cars may simply say “Corn Syrup” or “Corn Sweeteners” the sweet stuff comes in six different grades. Like other commodities, once a tank car is used for one of these grades, it must be completely cleaned before it can be loaded with another. This could make for some very interesting switching at a production plant – perfect for modelers who like these operations.

A plant like this would also require inbound loads of corn in covered hoppers and could ship out several additional corn products such as oils and animal feeds. For more ideas and background on the manufacturing process, check out this link.

3 pack

A 3 pack of cars would look good headed to a larger industry, or you could run just single carloads to your smaller shippers.

Unloading at the receiving end would be more straight forward. A typical facility would include a spur track with hook-up hoses near ground level to connect to the bottom of the cars. Storage tanks could be located outside or within the main building. An elevated platform to help reach the top of the tank cars may also be added to make work easier on employees. The hatches at the tops of the tank must be opened during unloading to prevent the vacuum from collapsing the sides of the car.


To increase the capacity of this car, the tank was enlarged to the point that side ladders need to be recessed to maintain clearances.

Like other types of cars, there has been a push for increasing the capacity for corn syrup tanks as well. However, as cars have grown larger in the past decade, one thing has stayed the same – the length.

Car builders have looked to other ways to increase capacity and still keep length constant to allow the cars to line up at the existing loading and unloading stations. Some cars feature side ladders which are recessed into the tank so that they can remain within clearance limits while allowing the tank to be as large as possible.

Corn syrup shipments make an interesting addition to your model trains. Not only are the cars colorful and their destinations delicious, the cars can be commonly found in trains anywhere. And unlike a unit train of coal hoppers, a single corn syrup tank looks just as right in a train as a dozen. Besides, who wouldn’t want to add a candy factory to their empire?



One response

22 08 2012
Andrew Falconer

There used to be and most likely still are many of these Uni-Body Corn Syrup Tank Cars in the railyard next to Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan. Next to the railyard for the tank cars of Corn Syrup there is a large storage tank that resembles the tall oil tank that Lionel offers.

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