Freight Car Friday – Freight Car Repair

8 03 2013

Many model railroads feature facilities to service their locomotives. Freight (and passenger) cars occasionally need work too. This maintenance can take many forms and can make an interesting addition to your model railroad.

The RIP Track

RIP Track

Workers make quick repairs on freight cars at the RIP track to get cars back in service quickly.

Most yards have a track where basic repairs can be made. The RIP, or Repair In Place, track can handle most of the common repairs necessary on freight cars with a minimum of tools and equipment.

Jobs like replacing a broken coupler or air hoses, welding broken ladders or hand-holds, replacing wheels or other components of the trucks, air brake repairs and more can be accomplished here. Most of these jobs require only basic tools like welding equipment, car jacks, and a variety of hand tools. A spare parts supply is also kept close by.


Car jacks often take the place of large overhead cranes.

The facility itself can very basic. A concrete pad is usually present to make work more comfortable and to provide a firm base for jacking cars. Often the work is performed in the open air. An open-walled or simple structure may be built to make the work site slightly more comfortable in less temperate climates.

In the interest of keeping the trains and their loads moving, railroads will usually perform routine jobs like this on whatever cars need them on their rails. So it is not uncommon to see cars from multiple railroads and owners in a single RIP track.

The Car Shop

car shop

Most car shops are relatively simple yet efficient structures.

More intensive work is handled in the car shop. In addition to repairing damaged cars, these facilities also often perform scheduled rebuilding and rehab programs for older equipment. These jobs can take many forms and can often result in new cars which look nothing like the equipment which rolled in. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, many railroads began converting boxcars into flatcars for piggy-back service in their own shops.

These shops are also usually responsible for repainting the company’s equipment. This might simply be due to old age, or as a result of a merger or purchase. Paint jobs might be as simple as applying a new number or completely repainting the entire car.


Parts can be stored outside, or in old boxcars. Inbound parts and outbound scrap can provide even more rail traffic for the facility.

Although wrecked freight cars are now often scrapped on site if their scrap value is more than their repair costs, when a wrecked car needs rebuilding it often goes to one of these shops. Such cars might arrive on their own wheels or on board a flatcar.

A few large railroads had car shops large enough to actually build new equipment. Often these cars arrived as kits from other builders. These large shops might even sell their services to other companies and even competing railroads during slower times to help keep the employees on the clock and recoup some of the railroad’s own operating costs.

On Your Railroad


Accessories like our repainting scene add an extra touch to a car shop scene.

You don’t have to model one of these sprawling complexes to include the action of car repair on your layout. A simple RIP track can be modeled as part of any yard scene. A paved work area, yard light towers, workers and stockpiles of supplies like trucks, couplers, boxcar doors, etc. will make a very effective scene.

wheel load

Carloads of wheels, or even carrying wrecked cars could also be found around the shop.

For a larger facility, a simple shop building could be made from one of the engine houses on the market, or even built from scratch from scribed styrene or other materials. Most of these facilities are very simple structures with few complicated architectural details to complicate your modeling.

rust streaks

A re-purposed freight car can provide easy storage space.

You’ll find much of what you need in the Lionel catalog. Over the years we’ve even created paint shop accessories and “patched” cars. A few inexpensive used freight cars might provide all the parts you’ll need to create your stores, plus perhaps a wrecked car arriving on a flatcar for more extensive work. You can get lots of ideas from the weathering and “bone yard” modeling pages here on our blog.

Since just about any sort of car can show up here, you can spot any of your freight cars on the siding. Passenger cars might also even show up occasionally. And while it’s there, maybe it will remind you to clean the wheels and oil the journals!



One response

9 03 2013
Gerald Earl Harris

I have been a long time owner of Lionel Trains!

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