Freight Car Friday – Cement Service

31 05 2013

Cement may not be one of the flashiest commodities hauled by rail, but the heavy bulk material is well suited for the high density efficiency of trains. Railroads have used a great variety of cars to carry cement over the years as well.

Bulk Shipments

cement plant

A modern cement plant will require lots of covered hoppers.

The most common shipping method for cement by rail today is in bulk. Bulk dry cement was one of the first commodities to be hauled in covered hoppers and these remain the car of choice today.

Because of its density, covered hoppers used in cement service are smaller than those used for grains, plastics and other common covered hopper loads. Two-bay and smaller three-bay hoppers are most common in cement service. Cars like Lionel’s models of the smaller PS-2 and ACF Centerflow hoppers are perfect for cement service. Even with today’s super-sized freight cars, cement service covered hoppers remain small – a nice treat for our tight model curves.


Cement was one of the most common loads for the classic PS-2 2003 covered hopper.

One common characteristic of covered hoppers in this service is a liberal coat of weathering. Light gray and white streaks down the sides of cars below loading hatches and residual cement coating the roofs is a tell-tale sign that the car has been hauling cement for a while. Both of these effects are easy to add to models if you so desire, see our weathering pages for some ideas and techniques.

“LCL” Shipments


The classic Lionel canister load for gondolas is based on cement containers used by the Lehigh Valley.

In earlier years, railroads also moved a lot of cement in less-than-carload shipments. Many of these came in the form of bagged cement. Bags were loaded on pallets and carried in boxcars. Although the shipments were much more labor intensive, the car itself could be used for many other products with minimal cleaning. Compared to hopper and gondola cars in dedicated cement service, these cars showed minimal weathering.

A few railroads also experimented with small shipping containers for cement. These containers were then loaded into gondolas for shipment. An LCL cement container has actually been a popular part of the Lionel line-up for decades. The round containers were common on the Lehigh Valley which served the rich cement production region in northeastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey.

As roads improved, most of these smaller and very labor intensive shipments went to trucks. Railroads remain a critical cement hauler for larger bulk shipments. It’s prime construction season.  Have you moved any on your layout recently?



2 responses

21 06 2013
Lance Freeman

I am trying to find out if the Altas Trainman hoppers I own could be used for cement service, I have 2 of the ACF 3560 3 bay covered hoppers, I can’t find any useful information on what they would have used for. I can see current hoppers can go up to about that capacity for cement but I am not sure about these cars.

21 06 2013

Lance, I think these cars are a little large for cement. They could be used if not filled to cubic capacity but railroads tend to avoid this whenever possible. Salt, fertilizer, some dry chemicals, and bauxite are common loads for this car.

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