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.
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.
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.
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?