Freight Car Friday – Trinity Rail

30 05 2014

Trinity is one of today’s leading freight car builders. Despite not building their own equipment until the late 1960s, the company has been on an amazing path of growth over the past fifty years and through its acquisitions has one of the most experienced pedigrees in the business.

TILX 566304

Part of Trinity’s lease fleet, TILX 56304 traces its design back to earlier Pullman Standard designs.

Trinity didn’t start with railcars. The modern Trinity Industries formed in 1958 from a merger of the Dallas Tank Company and Trinity Steel. The company’s major focus was on tanks for the petroleum and natural gas industry as well as supporting equipment. This included building tanks for rail car use.

After supplying components, Trinity went all-in for their first complete tank car in 1977. Building the complete car offered better profit margins and the company expanded its construction aggressively. By 1980 they were among the top five builders in the US. While building their own line, the company expanded through the acquisition of other car builders through the highly turbulent markets of the 1980s.

Trincool Reefer

Reefers may not be as common as tank cars, but Trinity’s TRINCool reefers are certainly among the most recognizable modern freight cars.

This impressive list includes:

  • Pullman Standard – 1983
  • Greenville – 1986
  • Standard Forgings of Chicago – 1986
  • Ortner – 1987
  • Transcisco Industries – 1996
  • McConway and Torley – 1998
  • Thrall – 2001
Tank Car

Tank cars remain an important part of Trinity’s business and should be for years to come.

In addition to building rail cars, Trinity has been a leasing cars to the railroads and private companies since 1979. Rail car construction tends to run in hot / cold cycles. Having the lease operation provides a financial buffer for the lean years. Their lease cars, with TILX reporting marks, are a common sight on trains all across North America today.

bulkhead flatcar

Many of Trinity’s products retain a strong resemblance to their predecessors like this bulkhead flat inherited from Thrall.

As you would expect, many of Trinity’s cars look very similar to the designs previously built by the companies they have absorbed. This includes iconic designs like Pullman Standard’s boxcars, Ortner’s rapid-discharge hoppers and Thrall’s well cars. The contemporary Trinity product line includes autoracks, hoppers, boxcars, flatcars, tank cars, gondolas, covered hoppers, coil cars, and well cars. You would be hard pressed to find a freight train on a mainline in North America today that doesn’t include some of their products.

rapid discharge car

Trinity’s acquisition of Ortner gave them access to a proven rapid-discharge car design for aggregate service.

With the growth in crude oil and ethanol shipments in the past decade, Trinity’s roots in tank manufacturing are proving to be a great asset. Tank cars make up more than half of all new car orders today. With new regulations for cars due later this year however, expect to see some changes to the designs. You can also expect Trinity to adapt quickly to meet what might amount to unprecedented demand for the new cars. Earlier this month the company announced plans to reopen a plant in Cartersville, Georgia to build new tank cars.

While the tank car boom should prove lucrative for the company over the next several years, Trinity has hedged its bets for the long term with their other product lines and the leasing operations. In addition to their railcar operations, Trinity Industries still maintains its other industrial operations including tanks and piping, structural and marine products. By all forecasts, we should be seeing Trinity’s cars on the rails for decades to come.

Freight Car Friday – Strange and Unusual Part 2

16 05 2014

Sure there are many freight cars that look alike and many versions of cars that only the “rivet counters” can tell apart. But every now and again something completely different passes by in a train to reward the watcher who doesn’t put their lens cap back on as soon as the locomotives go past. We featured four of these odd characters on a Freight Car Friday post in 2012. This week, let’s look at a few more specialty cars that have evolved to meet the unique needs of customers.

Calcium Carbide Car

calcium carbide

CCKX 720 carries an interesting load of calcium carbide casks through Nebraska.

The small casks on this car look similar to the coke casks available for Lionel’s scale gondola car. The load isn’t coke however,  but calcium carbide (CAC2).

Calcium carbide is primarily used in the making of acetylene. This is created when the calcium carbide is mixed with water – hence the dangerous when wet placards on the containers. Calcium carbide is also used in some steel making operations. Toy collectors may also know it from its use in some toy cannons.

Thirty small 5,000 pound casks are loaded on a flatcar and tied down with four large covers. Although hard to see, there are small bulkheads at the ends of the car to keep the loads from shifting. When they arrive at their destination, the casks can be placed on top of a small tower and emptied from the bottom hopper.

Notice that each container and the flat car carry warning placards. The flatcar is also labeled “DO NOT HUMP.” The reporting marks belong to Carbide Industries. This car was spotted heading east along the edge of Union Pacific’s massive yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

Can Stock Car

Canstock car

CSX 504123 shows its offset door.

All boxcars look alike? Not really. While it was traditionally the railroads’ catch-all car, boxcars have become increasingly specialized since the 1960s. Whether it’s a giant high-cube for auto parts, or a kaolin car with roof hatches, the demands of different loads can create many interesting construction variations. One of the more rare modifications to boxcars are a select few customized for can stock service.

Can stock is, as the name implies, thin steel or aluminum used primarily in making metal cans. Unlike other steel coils carried in coil cars or gondolas, these are best transported by boxcar. In order to maximize the payload in these cars, the B&O went to Pullman Standard with a request for new cars in 1972. Moving both doors closer to one end of the car better accommodated the lift trucks and pushed the capacity to 8 coils from 6.

With the doors both offset toward the “A” end of the car (without the brake wheel) a plexiglass panel was added to the roof near the “B” end to allow some light in to the far end of the car. These panels were later replaced as along with the light, they also let in water.

Only 75 of these offset door cars were built. Over the years they have worn B&O, Chessie and CSX emblems.

Vinegar Tank Car

Vinegar Tank

SBIX 1634 is preserved at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.

Looking like something from another era, wood-sided tank cars remained the best mode of transportation for vinegar well into the mid-1900s.

Vinegar is highly corrosive to metal and would have destroyed the early steel tank cars. Today, special liners can be applied to prevent this problem. Steel was used for the frame and bulkheads however which gave the car the structural integrity necessary to be handled in trains of all-steel cars. Although not all cars were painted this way, the silver paint seen on SBIX 1634 was a common way of keeping the contents cooler by reflecting the sun’s rays.

At least three vinegar tanks survive in museums in St. Louis, Toronto and North Freedom, Wisconsin.

Hot Ingot Car

hot ingot car

Looking like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, LHFX 25000 carries a steel ingot fresh from the furnace.

The steel industry is a haven for interesting railroad equipment. These hot ingot cars are no exception! Looking like something designed to haul top-secret military loads or nuclear material, it’s just hot steel now. But when Lehigh Heavy Forge is finished, that steel could easily be headed to a Navy yard or nuclear power plant.

Lehigh Heavy Forge operates out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are the only open-die forging company in the Western Hemisphere and produce an amazing variety of heavy forged parts for power generation, the military and industrial applications. Formed in 1997, the company carries on the rich steel legacy in this historic steel town.

The special steel used in many of their applications is produced not far away in Steelton, PA. The ingots are shipped hot to Bethlehem for forging. These heavy cars, originally belonging to Bethlehem Steel, carry the ingots inside well insulated covers. The cars can also be used to ship product to other regional mills for finishing. Because of the time-sensitive nature of the loads, it was not uncommon for Conrail or Norfolk Southern to run a dedicated train or place the cars on the head-end of priority intermodal trains to get them to their destination quickly.

Lehigh Heavy Forge has a handful of cars like this, but in classic steel industry tradition, no two are exactly the same. They would certainly make an interesting, and challenging, modeling project.

Cars like those seen this week are a great example of what makes freight cars such a great learning tool. What starts off as a curious car in a passing train can open a window into the history and operations of a whole new industry. What will the next train teach you?


Freight Car Friday – Asphalt Cars

2 05 2014

Spring is finally here and road crews across the country are busy patching potholes and repaving roads. The asphalt that paves our roads often takes its first trip on the rails.

asphalt tank car

GATX 89282 carries a load of asphalt. Judging from the paint burned from the top of the car, those “HOT” warning placards are well heeded.

The car of choice of course for asphalt service is the tank car. Despite similar exterior appearances, tank cars are among the most specialized rail cars due to the unique qualities of the different loads they carry. Asphalt service tank cars are typically in the 23,000 to 26,0000 gallon capacity size and are insulated and heated. Both for heat retention and to minimize the weathering effects of the load, black is the paint color of choice. When loaded, asphalt cars carry “HOT” placards.

utlx tank

This UTLX tank is in asphalt service for only a few months. An outer “skin” hides the heating coils and insulation which are wrapped around the actual tank itself.

Asphalt is produced at refineries all around the country. From there it typically moves in bulk aboard rail cars to regional distribution centers or manufacturing facilities. In addition to paving, asphalt is also used for roofing materials, and as a coating or component on many other building materials and products as diverse as battery cases and tires. If the final use site isn’t directly served by the railroad, as in most road projects, the asphalt can be transloaded into tank trucks for delivery. These unloading operations may be modeled with very minimal space and can work well for an easy industry on a model railroad.

While the insulation in the tank cars keeps the asphalt from completely hardening in transit, additional heat is often necessary to get the sticky liquid to unload efficiently. Typically the car is warmed by filling the heating coils along the exterior of the tank with steam. Other heated liquids or gasses can also be used. Once heated, the asphalt can be pumped out of the bottom of the tank and into stationary storage tanks on site or waiting trailers.

CGTX 18492

The equipment boxes around the end sills on this CGTX car contain equipment for the heating coils.

As you can probably imagine, after emptying the tank there will still be some stubborn residue left inside. Typically about an inch of material will be left at the bottom. Cleaning the interior of an asphalt tank car must surely not rank high on anyone’s list of desirable jobs, but it must be done.

Before anyone can enter the tank to clean it, the car must be allowed to vent for several hours. The vapors inside the car are not only toxic, they can also ignite. Steam, hot diesel oil, caustic soda, detergents and cold water can all be used. Between the venting and cleaning, it can take several hours to prepare an asphalt tank car for its next load.


Burned off paint and thick tar stains are common tell tales of asphalt service.

The latest method is to cool the car by pumping cold water into the coils and into the tank itself to a temperature of around 40°F. This hardens the asphalt so that it can be chipped and swept out as a solid. This is much faster and safer than the other techniques.

Aside from the “HOT” placards and other loading markings, asphalt tank cars can usually be picked out easily in a train. It doesn’t take too many trips before the cars develop thick black streaks down the sides near the loading hatch from spilled asphalt. It is also common to see the paint on the car burned off from the heat of the load. For those who like to weather their models, this is all part of the fun!

So the next time you have to dodge a pothole on the way to work, just think of all the business it means for the railroads!

Freight Car Friday – Pullman Standard

25 04 2014

Perhaps the most famous name in freight cars, Pullman Standard’s history of freight car design and construction is one of the oldest and richest in the industry. While the Pullman name will forever be associated with passenger trains, Pullman Standard also built many of the most common freight cars found on North American rails.

Corporate Background

Million boxcar

PS-1,000,000! Showcasing the production capabilities of Pullman Standard, this nondescript car is the one millionth to roll off the line – or at least one of the contenders for the title. This car is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Pullman Standard was formed through the consolidation of two of the largest car builders of their day. Pullman purchased a controlling interest in the Standard Steel Car Company in 1929. Pullman subsequently organized its own manufacturing divisions into one subsidiary and then merged the two assets together in 1934.

In addition to these two big names, there were many smaller companies which had already been incorporated into both Pullman and Standard Steel. Pullman had acquired Haskell & Barker in 1922 and Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad in 1928.

On the Standard Steel side of the family tree were the Middletown Car Works (acquired in 1909), South Baltimore Car & Foundry (c. 1910), Keith Car and Manufacturing (c. 1912), Osgood Bradley (c. 1913), Richmond Car Works (c. 1928), Siems-Stembel (c. 1928) and Canton Car Co (c. 1934 – after Pullman ownership but before consolidation.) This gave Standard Steel Car manufacturing facilities in seven states.


When introduced in 1947, the covered hopper was still a relatively rare design. Pullman Standard’s PS-2 became the first widely adopted standard.

For most of the years between the company’s consolidation in 1934 and the sale of its assets in 1982, Pullman Standard would build more freight cars than anyone else in North America. Operations from its predecessors were gradually consolidated and some new plants were built.

Pullman Standard’s production officially came to an end in 1982. The parent Pullman, Inc sold Pullman Standard’s car building assets to Trinity Industries. Pullman Standard also had a large freight car leasing subsidiary. This was sold to ITEL rail car, which is today a part of General Electric.

Freight Car Design and Production


The PS-1 was one of the most prolific freight cars of the 1950s.

In its early history, Pullman was slow to adopt to new steel car construction and was building the majority of its cars from wood as late as 1907. Haskell and Barker too was predominantly a wood car builder with its steel car shop not built until 1910. It is interesting to note that at the time Haskell was acquired, they were building more freight cars than Pullman itself. Standard Steel Car on the other hand was an early pioneer of the all-steel freight car since its incorporation in 1902.

There was nothing sluggish about Pullman Standard’s engineering and construction following the consolidation however. Among modelers, the company is certainly best known for its standard car designs which originated in the late 1940s. While there had been earlier examples of common designs proposed by railroad associations, the USRA and others, Pullman Standard’s standards quickly became the most widespread in use and represented a complete product line few other builders could match.

WP gon

The PS-5 was a versatile gondola and set the standard for “Mill Gons.”

The Pullman Standard designs included the PS-1 boxcar, PS-2 covered hopper, PS-3 hopper, PS-4 flatcar, and PS-5 gondola. While there were standards for each car type, there were still plenty of options for customers to choose from. For example, boxcars came in 40 and 50 foot lengths, there were different sizes of doors, and interiors could be fitted with a variety of load restraints, moveable bulkheads, floors, etc. But the cars all shared a familial look thanks to common parts and design features.

Production of Pullman Standard’s cars took place at record paces. In fact, production was so chaotic among the various plants that three “1,000,000th” commemorative boxcars were produced!

MILW Flatcar

The PS-4 flatcars hauled everything from timber to trailers.

As time progressed, more and more options were introduced and the PS- designations became just a part of the overall product name. Thanks to the limits of patentable parts of most freight car designs, the designs of these cars were also adopted by other car builders with very little change.

In 1951, Pullman Standard acquired the Trailmobile Company and operated it as a subsidiary which would become a leading builder of truck trailers. Many of these trailers would regularly ride on Pullman Standard flatcars in the growing intermodal markets in decades to follow.

60' Grand Trunk

Lionel’s 60′ boxcar represents typical Pullman Standard construction techniques of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Pullman Standard didn’t stop building passenger equipment either. The company continued to supply railroads with passenger equipment up until 1982. Its last passenger car was an Amtrak Superliner sleeper. The cars significance was honored by naming it the George Mortimer Pullman.

Milwaukee Road

The PS-2CD covered hoppers’ design allowed easier unloading by eliminating the center sill through the hoppers.

Although even the youngest Pullman Standard cars are now into their third decade of service, many can still be seen in today’s freight trains. Additional historic examples can be found preserved in railroad museums all across the country.

As common as they have been in the real world, so too have Pullman Standard’s products been a large part of the Lionel line. Scale versions of the PS-1 boxcar, 60′ boxcar, PS-2 2003 and PS-2CD covered hoppers, the PS-4 flatcar, PS-5 gondola and most recently the 86′ boxcar are all modeled directly from Pullman Standard plans. Don’t forget the waffle-side boxcar and of course all of those passenger cars in your fleet as well! The Pullman Standard legacy is sure to live on for a long time to come.