Railroad car

A railroad car, (or, more briefly, car), also known as a item of rolling stock in British parlance, is a vehicle on a railroad or railway that is not a locomotive - one that provides another purpose than purely haulage, although some types of car are powered. Cars can be coupled together into a train, either hauled by a locomotive or self-powered.

Most cars carry a paying load, although non-revenue cars exist for the railroad's own use, such as for maintenance purposes. Such uses can generally be divided into the carriage of passengers and of freight.

Table of contents
1 Passenger Cars
2 Freight Cars
3 Non-Revenue Cars

Passenger Cars

Passenger cars, or coaches, vary in their internal fittings but the vast majority of modern examples consist of a long interior with seats and a central aisle for access. Other types of passenger car exist, especially for long journeys, such as the dining car, parlor car, disco car, and in rare cases theater car (picture). Observation cars were built for the rear of many famous trains to allow the passengers to view the scenery. Sleeping cars outfitted with (generally) small bedrooms allow passengers to sleep through their night-time trips, while couchette cars provide more basic sleeping accommodation. Long-distance trains often require baggage cars for the passengers' luggage. Historically in European practice it was common for day coaches to be formed of compartments seating 6 or 8 passengers, with access from a side corridor -- corridor coaches fell into disfavour in the 1960s and 1970s partially because open coaches are considered more secure by women travelling alone.

Another distinction is between single- and double-decker cars.

A 'trainset' (or 'set') is a semi-permanently arranged formation of cars, rather than one created 'ad hoc' out of whatever cars are available. These are only broken up and reshuffled 'on shed' (in the maintenance depot). Trains are then built of one or more of these 'sets' coupled together as needed for the capacity of that train.

Often, but not always, passenger cars in a train are linked together with enclosed, flexible gangway connections that can be walked through by passengers and crew members. Some designs incorporate semi-permanent connections between cars and may have a full-width connection, making in essence one longer, flexible 'car'.

Many multiple unit trains consist of cars which are semi-permanently coupled into sets; these sets may be joined together to form larger trains, but generally passengers can only move around between cars within a set. This 'closed' nature allows the separate sets to be easily split to go separate ways. Some multiple-unit trainsets are designed so that corridor connections can be easily opened between coupled sets; this generally requires driving cabs either set off to the side or (as in the Dutch Koploper) above the passenger compartment.

Freight Cars

Freight cars or wagons exist in a bewilderingly wide variety of types, adapted to the ideal carriage of a whole host of different things. Originally there were very few types of car; the boxcar (UK: van), a closed box with side doors, was among the first.

Among the types of freightcar are:

  • Boxcars (or vans) - box shape with roof and side or end doors
  • Refrigerator cars (or, colloquially, Reefers), a refrigerated subtype of boxcar
  • Flatcars (or flat) for larger loads that don't load easily into a boxcar. Specialised types such as the depressed-center flatcar exist for truly outsize items. With the advent of containerised freight, special types of flatcar were built to carry standard shipping containers.
  • Gondolas with an open top but enclosed sides and end, for bulk commodities and other goods that might slide off
  • Hopper cars, a gondola with bottom dump doors for easy unloading of things like coal, ore, grain, cement and the like. Two varieties; open top, and closed top.
  • Tank cars for the carriage of liquids
  • Stock cars for the transport of livestock

The vast majority of freightcars fit into the above categories

Non-Revenue Cars




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