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Modeling the distribution of car types in the modern fleet


by Jim Moir (c) 1992


We all know that if you want your railroad to reflect a

certain era, and "look right", one thing that is necessary

is to have the right cars for that time period.  As well, it

helps if your car fleet has the various types of cars in

about the right proportion to each other.


This is especially important if you are modeling the

recent, or modern, railroad scene, because the distribution

of car types has changed significantly over the last 20

years.  Covered hoppers are by far the most numerous kind of

car today, one car in four.  Box cars are now fourth, behind

tank cars!  Another development is that private ownership

now represents about 38% of the total fleet, reflecting the

greater number of covered hoppers and tank cars.


In 1991, the AAR reported that the car fleet totaled

1,197,419 cars of which 453,059 were privately owned.  The

railroad-owned fleet declined 33,101 cars (4.3%) from the

previous year, while the privately-owned fleet increased

12,323 cars (2.8%).  Some of these numbers are from

abstracts from Railway Age on Compuserve's TrainNet.


On a car-type by car-type basis, the fleet consists of:


Car Types             % Total        % private


Covered hopper          24.6            46.3

Hopper                  18.2            12.6

Tank                    15.7            99.3

Box car                 14.8             8.7

Gondola                 11.5            27.2

Flat                    10.7            33.8

Refrigerator             3.3             7.8

Other                    1.1            17.0


Some notes.  Railbox boxcars represent 85.7% of the

privately owned boxcars and Railgon has 1% of the gondolas.

TTX Corp, formerly Trailer Train, owns 31% of the flats.

The railroad-owned fleet of covered hoppers represents 12.1%

of the fleet.  We might expect that most of these are used

in grain service.


The number of hoppers may seem high for a railroad set other

than in the coalfields, say in the northeast. (We're talking

the "real" NE ... Vermont and northern NY.)  So how much

does locality affect these proportions?  The following table

shows the distribution of some car types in three fleets.



% of fleet by Kind(3)


                Railroad        N&W             CN(1)             B&M

Car Types

Covered hopper                    -               21.4            11.1

Hopper                           58.2             6.82             8.3


Total cars                       62152            73255            2136

% of total fleet                   5.2              6.1            0.18


Notes:    1) Includes CNWX/ALNX assigned covered hoppers

          2) 21% are ore hoppers

          3)  Source: ORER, January 1989


The N&W fleet of hoppers, alone, represents about 16.5% of

the total hopper fleet.  Compare that to the B&M and CN

fleet proportions of about 7 to 8%.


It may be interesting to note that CN's fleet of covered

hoppers is not out of proportion to the AAR fleet average.

This in spite of the fact that any visitor to Vancouver

harbor can come to believe that there is no kind of railroad

car in the world other than the MIL/NSC cylindrical hopper.

We even see them by the trainload here.


If we take out "distortions", (sorry Appalachian modelers!)

such as the N&W hoppers, by setting the percentage of

hoppers at 8%, then the "average" AAR fleet might look like



Car Types                       % Total

Covered hopper                    27.7

Hopper                             8.0

Tank                              17.8

Box car                           16.6

Gondola                           12.9

Flat                              12.0

Refrigerator                       3.7

Other                              1.3


This adjusted list still puts the boxcar no better than

third by number and still only one car in six in a modern



If a modeler were to put together a modern car fleet based

just on these numbers, a model fleet totaling about 640

cars would consist of ...


Car types                                %            Number   Kind of cars Total

Covered hoppers, private                12.8            82

Covered hoppers, Class 1                14.8            95       177

Hoppers                                  8.0            51        51

Tank cars                               17.8            114      114

Box cars, Class 1                       11.3            72

Box cars, other railroads                3.9            25

Box cars, Railbox                        1.3             8

Box cars, other private                  0.3             2       107

Flat, railroad                           8.3            53

Flat, TrailerTrain                       3.7            24        77

Gondolas                                12.7            82        82

Refrigerator, railroad                   3.4            22

Refrigerator, private                    0.3             2        24

Other                                    1.3             8         8



Huummmm...  Guess I'm still going to have to trade off a few

boxcars for tank cars and autoracks.  And say, that's a lot

of covered hoppers.  Maybe, if we all sit down and write a few

letters to Mr Walthers showing him this table, we just might

see a model of the MIL/NSC "grain" cylindrical covered

hopper car.