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
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
"real" NE ...
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
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
is not out of proportion to the
This in spite of the fact that any
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
at 8%, then the "average"
Car Types % Total
Covered hopper 27.7
Box car 16.6
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