The purchase of a railcar is an investment for any company, but it can be difficult to know what you should look for when shopping. There are many different types of cars with different purposes and attributes that vary by manufacturer. This blog post will cover 7 things that every potential buyer should know before they make their decision.

#1: What is a railcar and what does it do?

A railcar, also known as a rolling stock or rail wagon, is any vehicle that can be pulled by rail. They are designed to transport cargo and materials. This can include bulk commodities or transport passengers via rail transport systems. You have most likely seen them carrying building materials. For example, railcars can carry structural steel, soda ash, bulk roofing granules, crushed stone, iron ore, and much more.

#2: Why buy a railcar?

The railcar industry is a multi-billion dollar market that continues to expand. Railcars are produced in most countries around the world, including Germany, Japan, and Brazil. Railcars have been used for more than 200 years.

The railcar industry has experienced a steady growth rate of around five to six percent. This may be due, in part, to the fact that railcars offer an efficient and environmentally-friendly way of transportation compared with other types of transport. These specialized cars can carry heavy loads over long distances without consuming large amounts of fuel or emitting greenhouse gases. Rail transport systems continue to become a more popular option for cargo and materials. Therefore, the demand for railcars will continue to grow in the coming years.

#3: Common Types of Railcars Available 

Railcars are classified by their purpose and the materials they carry. You will want to know which car type to purchase that will best accommodate your needs.

The most common railcar types include the following:

Open Railcars for Bulk Commodities

Open railcars are used for transporting loose bulk commodities, such as coal or ore. They do not have walls but often have removable stakes that can be put in place to keep cargo from falling out of the car during movement. This is a general-purpose type of freight car.

Flat Cars

Flatcars are used to transport oversized materials or items that can be strapped down and don’t necessarily need to be transported in an enclosed boxcar. This freight car transports commodities such as military vehicles, building materials (steel plate stacks and steel products, fence posts, wood products), and automobiles.

Hopper Cars (Open and Covered Hopper)

Hopper cars are designed to carry all forms of dry bulk solids, including dry chemicals, grain, food products (like canned goods), fertilizers, and plastics. Hopper cars come with either fixed or hinged bottoms that allow them to empty quickly without requiring a stop at a transfer point between freight trains on different lines. These can come as covered hoppers or open-top hoppers.

Box Car Railcars

Boxcars work similarly to hopper rail cars, except they are designed to carry materials in boxes, flats, and other forms of intermodal containers. The box freight car comes with sliding doors on the ends that can be loaded from either side or quickly removed when not needed.

Gondola Railcars

Gondola railcars have low sides that make it easy to load bulk solids like coal through a bottom door. They typically require small crews to operate and don’t need many different parts that would take more workers to assemble or disassemble.

Tank Cars

A tank car is used specifically for carrying liquids such as chemicals, fuel oil, molasses, corn syrup, and vegetable oils in steel tanks built by specialty tank makers who manufacture according to railcar manufacturers’ specifications. Specifications for tank cars include each tank car’s weight capacities and cubic capacity to ensure they can safely hold the weight of the products being transported.

Rail Buses

Railbuses are railcars that have a bus body, allowing them to transport passengers. These cars are often used in areas where the population is sparse or when rail lines don’t have enough railcars for passenger rail service.

Livestock Railcars

This type of freight car is used exclusively for transporting horses, cattle, and other livestock that require protection.

Refrigerated Boxcar

Refrigerated boxcars are specifically designed to be insulated or refrigerated to transport perishable goods such as meat, fish, and fruit.

Hot Box Car

These tank cars transport hot and hazardous materials such as molten metals or chemicals that can be dangerous if exposed to cold temperatures. They often have unique railcar wheels with a rubber inside them, which protects the rail from damage due to heat generated by friction between the wheel and rail during the car’s operation.

#4: Should You Buy or Lease a Rail Car?

Your decision will primarily be based on the purpose of your business and how much risk, maintenance, and money you are willing to spend.

Many railcar owners lease railcars to operators because it allows them to recoup some of the costs of purchasing and maintaining a rail car. Leasing enables railcar owners to transfer part or all of their risk in owning a rail car while still having access to the equipment they may need for short-term demand fluctuations.

Each type of leasing arrangement is unique and can vary depending on buyer and seller preferences and the terms negotiated between both parties.

#5: Know How Many Freight Cars You Need

You should know how many rail cars you will need for your business and your specific haul needs. You can make this determination by looking at the number of shipments typically sent out during peak periods and what type of car is needed for each shipment. You also need to determine if any railcars require special equipment like refrigeration units or insulated walls depending on the cargo they’re carrying.

The average railcar holds anywhere from 20-50 tons worth of freight. This depends heavily on the type and weight distribution of materials being shipped. Exactly how much space you’ll have available will help you choose between new vs. used railcars. Choosing requires knowledge about what kind of material you typically transport and its corresponding density.

#6: Buying New or Used Railcars

New railcar prices vary depending on the type of car you choose and where you purchase. Be sure to understand any manufacturer incentives offered for early purchases, so you know if your purchase falls within the correct window for these deals.

Used railcars are often available at discounted rates. But, you should be aware that buying used can come with increased risks, including hidden damage or mechanical problems. This may require significant repairs before they are functional again. If possible, try and inspect railcars in person before committing to a deal. Doing so will help you know what condition they are in before making a purchase decision.

When deciding between new vs. used railcars, there’s a lot to consider. Factors like age and mileage play a role in determining whether or not an old railcar is suitable for your needs.

#7: Find a Company to Help You Make the Best Choice When Purchasing a Railcar

Finding a company that can help you choose between new vs. used railcars and purchasing vs. leasing railcars is the best way to ensure your purchase will meet your specific haul needs. Railcar companies have access to railcar dealers, refurbishers, and brokers who can take care of all aspects of purchasing rail cars for shipping materials.

To learn more about your options, visit the pros at!