Rail companies are often reluctant to discuss the dangerous cargo they carry, so safety signs can give the public a glimpse into what is in their trains.

Placards often include this information. Rail companies are required to display those red, diamond-shaped signs on all private railcars carrying dangerous substances. Typically, placards are seen on tanker cars, the cylindrical railcars that carry liquids and gases.  

What are Railcar Placards?

Whenever hazardous materials are transported by any means, they must be marked in a way that is easily visible to comply with Federal Code. These markings are called placards. 

When to use Raincar Placards  

Train crews moving private railcars must have accurate markings on railcars, and railroads must ensure railcar content documents are onboard the trains. Rail incidents occur almost every day.  

The majority of them are small enough to be mitigated. Rail transportation is among the safest modes of transportation. However, placard recognition is crucial to the safety of first responders, and therefore the general population. Mitigation begins with knowledge of the material and its properties. Rail placards appear in the shape of a diamond.

Why Placards are so Vital for Railroads

Rail emergency response differs from other emergency responses because of the volume of material that must be contained and mitigated. 

Common rail tank cars built after November 30, 1970, must have a maximum capacity of 34,500 gallons or a gross weight of 263,000 pounds. 

A situation of this size is difficult for most emergency responders to handle, and if more than one car is involved, it quickly becomes a major incident. 

To withstand the significant stresses of a derailment or collision, rail tank cars need to meet strict design and strength standards. Valve protection is particularly important.

Different Railcar Types

  1. Autorack

Vehicles are protected from the elements by fully enclosed autoracks made of metal. The rail car is divided into levels by metal racks. 

Multiple levels within rail cars maximize shipping space because they allow vehicles to be stacked safely during transport without damaging the vehicles. 

The two most common types of autorack are bi-level and tri-level. Bi-level has two levels and can be installed on any type of vehicle, whereas tri-level has three and is typically used for smaller vehicles.

  1. Boxcar

As well as crated or palletized freight, boxcars can carry packaged goods, beverages, paper, and lumber.

Unlike other types of rail cars, boxcars are fully enclosed and, true to their name, have the most boxy appearance. Typically, boxcars have doors on the sides, but they can also have doors at the ends. In transit, boxcars protect their cargo from the weather because they are enclosed.

  1. Centerbeam

They are built with bundled supply of building supplies such as lumber, wallboard, and fence posts. As you might expect, a center beam has a central beam or partition that helps reinforce the center of gravity and secure products in place.

  1. Covered hopper

Cemex, roofing granules, sand, corn, wheat, barley, fertilizer, soda ash, sugar, and rice are examples of free-flowing bulk commodities.

The open-top of hopper railcars is where products are loaded. To protect the product during transportation, the top is covered after loading.

Gravity allows the product to be unloaded through the bottom-mounted doors of a hopper railcar due to its sloped floor.

  1. Coil car

For specialized commodities, coil cars are available in a variety of lengths, tonnages, and capacities. Many coil car troughs feature side brackets for securing the load without the need for cables, while others are designed so special measures won’t be required. 

Often, coil cars carry commodities that cannot be damaged by the weather, but covered coil cars are available for when this needs to be done.

  1. Flatcar

Flatcars, as the name implies, are flat. Some feature an open design with a flat, even platform while others have bulkheads for protection against shifting. 

The lengths, tonnage, and capacities of flatcars can range from short to long and are ideal for carrying freight that will not be damaged by weather. The open design of flatcars makes them a good choice for freight that is oversized or irregular in shape.

  1. Gondola

Gondolas feature an open-top design, while autoracks use an enclosed space for transport. Logs, scrap metal, sand, and steel are all hauled in bulk loads by gondolas. 

This material cannot just be thrown in the back of a delivery truck; it requires a little more care and consideration.

  1. Well car

It is designed specifically so that container stacks can fit snugly inside well cars, also known as “stack cars” or “well wagons”. This depression sits close to the rails and is known as the “well.” 

Stacking containers on top of one another is made possible by well cars, which ride lower than flatcars. It is also called a “double stack.”

  1. Covered hopper

These railcars remain securely closed during transportation, even if the top of the covered hopper is opened for loading materials. In particular, covered hoppers carry bulk loads of dry, free-flowing merchandise. You will find sand, cement, roofing granules, and grain in this railcar storage unit.

Preventing Damage to the Yard’s Infrastructure

In addition to my experience with private railcar safety programs, here are a few best practices from my engineering and accident investigation roles.

The importance of training cannot be overstated. If all the maintenance work is performed by contractors outside your company, are your in-house inspectors and supervisors trained to recognize problems on the tracks? If not, they should be trained, or the task should be outsourced. 

In basic training, it is the plant supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that the local yard maintenance workforce knows how to conduct preventive maintenance. 

Additionally, the inspectors have to be able to identify potential derailment sites before they become critical, and the maintenance supervisor needs to be able to assess whether the contractor is performing at the required level.

Where to Lease Railcars

There are a variety of rail cars available to meet the needs of various freight shippers, just as people purchase specific passenger vehicles to suit their needs. 

Almost anything can be shipped by rail, and as you can see, there is a rail car for almost anything.

Contact us today at 941-306-9659 to get ahold of the cars you need.