The open top gondola car is one of the oldest types of freight cars. The first cable cars in North America were developed in the 1830s and used primarily to transport coal. The first models were flat cars with added wooden sides; they were small – 30 feet or less in length, and about 13 tons or less in weight. Today, nearly two centuries after the first gondola spun a wheel, this ubiquitous type of car has reached a design pinnacle thanks to a collaboration of The Greenbrier Companies, Inc., United States Steel Corp. and Norfolk Southern.
The new nacelle is constructed from VerdeX ™ steel, a lightweight, high-strength steel developed by US Steel that adapts advances in automotive steels to the rail industry. The use of this steel reduces the empty weight of the nacelle by up to 15,000 pounds, or 7.5 tons. The nacelle’s design is traditional, in that it is intended to transport bulk materials such as scrap metal or steel slabs, but its high-strength bodywork withstands damage from the rigors of loading and of unloading.
Norfolk Southern, as co-developer and first customer, has ordered 800 units from Greenbrier. The supplier / builder / end-user partnership, note the three partners, “is rooted in the recognition that the aging fleet of gondolas in North America will soon require a substantial replacement with a more sustainable design for the transport of bulk materials in bulk.” .
Approximate dimensions of the new gondola:
- Length, inside: 52 feet, six inches.
- Length, over couplers: 57 feet, 9.5 inches
- Width, inside: 9 feet, 8 inches.
- Width, extreme: 10 feet, 6.75 inches.
- Height, inside: 5 feet, 6 inches.
- Height, extreme: 9 feet, 1.8125 inches.
- Clearance: AAR C.
- Lightweight: 61,500 pounds (30.75 tons).
- Load limit: 224,500 pounds (112.25 tons).
- GRL (Gross Rail Load): 286,000 lbs.
- Cubic capacity: 2,971 cubic feet.
- Negotiable radius of the curve, uncoupled: 150 feet.
- Negotiability radius of the curve, coupled to the base car: 216 feet.
- Negotiability radius of the curve, coupled with a similar car: 218 feet.
The new gondola (video below) offers several advantages over conventional models:
• Extended life cycle: VerdeX ™ Steel, the latest product from US Steel’s Best of BothSM strategy, is high performance and low impact. Twice as strong as the traditional steel used in the railcar manufacturing process, it potentially extends the useful life of the railcar to 50 years. A tougher exterior finish also strengthens the body, reducing maintenance costs.
• Increased durability: The new gondola is “green”: more energy efficient, both in production and in use. The VerdeX ™ steel used to fabricate the body is melted and laminated by US Steel in its ISO: 14001: 2015 certified facility using significantly less water than traditional steels, thereby reducing CO emissions.2 up to 75% emissions. With up to 90% recycled steel, VerdeX ™ steel is 100% recyclable for a new application. The lower curb weight of the car decreases the fuel consumption of the locomotive when traveling unladen, thereby reducing energy consumption and emissions.
• Faster car production time: Building rail cars with VerdeX ™ steel requires less time, which improves fuel efficiency with fewer materials required.
• Improved capacity: Design improvements provide greater cargo capacity. VerdeX ™ high strength steel requires less structural reinforcement of the body, simplifying the manufacturing process and increasing load capacity.
“The work performed by US Steel, Norfolk Southern and Greenbrier promises significant benefits for all three companies and the freight industry as a whole,” said Greenbrier President and CEO William A. Furman.
“The use of lightweight, high-strength steel is a revolution for rail cars,” notes Jim Squires, president and CEO of NS. “Not only will each gondola carry more equipment, it will do so with less energy, making our operations and those of our customers even more environmentally friendly. The progress Norfolk Southern, US Steel and Greenbrier made on these gondolas can be applied to other types of cars, ensuring that this sustainable innovation will continue well into the future. In addition, once these new gondolas are in service, we plan to recycle the previous models.
“This remarkable collaboration with our partners Norfolk Southern and Greenbrier helps realize the full potential of US Steel’s continued product innovations as sustainable solutions for the steel and transportation industries,” said the president and chief executive officer of US Steel. the management of US Steel, David B. Burritt.
Steel, the backbone of the North American railroad, from the rails that crisscross the continent to the rolling stock and locomotives that cross them, has had a high carbon footprint for generations. This collaboration between Greenbrier, US Steel and Norfolk Southern is indicative of a new generation of steel and a more sustainable future for the rail industry.