Cylindrical Covered Hoppers (Part 1 of 2)

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Perhaps the best part of rail fanning is the fact that there’s so many different types of freight cars to look at…. That being said, there’s no mistaking the odd but distinctive look of a cylindrical covered hopper. Besides often seen far from their home rails, what isn’t always obvious is the important role they played in the evolution of the covered hopper car design.

In the early 1960s ACF introduced their round-ish styled cylindrical hoppers which were vastly different from the ribbed sided hopper cars of the era. These cars were made in 3-bay and 6-bay versions and were available in several sizes for different types of lading…. Smaller cars were used for cement, sand and other dense materials. Larger cars were for plastics, phosphates and other very light loads with the most common cars probably being the three and four bays used for grain service.

The early covered hoppers were built around a strong center sill that ran through the center of the car and for the most part, these cars were like open hoppers with a roof…. However, the center sill created two problems. It added weight and impediment to unloading.

American Car and Foundry (ACF) tackled this problem in 1966 with a cylindrical design. Taking advantage of the structural integrity of a cylinder, ACF made the carbody itself an integral part of the car’s structure. This is similar in concept to the tank car designs which made similar transformations during this same time period.

The most common cylindrical hoppers seen on the rails today are those operated by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. This is probably because the Canadian government bought a huge number of cylindrical hoppers which were assigned to the CP and CN with the government of Alberta and Saskatchewan buying some too.

And so it goes…. Thousands of these hopper cars have delivered the seasonal wheat rushes from the great plains of Canada to the markets and tabletops of the world for over 40 years. And despite revisions and newer versions, Canadian roads have stuck with the cylindrical design for decades with these tubular cars continuing to be built to this day.

Most notably, BNSF has been buying large amounts from Trinity Industries which are being made in Texas and Mexico with 110-car unit trains becoming more and more common. And if you can believe it, the former Penn Central also owned a lot of these cars as some were inherited from the New York Central and the Pennsylvania and others were bought outright new.

In fact the first prototype was owned by the New York Central with the car being transferred to Penn Central and Conrail and eventually converted to a scale monitor car before becoming part of Norfolk Southern’s roster.

So from the east coast to the west and every where in between, ACF’s revolutionary design could be found all across the country with many private owners, including chemical, salt and fertilizer companies also buying these unique cars.

Distinctive, successful and historically significant in their own right, perhaps the greatest contribution of the cylindrical design was their role in the development of the even more successful Center Flow ACF cars which followed…. But that is another story….

Cylindrical hoppers come in a variety of paint schemes with the Canadian cars, in particular, being the most interesting.

Saskatchewan with SKPX reporting marks (green with large white speed lettering).

Canada’s covered hoppers are no more of a stranger to northeast Pa. than are their railroads but every now and then you get some really cool ones like these pretty green Saskatchewan Grain Car Corporation (SKPX & SKNX) types.

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Owned by the Government of Saskatchewan for renting grain cars for the transportation of grains between Saskatchewan and export ports, the Crown Corporation is governed by the Saskatchewan Grain Car Corporation Act.

Older rail cars came from CP and CN when the corporation was founded and were replaced by new cars in 1981 that were lined with epoxy and made by Hawker Siddeley Canada.

Each car has a capacity of 128.8 cubic meters and approximately 906 of the cars are still in service with roughly 417 on the CN and about 489 on the CP. The original paint scheme for these cars was brown and orange and about 800 cars still remain in that scheme, but in 2007 110 cars were repaired by the GE Rail Car Repair Services Company in Regina and painted like the one you see here, in the new cool green with the type Saskatchewan!… Also note that some Saskatchewan cars have an (!) at the end and some don’t.

Alberta (blue) with ALPX reporting marks

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Canada (large white Canada lettering with double wheat sheaf) with CN and CP reporting marks

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Canadian Wheat Board with CN reporting marks (Centered yellow wheat sheaf with horizontal yellow band across lower side of hopper)

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Canadian Wheat Board with CP reporting marks (and with yellow end section)

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Cylindrical Covered Hoppers (Part 1 of 2)

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Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

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