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A passenger car of the China Railway, 2011
A freight car (boxcar type) for the South Australian Railways, 1926

railroad car, railcar (American and Canadian English),[a] railway wagon, railway carriage, railway truck, railwagon, railcarriage or railtruck (British English and UIC), also called a train car, train wagon, train carriage or train truck, is a vehicle used for the carrying of cargo or passengers on a rail transport network (a railroad/railway). Such cars, when coupled together and hauled by one or more locomotives, form a train. Alternatively, some passenger cars are self-propelled in which case they may be either single railcars or make up multiple units.

The term "car" is commonly used by itself in American English when a rail context is implicit. Indian English sometimes uses "bogie" in the same manner,[1] though the term has other meanings in other variants of English. In American English, "railcar" is a generic term for a railway vehicle; in other countries "railcar" refers specifically to a self-propelled, powered, railway vehicle.

Although some cars exist for the railroad's own use – for track maintenance purposes, for example – most carry a revenue-earning load of passengers or freight, and may be classified accordingly as passenger cars or coaches on the one hand or freight cars (or wagons) on the other.

Passenger cars

Main article: Passenger railroad car

Passenger cars, or coaches, vary in their internal fittings:

In standard-gauge railway cars, seating is usually configured into ranges from three to five seats across the width of the car, with an aisle in between (resulting in arrangements of 2+1, 2+2 or 3+2 seats) or at the side. Tables may be provided between seats facing one another. Alternatively, seats facing in the same direction may have access to a fold-down ledge on the back of the seat in front.

Passenger cars can take the electricity supply for heating and lighting equipment from either of two main sources: directly from a head-end power generator on the locomotive via bus cables, or by an axle-powered generator which continuously charges batteries whenever the train is in motion.

Modern cars usually have either air conditioning or windows that can be opened (sometimes, for safety, not so far that one can hang out), or sometimes both. Various types of onboard train toilet facilities may also be provided.

Other types of passenger car exist, especially for long journeys, such as the dining car, parlor car, disco car, and in rare cases theater and movie theater car. In some cases another type of car is temporarily converted to one of these for an event.

Observation cars were built for the rear of many famous trains to allow the passengers to view the scenery. These proved popular, leading to the development of dome cars multiple units of which could be placed mid-train, and featured a glass-enclosed upper level extending above the normal roof to provide passengers with a better view.

Sleeping cars outfitted with (generally) small bedrooms allow passengers to sleep through their night-time trips, while couchette cars provide more basic sleeping accommodation. Long-distance trains often require baggage cars for the passengers' luggage. In European practice it used to be common for day coaches to be formed of compartments seating 6 or 8 passengers, with access from a side corridor. In the UK, Corridor coaches fell into disfavor in the 1960s and 1970s partially because open coaches are considered more secure by women traveling alone.[citation needed]

Another distinction is between single- and double deck train cars. An example of a double decker is the Amtrak superliner.

A "trainset" (or "set") is a semi-permanently arranged formation of cars, rather than one created "ad hoc" out of whatever cars are available. These are only broken up and reshuffled 'on shed' (in the maintenance depot). Trains are then built of one or more of these 'sets' coupled together as needed for the capacity of that train.

Often, but not always, passenger cars in a train are linked together with enclosed, flexible gangway connections through which passengers and crewmen can walk. Some designs incorporate semi-permanent connections between cars and may have a full-width connection, effectively making them one long, articulated 'car'. In North America, passenger cars also employ tightlock couplings to keep a train together in the event of a derailment or other accident.

Many multiple unit trains consist of cars which are semi-permanently coupled into sets: these sets may be joined together to form larger trains, but generally passengers can only move around between cars within a set. This "closed" arrangement keeps parties of travellers and their luggage together, and hence allows the separate sets to be easily split to go separate ways. Some multiple-unit trainsets are designed so that corridor connections can be easily opened between coupled sets; this generally requires driving cabs either set to the side or (as in the Dutch Koploper or the Japanese 285 series) above the passenger compartment. These cabs or driving trailers are also useful for quickly reversing the train.

First- and second-class carriages

It has been common in some systems to differentiate between first- and second-class carriages, with a premium being paid for first-class tickets,[2] and fines imposed for non-compliance.[3] Facilities and appurtenances applying to first-class carriages may include

More recently, mains power outlets and Wi-fi facilities have been offered.[5]

Passenger car gallery

Freight cars

Main article: Goods wagon

Freight cars (US/Canada), goods wagons (UIC), or trucks (UK) exist in a wide variety of types, adapted to carry a host of goods. Originally there were very few types of cars; the flat car or wagon, and the boxcar (US/Canada), covered wagon (UIC) or van (UK), were among the first.

Types of freight cars

Freight cars or goods wagons are generally categorized as follows:

Freight car gallery

Aluminium cars

The first two main-line all aluminum passenger cars were exhibited at the 1933-35 Chicago World's Fair by Pullman Company.[9] Aluminum freight cars have a higher net-to-tare ratio of 4.9 than traditional steel based wagons, which have 3.65.[10]

Non-revenue cars

Typical American extended vision caboose

Non-revenue cars are those that do not derive income for the railroad. They include:

Military cars

Armored train Hurban located in Zvolen, Slovakia

Military armoured trains use several types of specialized cars:

Mobile missile systems

Main article: Railcar-launched ICBM

Soviet RT-23 Molodets ICBM launch train, in the St Petersburg museum

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union fielded a number of trains that served as mobile missile silos. These trains carried the missile and everything necessary to launch, and were kept moving around the railway network to make them difficult to find and destroy in a first-strike attack. A similar rail-borne system was proposed in the United States of America for the LGM-30 Minuteman in the 1960s, and the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison in the 1980s, but neither were deployed.[13]

Radar Bomb Scoring

Main article: Radar Bomb Scoring

The Strategic Air Command's 1st Combat Evaluation RBS "Express" deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base with Radar Bomb Scoring units mounted on military railroad cars with supporting equipment, to score simulated thermonuclear bombing of cities in the continental United States.[14]

See also



  1. ^ In the US, a "railroad car" is often referred to more simply as a "rail car" or "railcar", but this should not be confused with the self-propelled railcar.


  1. ^ "Oxford Learner's Dictionaries - Find definitions, translations, and grammar explanations at Oxford Learner's Dictionaries". Archived from the original on 2011-08-07. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  2. ^ "First Class". National Rail. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  3. ^ "One-Class Peak Trains Urged". The Daily Telegraph. Vol. III, no. 87. New South Wales, Australia. 1 July 1938. p. 5. Retrieved 14 September 2023 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "Fight over Cigar". The Daily News (Perth). Vol. XXX, no. 11, 218. Western Australia. 29 May 1911. p. 7. Retrieved 14 September 2023 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "NSW Trains: 1st Class". RailNinja. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  6. ^ Usatch, Brad (November 23, 2016). "Railroading sees a bit of rebirth". The Chronicle. Barton, Vermont. pp. 1A. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  7. ^ Prestflo
  8. ^ prestwin wagon
  9. ^ John H. White Jr. (1985). The American Railroad Passenger Car. JHU Press. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-8018-2743-3. Archived from the original on 2018-05-05.
  10. ^ Hargrove, M. (30 November 1989). "Economics of Heavy Axle Loads". Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 5 May 2018 – via
  11. ^ "General Code of Operating Rules: Section 5.12: Protection of Occupied Outfit Cars". Archived from the original on 2002-12-28. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  12. ^ International2021-10-14T05:00:00+01:00, Metro Report. "Stuttgart rack railway tram and bicycle wagon delivered". Railway Gazette International. Retrieved 2023-08-08.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Gen. Thomas S. Power, USAF (September 1960). "Strategic Air Command" (PDF). Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 30 Aug 2010. A special SAC task force was established at Hill AFB, Utah, to conduct a series of deployments with a Minuteman Mobility Test Train. The first deployment ended June 27 after seven days of random travel over existing civilian rail facilities in the Ogden area. The test series will continue through the fall of 1960 with other rail movements in the Far West and Midwest....
  14. ^ "In regards to the SAC radar bomb scoring squadron mounted on railroad cars" (PDF). Mobile Military Radar web site. 22 Feb 2007. pp. 12K. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 30 Aug 2010. The trains were 21 cars long, 17 support and 4 radar cars. The radar cars were basically flat cars with the radar vans and equipment mounted on them. The other 17 consisted of a generator car, two box cars (one for radar equipment maintenance, and one for support maintenance). A dining car, two day-room cars, supply cars, admin car, and 4 Pullman sleepers.... The Commander had the very last room on the tail of the train.... The trains would go to some area in the U.S. which was selected for that period by a regular contracted locomotive which then just parked us there and left, usually pulled onto a siding.

Further reading