Jan 31, 2002
Conrail inherited their massive fleet of covered hoppers in 1976 from the various predecessor roads. By far, the largest contributor was the Penn Central, which inherited much of its fleet from the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad. While the RDG, LV, and CNJ contributed covered hoppers, many of these cars were sold to private owners or retired over the years, though some survived intact or under CR gray/oxide until the final days of Conrail. But the PC fleet dominated until then end, even after Conrail's massive covered hopper sell-off during the mid-90s. The various photo pages in this section have numerous images of these cars in various paint schemes and conditions.
Covered Hopper Evolution
Oddly enough, the design origin of covered hoppers began with boxcars. From the 1880's until the advent of the covered hopper in the late 1930s/early 1940s, grain had been shipped in boxcars. At first scrap lumber was simply laid across the open boxcar door while the grain was poured into the interior. Eventually, dedicated grain doors were constructed.
With a need to move more and more grain efficiently, covered hoppers were developed. But these early designs had inferior capacities compared to the boxcars. In the late 1950s the first 70-ton covered hopper was developed. The end of the grain door boxcar loomed near. Over the years, covered hopper capacity increased until reaching the current 110-ton level--the equivalent of about two 50-ton boxcars.
Major manufacturers of covered hoppers over the years have been General American, Pullman Standard, Greenville Steel Car, Trinity, National Steel Car, and American Car & Foundry. Individual railroads also built their own versions, some of which are near duplicates of the major manufacturers' designs. Over the years, Conrail rostered nearly 25 unique designs or variations of covered hopper.
Conrail Service Groups
To better serve its customers, Conrail divided its freight services into four operating departments called Service Groups. Sometimes these Groups were further subdivided into Business Groups. Covered hoppers were found in the Core Service Group, which was Conrail's general freight network, comprising nearly 60% of all daily Conrail trains. The Core was further subdivided into four Business Groups. Of importance to covered hoppers were the Food & Agriculture BG and the Petrochemicals & Minerals BG. Typical products shipped in H42 and H44 covered hoppers for these Business Groups included an assortment of dry products, including grains, feeds, fertilizers, corn starch, salt, sugar, plastic resins, limestone, cement, and other dry minerals and chemicals.
Food & Agriculture BG: Conrail claimed that it served "more destinations in the heavily populated Northeast than any other railroad, making it a natural transportation choice for moving food products to consumers." In reality, there just wasn't an easier way to move the mass quantities of product that were shipped in Conrail covered hoppers. For example, Conrail reported that during the late 1990's they shipped over 7.5 million tons of grain products a year! Exactly how many tons were hauled in Conrail covered hoppers remains unknown; if you were to have taken a trip trackside during harvest season, you would have been amazed. Norfolk Southern and CSX appear to be dedicated to grain service on former Conrail trackage, though only time will tell if these railroads expand or restrict the service.
Petrochemicals & Minerals: This BG ships primarily minerals, plastics, and chemicals. Of importance to covered hoppers were the dry chemicals and plastics that shipped from such points as the Chemical Coast in New Jersey to points west. How many tons were shipped in Conrail cars remains unknown. But if you like to model the chemical and plastic covered hoppers, then a train to catch would have been CCPI/PICC (Chemical Coast to Pittsburgh). You'll would have quickly gained a respect for such products shipped via rail.
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