Jan 31, 2002
With the need for higher capacity coal hoppers, railroads turned to new designs in the 1980s and 1990s. Bethlehem Steel Car (now renamed Johnstown-America Corp) produced the first prototype coalporter in 1978. Among other improvements over the traditional 100-ton hopper, Coalporters eliminated the bays and replaced them with higher capacity toughs. This classified the cars as gondolas, since the cars need to be rotated on their sides and dumped.
In 1980, BSC introduced a lighter version of the coalporter, which won favor with Western railroads and utilities, which need 1000s of new cars for the booming Powder River Basin coal business. Eventually Trinity got on the band wagon, producing near-clone coalporters. By the 1990s, the coal car of choice was the coalporter.
During the last several years, several major designs of coalporters have been produced. There are 'Western' versions of the cars, usually made of aluminum, and 'Eastern' versions, usually made of steel. CSX and Norfolk Southern, however, have been changing this with their recent adoption of aluminum cars. Conrail has been faithful to the steel coalporter. This distinction is important when choosing an accurate Conrail model. Steel cars generally have more traditional ribs, whereas aluminum cars generally have more 'blockish' ribs--a major spotting feature.
Other railroads and utilities purchased their cars new from BSC, but Conrail decided to rebuild its vast, aging hopper fleet instead. Conrail rebuilt their first series of coalporters in 1990, using kits from BSC and old predecessor 12-panel hoppers. The result was 300 brand-new, 11-panel, steel coalporters, Conrail series 503001-503300.
In 1991 Conrail converted more hoppers into 11-panel steel G52L and G52R coalporters, which are nearly identical as far as modeling goes. Conrail continued the steel trend with their G52X series in 1997, but changed the design to 12-panel stainless steel. They also purchased former SFIX hoppers, upgraded them to 286,000GRL at Johnstown, and rebuilt them into G52W coalporters; these were originally built 9-80 at Johnstown and were painted black.
Electronic Air Braking System Testing:
Even though Technical Services Marketing had developed the Electronic Air Braking System (EABS) in 1991, Conrail did not start testing the system until the summer of 1996, when Rockwell took control of TSM. EABS individually applies the brakes to every car of a train at the same time via an electronic brake signal. This allows the train to stop smoothly, in 30-70% less distance than traditional air brake equipped trains. EABS also improves train safety and reduces maintenance costs.
Conrail chose two unit Coalporter trains operating in Eastern PA as EABS test trains. One train had cars with yellow painted ends, while the other train had orange painted ends. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the symbols and have last all my log books! The photo in the upper left corner of the page is one such car, with more on the Coalporter Photos page.
Without going into a major discussion on how EABS works, here is a brief overview of the system in operation. Every EABS equipped train has a Head End Unit (HEU) in the lead locomotive. In 'full electronic' mode, which requires all cars in the train to be EABS equipped, the engineer uses the HEU to apply the brakes. The HEU then electronically and simultaneously transmits this info via intercar connectors to Car Control Units (CCU), which are mounted on every car's braking system. The CCUs then adjust the brake cylinder pressure accordingly, until the HEU issues a different command. Every car then brakes the same amount at the same time. A lot more is going on during this operation, but this gives you the basics.
The EABS hookup is easy to model. The detail photo to the right shows the intercar connector (the gray, flat box) and the cable system. The CCU isn't visible in this photo. However, Conrail mounted the unit deep under the brake-end slope sheet near the air reservoir. Since I was never able to get a decent photo of the CCU, I've done a rough drawing of one below. The dimensions are about 8" wide by 6" high and maybe 4" deep. The readout area on the front is black, with red LEDs. The squiggle lines represent text that would be too small to read anyway. The black circles are screw faces. The cables attach in the back and run to the intercar connector. This sits next to the air reservoir usually. There are a few other minor modifications to the air reservoir, but these parts do a good representation of the system on an HO model.
When Conrail finished their testing, they removed the systems from the cars and placed the train back into regular service. These cars are now scattered across the system. I have photos of the locomotives assigned to these trains and will post them in the future.
Conrail Coalporter Roster
The roster below is the result of hard work of Robert Russell, Eric Nuebauer, and Lon Godshall. They have attempted to correct the errors that kept appearing in the Conrail coalporter rosters that magazines have been publishing over the years.
Photos for personal use only. All rights reserved by original owner of image.
Reproduction or redistribution in any form without express written permission is prohibited.