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The Conrail Cyclopedia - Serving Conrail fans world-wide since 1998.

"Conrail Builds 600 Stainless-Steel Rail Cars"
G52X Coalporter The following is a September 1997 Conrail press release promoting the company's new G52X coalporter and its steel construction. Versions of the release appeared in various industry news outlets. This version appeared in New Steel, which added information targeting their readership.

Holidaysburg, PA - Conrail recently ordered the components for 600 stainless-steel coal cars from rail-car-manufacturer Johnstown America Corp.

Steel competes with aluminum in the rail-car market. Rail companies increasingly want aluminum cars because aluminum’s lighter weight allows greater shipping loads per rail car.

Cars carrying western coal typically are made from aluminum because of its weight advantage, says Jim Bauer, Conrail’s manager of equipment, planning, and performance. About 50 percent of the coal cars in the U.S. are made from aluminum.

But Conrail needed new coal cars to haul eastern coal. Eastern coal has high moisture levels and tends to freeze during the winter. Customers sometimes need to heat the rail cars to separate the frozen coal from the car. Heating methods include placing oil, gas, and electric heaters underneath the car itself.

Steel, although heavier than aluminum, can withstand heating temperatures better than aluminum, so it has remained the preferred material for hauling eastern coal. But the high sulfur content of eastern coal corrodes carbon steel. Shippers must replace carbon-steel coal cars every 17-20 years.

Conrail teamed with Carpenter Technology, Cromweld Steels, Johnstown America Corp., and fastener fabricator Huck Manufacturing to build a stainless-steel car that would last longer than a carbon-steel car. The companies produced two prototype cars in 1994.

Conrail has built 51 stainless cars; it will have the remaining 549 ready by the end of the year. Conrail owns 14,000 coal cars, all made from steel because of its eastern-coal market.

"We expect the stainless cars to last about 40 years before replacement," Bauer says. "Because the cars resist corrosion better, we also can use thinner steels."

The side of a carbon-steel car normally is 0.25 inch thick, while a stainless side can be as thin as 0.118 inch and still provide the needed structural strength. This can cut 10,000 pounds from the typical 63,000-pound weight of a carbon-steel coal car. "Stress tests indicate we could have made even thinner sides [with stainless]," Bauer says.

Johnstown America supplied the BethGon stainless-steel car kits to Conrail’s Holidaysburg, Pa., assembly facility. BethGon refers to a patented car design with a deep, double-tub bottom bed that provides extra coal-holding space and better car stability. Johnstown America once was Bethlehem Steel’s rail-car division. Cromweld supplied the stainless steel for the car sides, Carpenter provided the steel for the car’s fasteners, and Huck fabricated the fasteners.

The car components that will contact coal—the sides, ends, slope sheets, and tubs—are all made from stainless. The rest of the car is made from carbon steel.

The coal will polish the stainless steel over time as it rubs against the steel. This creates a smoother, more "slideable" surface that will speed coal discharges by 30 percent compared with carbon cars, a Johnstown spokesman says. Johnstown used Cromweld’s patented low-chrome stainless for the 600 kits, but other U.S. suppliers can provide a similar steel.

If steel wants to penetrate the aluminum-dominated western-coal market, it must bring down the weight of its cars, Bauer says. Even the lighter stainless cars weigh 10,000 pounds more than the typical aluminum car.

Like the Ultralight Steel Auto Body project, steel and rail-car producers can examine rail cars as a whole unit and design them from scratch to cut weight and optimize rail-car bodies. "If steel wants to press its unique advantages and broaden its market, it will need to design a car with the productivity that western shippers associate with aluminum cars," Bauer says. "It is up to the steel industry to take the initiative."

The car purchase was part of Conrail’s regular capital-expenditure program. The company bought 1,800 cars this year, 200 cars in 1996, and 1,200 cars in 1995.

"A lot of people say we came up short in terms of capital spending and maintenance," Bauer says. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Bauer hopes Conrail will buy more stainless cars in the future, but its pending purchase by Norfolk Southern and CSX could change spending philosophies.

Johnstown America BethGon® II vs Conrail's G52X
BethGon II Publicity Photo On March 27, 2002 Johnstown America Corporation delivered the first 273 of its new BethGon® II "coal gondola cars" to Entergy Services, Inc., of Houston, Texas. (The upper left photo is a publicity shot of the ETRX car.) According to a Johnstown America press release, "[the] BethGon II is an updated version of the traditional BethGon car, which is the most commonly used aluminum coal gondola car in western coal service. The BethGon II is a proven design reflecting many years and hundreds of millions of miles of service. It features lighter tare weight, higher cubic capacity and durability to meet the rigors of long-haul coal train service." Johnstown delivered the first BethGon I cars in 1978.

Since all HO and N scale G52X models currently available are BethGon II's, I have created a table below comparing the Conrail version to the Johnstown version. As you can see, the Conrail car is smaller but heavier, with a lighter capacity than the BethGon II. The Conrail data is courtesy Lon Godshall, whereas the BethGon II data comes from Johnstown America.

General Dimensions G52X BethGon II
Overall Length Over Coupler Pulling Faces 51' 53' 1"
Truck Centers n/a 40' 6"
Length (inside) 47' 3" 47' 9 1/8"
Width (extreme) 12' 4" 10' 7" 13/32"
Height (rail to top of side) 12' 4" 12' 8 1/2"
Cubic Capacity 4,100 Cu.Ft. 4,520 Cu.Ft.
Light Weight 53,400 Lbs. 41,700 Lbs.
Load Limit 227,000 Lbs. 244,300 Lbs
Gross Rail Load 280,400 Lbs. 286,000 Lbs.

Conrail G52X Roster
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. The basic design was made from 11-panel steel, but in 1997 Conrail produced their final class of coalporters to wear the "CR" reporting marks--the 12-panel, stainless steel G52X. 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 the past several years.
CR Series      Class      Build Dates   
507401-508000  G52X       07/97 - 08/97

Copyright (c) 1998-2016 Robert S. Waller. All rights reserved.
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.