New From Greenbrier, NS and U.S. Steel: High-Strength, Lighter-Weight ‘Green’ Gondola

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
image description

Greenbrier, U.S. Steel and Norfolk Southern joined forces on this high-strength, sustainable steel gondola design. (Rendering Courtesy of Greenbrier)

The open-top gondola car is one of the oldest freight car types. The first gondola cars in North America were developed in the 1830s, and used primarily to haul coal. Early designs were flat cars with wooden sides added; they were small—30 feet or less in length, and about 13 tons or less in weight. Now, nearly two centuries after the first gondola turned a wheel, this ubiquitous car type has reached a design pinnacle through a collaboration of The Greenbrier Companies, Inc., United States Steel Corp. and Norfolk Southern.

The new gondola is constructed of  a high-strength, light-weight steel developed by U.S. Steel that adapts advancements in motor vehicle steels to the rail industry. Employing this steel reduces the gondola’s empty weight by up to 15,000 pounds, or 7.5 tons. The gondola’s design is traditional, in that it’s meant to transport loose bulk material such as metal scraps or steel slabs, but its high-strength carbody resists damage from the rigors of loading and unloading. 

Norfolk Southern, as co-developer and first customer, has ordered 800 units from Greenbrier. The supplier/builder/end-user partnership, the three partners note, “is rooted in the recognition that North America’s aging gondola fleet will soon require substantial replacement with a more sustainable design for hauling loose bulk material.”

The new gondola’s approximate dimensions:

  • Length, Inside: 52 feet, six inches.
  • Length, Over Couplers: 57 feet, 9.5 inches
  • Width, Inside: 9 feet, 8 inches.
  • Width, Extreme: 10 feet, 6.75 inches.
  • Height, Inside: 5 feet, 6 inches.
  • Height, Extreme: 9 feet, 1.8125 inches.
  • Clearance: AAR Plate C.
  • Light Weight: 61,500 pounds (30.75 tons).
  • Load Limit: 224,500 pounds (112.25 tons).
  • GRL (Gross Rail Load): 286,000 pounds.
  • Cubic Capacity: 2,971 cubic feet.
  • Curve Negotiability Radius, Uncoupled: 150 feet.
  • Curve Negotiability Radius, Coupled to Base Car: 216 feet.
  • Curve Negotiability Radius, Coupled to Like Car: 218 feet.

The new gondola (video below) offers several advantages over conventional designs:

• Extended lifecycle: The new steel is high-performance and low-impact. Twice as strong as traditional steel used in the railcar manufacturing process, it potentially extends the car’s useful life to 50 years. A stronger external finish also strengthens the carbody, lowering maintenance costs.

• Increased sustainability: The new gondola is “green”: more energy-efficient, both during production and in use. The steel used to fabricate the carbody is melted and rolled by U.S. Steel at its ISO:14001:2015-certified facilities using significantly less water than traditional steels, reducing COemissions by as much as 75%. With up to 90% recycled steel content, this steel is 100% recyclable for a new application. The car’s lower empty weight decreases locomotive fuel consumption when moving empties, reducing energy usage and lowering emissions.

• Faster railcar production time: Railcar construction requires less time, leading to improved energy efficiency due to less material required.

 Improved capacity: Design enhancements provide greater freight capacity. The high-strength steel requires less carbody structural reinforcement, simplifying the manufacturing process and increasing loading capacity.

“The work done by U.S. Steel, Norfolk Southern and Greenbrier promises significant benefits to all three companies and the freight transportation industry as a whole,” Greenbrier Chairman and CEO William A. Furman says.

“The use of lightweight, high-strength steel is a real revolution for railcars,” NS Chairman and CEO Jim Squires nots. “Not only will each gondola carry more material, they will do so by using less energy, making our operations, and our customers’ operations, even more environmentally friendly. The advancements made by Norfolk Southern, U.S. Steel, and Greenbrier on these gondolas can be applied to other car types, ensuring that this sustainable innovation continues well into the future. Further, once these new gondolas are in service, we plan to recycle the previous models.”

“This remarkable collaboration with our partners at Norfolk Southern and Greenbrier is helping realize the full potential of U.S. Steel’s continued product innovations as sustainable solutions for the steel and transportation industries,” U.S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt says.

Steel—the backbone of North American railroading, from rails that crisscross the continent to the rolling stock and locomotives that traverse them—has had a high carbon footprint for generations. This collaboration of Greenbrier, U.S. Steel and Norfolk Southern is indicative of a new generation of steel, and a more sustainable future for the rail industry. 

Categories: Freight Cars, Mechanical, News Tags: , , , , ,