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What is a Railcar?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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A railcar is a passenger transport vehicle used on railroad tracks. The vehicle is self-propelled, unlike other train cars that are pulled by a locomotive and contain no motors for propulsion. In some parts of the world, however, the term "railcar" can refer to any railroad transportation car, powered or unpowered. Powered railcars are very often limited to one car or unit and do not haul other cars behind them. These cars are very often used for shorter trips on rural lines or lines that service sparsely populated areas to cut down on operating costs and energy.

Depending on the demand from customers, one railcar can be joined with another to form a longer unit to transport more people. The two cars can be operated by one driver in some situations, though sometimes two operators are necessary to ensure proper control of the two railcars. In other cases, a non-powered car can be attached to the powered railcar, though this is not common. It is more likely for two independent cars to be used to service an area that calls for it, though modern day railcars tend to be longer and hold a higher capacity of passengers. Some of these longer cars are articulated units, which means there are flex points throughout the long car to accommodate better handling in curves and so on.

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Railbuses are similar to railcars, though they differ slightly in design and function. The body of a railbus often mimics the look of a bus that would be used on paved roads, and the wheels are mounted on a fixed frame, unlike railcar wheels which are mounted in such a way that the wheel trucks can articulate around corners. Railbuses are generally used less popular rail lines for commuting purposes, and they are economical ways to transport people on side lines without having to use a full train.

Railcars can be powered by steam, diesel, electricity, or even human power. The size of these cars will vary significantly based on the needs of a particular region, and the power source will also vary according to the most expedient fuel source and the purpose of the car in general. Steam railcars are antiquated and are generally used for tourism purposes only, while diesel and electric cars are most common. Small, human-powered rail cars are also fairly antiquated but not necessarily out of use. They can be used for short trips to haul a few railroad workers to a particular site.

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