What is a Container Car?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A container car is a rail car fitted out to carry shipping containers. Containerization was introduced to the global shipping industry in the 1950s and it revolutionized the way goods were transported. The rail industry designed container cars in response to the development of this new shipping method so they could keep pace with other shipping and transit companies. Numerous manufacturers of rail cars today produce container cars and provide maintenance and repair services for their products.

The container car is a flat car that is designed to hold one or two containers. The car is designed to snugly accommodate containers in a shallow well that will prevent them from sliding or toppling. Many container cars can carry stacked containers, allowing the shipping company to load two containers on top of each other. These cars are also sometimes known as well cars because of the shallow well design used to support the containers.

The advantage to using shipping containers is that products can be loaded into a container once and the container itself can be moved from shipping method to shipping method, like an oversized box. The container can be lifted with cranes onto a container ship, a ship specifically designed to accommodate shipping containers, and when the ship arrives at a port, it can be loaded onto container cars and moved by train. Big rig trucks can also be designed to carry shipping containers.


With a container car, shippers have the option of moving the entire rail carriage between two different trains, or leaving the car attached to the original train and simply moving the container onto an empty container car on another train. This provides more flexibility for the shipper and makes shipment by train more efficient. Trains are already a highly efficient and low cost form of transport, and these qualities make them very popular for shipping companies.

While containers are usually used by shipping companies, it is possible for private individuals to arrange to have goods moved by container. People moving cars cross-country may opt to use a container car, driving the car to a rail yard, loading it on the train, and picking it up at another rail yard close to the end destination. Containers can also be used for moving. Companies that offer space in shipping containers to people moving their households across a continent or overseas can provide rate quotes for containerizing the moving process.


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