What Is Rolling Stock?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Rolling stock is the fleet of all the wheeled vehicles owned by a railroad or government that can be rolled on railroad tracks. In some countries, like the United States, this definition includes powered vehicles, like locomotives. Some other countries, however, such as the United Kingdom, deliberately segregate the two, with locomotives and other powered vehicles termed running stock or motive power. Outside the railroad industry, some companies use the term to mean any wheeled, easily transportable vehicle, such as a truck or automobile.

Other than locomotives and other powered cars, there are four main types of railroad rolling stock. The two revenue producing cars, freight and passenger, are by far the most numerous. Freight cars are designed for all manner of contents, whether boxed or loose, solid, liquid or gas. The boxcar, essentially a very large box set upon wheels and secured by sliding doors, is the most common of all freight cars. Some other freight cars are generic in nature and can haul a wide variety of goods, while others have been specially designed for a single purpose, such as carrying automobiles or airplane parts.


Passenger cars are the other revenue producing cars. These also are produced in a number of different styles, usually based on their intended use. Those passenger cars built for long journeys, for example, have fewer seats and are generally more comfortable than the cars built for commuter trains, where rides of over 90 minutes are uncommon. Specialty passenger cars used on long journeys include meal cars, which are like restaurants on wheels, and observation cars, designed to enhance passengers’ ability to appreciate the scenery while traveling. Sleeper cars with individual passenger compartments that can be converted to bedrooms are useful for even longer journeys.

The other two types of non-powered rolling stock don’t produce any revenue for the railroad. These include cars used by the railroad itself, and cars specially built for military use. Among the railroad’s non-revenue cars are cabooses and roughly a dozen or so other types of specialized cars built for such tasks as maintaining the right of way, housing railroad workers or offices, and railroad cranes. Military cars include any of a number of specialized cars built for military operations on railroad tracks. They were a fairly common sight in Europe during the 20th century, with perhaps their most famous and controversial use being to move nuclear weapons around to make it difficult for other nations to target them in a first strike.

All railroad cars are built according to industry standards, can be run on all tracks and be connected to each other regardless of type or which railroad they belong to. From a financial perspective, a railroad’s rolling stock is considered almost liquid in nature, and is frequently pledged as collateral for loans. This makes keeping track of rolling stock a critical function for any railroad.


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Post 2

It is interesting to think of railroad cars as rolling stock. When I think of a rolling stock definition, the first thing I think of is stock in companies. There is a term that refers to the up and down pattern that is called rolling stock.

Since the rolling stock in reference to the railroad is used as collateral, I can see how important they are to this industry. The boxcars are the ones I am most familiar with. We would always count the number of cars that went by when we had to sit and wait for a train.

They have the

Post 1

I learned several interesting things reading this article, and never realized that the caboose was a non-revenue railroad car. Of all of the rail rolling stock cars there are, the caboose was always my favorite.

You don't see many of them anymore when you wait for a train to go by. As a kid I would always wait to see the man sitting in the caboose and hope to get a wave from him.

If they don't make any revenue from the caboose, I suppose that is one reason you don't see as many of them any more.

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