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North American freight rail cars by type 2009-2019

Despite their iconic status from so many U.S. books and films, the box car is not the most common type of freight rail car in North America; this honor belongs to the covered hopper, of which there were 571 across North America in 2019.

Types of freight cars

Freight cars (or goods cars) are unpowered railway vehicles used to transport cargo. They can be divided into several categories based on the type of cargo to be transported. Some are designed to carry specialized, unpacked cargo: hoppers and gondolas carry loose bulk materials such as fertilizers and coal, while tanks are designed to carry gasses. Other cars are designed to carry generic cargo types: box cars are enclosed to be able to carry partial cargo loads, whereas flats are open in order to carry full, pre-loaded shipping containers.

Rail freight volumes

Although rail freight volumes in the United States have stayed relatively consistent for the last decade, in 2018 rail freight accounted for less than ten percent of the domestic freight market, even when intermodal transport incorporating rail is included. Rail is not only used to transport cargo domestically though; there are significant flows of commodities by rail with both Canada and Mexico.

North American freight rail cars in service from 2009 to 2019, by car type

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Release date

March 2020


North America

Survey time period

2009 to 2019

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