What’s a tank car?

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Tank cars transport liquids, including hazardous materials, and undergo special certification inspections. Grab rails and steps are designed to prevent workers from climbing on board while in motion. Tank cars are washed after unloading and some are refrigerated.

A tank car is a rail car used to transport liquids and can carry a variety of items, including food, as well as volatile chemicals and petroleum products. Placards or placards on the tank car warn of the hazardous material being transported. Some tanks are pressurized and some are even heated. Heating the car allows thick and viscous products to be discharged more easily.

Due to the hazardous nature of the goods carried in some tank cars, the grab rails and steps that are part of the tank car are designed so that a railroad worker cannot climb on board while the train is in motion. This is the only rail car with this design feature. Due to the nature of many tank car payloads, most rail companies have strict mandates on what type of freight cars can be linked to and from tank trucks. Limits on how many tankers can join are also in place on most lines.

The tank car undergoes special certification inspections to ensure that it is safe to transport hazardous materials through cities and towns. Different materials require different certifications, depending on the nature of the load. Hatches and loading and unloading valves must be inspected to comply with certification. Inspection cards are displayed on each car indicating the certification date and results.

Some tank cars used to transport liquid oxygen and other gases are kept cool by onboard refrigeration and generating units. These refrigeration tanks are often covered with a thick layer of foam insulation. Insulation helps maintain the temperature of the tank car and allows the cooling unit to operate at a reduced level. Some food items, such as milk, are also routinely transported in a cold tank car.

Most tank cars are washed inside and out after being unloaded. This procedure ensures that the car is ready for the next load and will not contaminate the product being transported. Automobiles used for food grade products must be certified clean and carry an identification tag showing the date and time of inspection. Cars not displaying this data may be turned away and refused at the loading dock.

Whether it is fuel to run domestic vehicles or power military machinery around the world or corn syrup to sweeten sweets around the world, the tank car serves a very useful purpose. Traveling millions of miles in caravans of rail cars, the tanker is one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world.

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