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  • Trinity's Aluminum-Bodied Coal Gondolas

    by David G. Casdorph

    Photos courtesy Freight Cars Journal

    BN 534992 roster view. Shown here in a siding along the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Notice that the tubs, B-end rungs, handrails, brake wheel, etc., are all painted black.
    Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 34

    I guess Im getting old - it seems like yesterday that the Norfolk & Western was moving coal in gondola cars. Oh, how far we have advanced! Today, coal is still being moved in gondola cars, but the modern coal gondola is very advanced with its aluminum-body and 286,000-lb. gross rail loading. Todays coal gons have rotary couplers so the whole car is flipped and dumped. There have been a number of designs of coal-hauling gondolas for todays operations. Most of the major builders have offered aluminum-bodied coal gons at one point or another. Bethlehem Steel Car made a significant introduction with its Bethgon design. This design continues with Johnstown America today. The basic design uses two longitudinal tubs between the trucks - thus adding additional cubic-foot capacity with a lower center of gravity.

    In 1992, Trinity Industries introduced a similar design and called it the Aluminator. Six demonstrators were built and placed under Trinity Industries Leasing Company reporting marks (TIMX 1001-1006). This initial design was rated at a 4,400 cubic-foot capacity. Most new-built coal cars (hoppers and gondolas) are built to a standardized 53' 1" outside length. The Trinity Aluminator is no exception. The 4400 design has a 12' 7" extreme height (11' 6" inside height). What made the Aluminator unique was the way the bottom of the tubs slope down ward from the center to the ends (the Bethlehem/Johnstown design had straight bottom tubs). The body has 13 side posts each with an alternating rivet pattern. There are three internal cross braces (at the 4th, 7th and 10th side posts).

    BN 534992 left side detail. Note the six ladder rungs on this A-end side view detail. Note the green painted area goes up to but does not include the side post. The lower second panel has three rivets on the slope-sheet line
    Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 35

    In 1994 Burlington Northern received the first serious order of Trinity's new coal gondola (240 cars, numbered BN 534860-535099). The cars went into service in the Powder River Basin along with its stablemate from Johnstown. The Trinity cars were painted with green rotary-coupler ends. The remainder of the body was left natural aluminum. The next big order came from relative newcomer Transcisco Leasing (later picked up by Trinity Rail Management) using the reporting marks GEAX (this isnt/wasnt GE Leasing). At least four sets of 120 cars were delivered over the next few years. Trinity Industries itself added 115 cars to its fleet in late 1996. Up to this point all of these were rated for a 286,000-lb. gross rail loading.

    CLEX 2089 center side detail. The lettering along the bottom cautions against using an open flame to heat the car (coal often gets frozen to the sides of the cars).
    Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 36 Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 37

    In late 1996, a second design entered series production. This car was rated with a 4,525 cubic-foot capacity and 286,000-lb. gross rail loading. Newcourt Capital USA (now Transport Capital), Canadian National, Cleco Corporation, Seminole Electric Cooperative, and Union Pacific all acquired this design variation. Northern Indiana Public Service later acquired used cars of this design. Again, this design retains the standard 53' 1" frame but has an extreme height of 12' 10".

    In 1997, the Union Pacific received an entirely new design of Trinitys Aluminator. This design was a 315,000-lb. gross rail loading (125-ton) car with a rated capacity of 4,930 cubic feet. The design continued the 53' 1" outside length standard, but the height was raised nearly three-quarters of a foot to a 13' 4" extreme height. The end sheets were taller and the slope-sheet angle changed. The UP initially received 210 of these numbered UP 33100-33309. Another 105 were received later that year and numbered UP 33310-33414.

    UP 28097 roster view. A 4525 design with the three tub bands. Class G-110-1.
    Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 38 Model Railroading - August 2001 - Page 39

    The Competition

    WFAX 94162. Johnstown Americas 4,400-cu.ft. aluminum-bodied coal gondola car was originally introduced by JA's predecessor, Bethlehem Steel Car and called the Bethgon. The Bethgon was introduced in the 70s as a steel-bodied car. Note there are 13 side posts and the cross braces are on the 4th, 7th and 10th posts. However, this design has five fasteners on each side of the post for each cross brace. Also, the ends of the tubs are squared (versus Trinitys angled style) and have no bands.

    SATX 10092. Thralls answer to the aluminum-bodied coal gondola market. This is a 4,530-cu.ft. design. Note the horizontal grooves located mid way on the panels. This design uses c ross braces at the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th posts! Again, all three designs have 13 side posts. There are no bands on the tubs.

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