As the North American fleet of gondola railcars shows signs of aging, U. S. Steel, Norfolk Southern and Greenbrier partnered to produce a new, more sustainable product.
The solution was the high-strength steel gondola, a railcar made with higher strength, lighter weight steel. This railcar will provide a unique opportunity to haul more goods with less raw material usage.
The high-strength steel gondola has already earned recognition for its innovative materials and design, including the Progressive Railroading Reader’s Choice Innovation Award, the Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers (CARS) Innovation Award and was also recognized by the Portland Business Journal as one of its Makers and Manufacturers.
The gondola uses an innovative formula for steel that’s two times stronger and also lighter than regular steel. Developed by U. S. Steel, this new formula boosts the payload capacity by cutting each gondola’s unloaded weight by 6,000–15,000 pounds. The lighter weight means more cargo may be carried in a single railcar, allowing fewer railcars and trains to move the goods which make the North American economy hum.
“The Greenbrier Companies continues to contribute to making a strong and rapidly growing innovative industry and is creating a positive impact on rail and community.”
– Sylvia Newell, CARS President
The steel also gives this gondola a unique edge against its contemporaries. Since the railcars are designed to transport loose bulk materials like scrap metal or steel slabs, the regular loading and unloading of cargo can damage the interior and shorten its lifespan. This gondola has an extended lifespan because it can stand up to the rough conditions inherent to its basic functions. It also has the potential to stretch the lifespan of the railcar to 50 years, reducing the replacement rate. Since the steel is stronger, less structural reinforcement is needed, making room for more cargo.
The combination of the high-strength steel gondola’s lighter weight and extended lifespan adds to the sustainability aspect of this railcar. As the rail industry looks to replace the roughly 7,500 aging gondolas over the next three years, this design offers a new solution for buyers, keeping sustainability and overall value at the forefront of their purchasing priorities.
“These railcars are needed to serve not only our current customers, like U. S. Steel, but also others,” said Jim Squires, Norfolk Southern board member and former CEO. “Across industries, shippers are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impacts and rail is the best way to do so.”
Moving freight by rail is the most environmentally friendly mode of surface transport, and Greenbrier, alongside its partners, is leading the way by introducing more sustainable solutions in the manufacturing process.