The Association of American Railroads (AAR) developed the car code. The first letter of the code identifies the major category of the railcar. The following three numbers identify more specific characteristics about the railcar such as dimension, roof type, door type, capacity (gallons or cubit feet), load limit, floor type, coupler type, tank type, unloading type, etc. The three number categories are different for each major category of railcar.
An AAR Car Type example:
TILX 3238 has a car type of C112. It is a covered hopper with gravity unloading and a capacity of 3,000 to 4,000 cubic feet. This type of railcar could be used for shipping frac sand or cement.
Here is the breakdown of the code: C = major category of the railcar. Covered hoppers three numbers are as such: 1st number = type of unloading mechanism; 2nd number = type of roof; 3rd number = capacity in cubit feet.
C = covered hopper; 1 = gravity unloading; 1 = LO covered hopper; 2 = capacity of 3,000 to 4,000 cubic feet
TILX 261848 has a car type of T106. It is a general service carbon steel tank car with a capacity of 22,000 to 24,000 gallons. It could be used for shipping asphalt.
T = tank car; 10 = general service cars - carbon steel (welded or riveted) (includes rubber lined); 6 = capacity of 22,000 to 24,000 gallons
Below is a table showing the major categories of railcars. But it is not possible to provide a generic table for the numeric part of the car code since the categories vary depending on the major car category. To really know what the numeric part of the code means, you need to refer to some other resources.
The ultimate resource is The Official Railway Register 0r sometimes affectionately called the “big yellow book”. You will need to buy this for $379 per year (digital or print) and can order it online. You’ll want to refer to the Section IX, Exhibit D & M. If you don’t want to pay the $379, there are some rail fan sites (here is one) that are pretty comprehensive in explaining all of the numeric codes for each major car type, but they may be out of date and accuracy can’t be guaranteed.
BNSF Railway has a pretty nice page where you can paste or enter any railcar and see its characteristics along with the AAR Car Type Code.
|A||Equipped box cars|
|B||Unequipped box cars|
|C||Covered hopper cars|
|K||Equipped hopper cars|
|L||Special type cars|
|M||M-O-W, Scale, Passenger, Caboose, and End-of-train information systems|
|P||Conventional intermodal cars|
|Q||Lighter weight, low-profile intermodal cars|
|V||Vehicular flat cars|
I hope that you have found this article a helpful resource. If you have some ideas to share, please comment and start the conversation!
All the best,
Railcar Management System (RMS) can store the characteristics such as the AAR Car Type Code, which then can be included on custom reports that are sent automatically to recipients.