Q: I recently saw these bright orange boxcars parked near the Canadian National Woodcrest Shops. They have CN reporting marks, though I haven’t gotten close enough to get specific numbers. Many of them have red lights on both ends that look to be like the ones used at crossing gates. They must move these cars often, because I notice the number and position of the high-cubes and standard-height cars are different almost every time I pass there. What are these cars carrying that warrants the extra visibility? – Ed Schmidt, Des Plaines, Ill.
A: Those aren’t general-service boxcars, but rather, what Canadian National calls Distributed Braking Cars. They’re designed to help keep up brake line pressure during long trips through the Canadian winter, when cold temperatures can cause the fittings in air brake lines to contract and leak. Though they started life as American Car & Foundry 7,596-cubic-foot boxcars, they were outfitted at CN’s Transcona Shops with a diesel fuel tank, air compressor, and other equipment. Some external spotting features include a personnel door on the side and, on the roof, a pair of antennas and a GPS dome. The light you observed on the car end is a built-in Flashing Rear End Device, or FRED, that would be turned on if the car were put on the end of a train, though the cars can also serve their purpose in the middle of a consist.
For more information about the history of these cars and hints on how to model them, check out the May installment of “Cody’s Trackside Finds”.
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