Train Basics ABCs Of Railroading What is a Schnabel car?

What is a Schnabel car?

By Robert W Scott | July 12, 2023

These special cars move oversize loads

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Schnabel car

Special heavy-duty freight car, a Schnabel car, awaits a load
A Schnabel car awaits its load outside the Centralia, Wash., Power Plant. Final preparations took several days. Robert W. Scott

One may think 89-foot auto racks are large while standing trackside, but they can be dwarfed by specialized railcars called upon for heavy-duty service where shipping by truck isn’t available, practical, or affordable.

Interior of power plant with generator on crane
Inside the Centralia Power Plant, the large generator component is moved into place for loading onto the railcar.

These are Schnabel railcars, which feature the ability to carry heavy loads. With up to 22 axles, these cars used to move electrical transformers, generators, and other large mechanical components. Such loads are sometimes accompanied by a caboose manned to monitor transport of the load.

These cars haul both bridged and non-bridged equipment. For loads that cannot stand in-train forces, a bridge provides the ability to flat-load the equipment. With a capacity of 392 to 523 tons, depending on configuration, it provides three to five times the carrying capacity of a modern freight car. At a maximum loaded length of 175 feet, this car can carry some of the largest electrical components not built or torn down on site.

In early 2023, an empty Schnabel car was in the Centralia, Wash., yard for eventual delivery to the power plant in Centralia, where a generator was being shipped out. The component being shipped was one of two power generators destined for a power plant near Houston, and required a heavy-haul freight car like the Schnabel.

The shipment was only part of the generator — the windings and stationary portion, as the 70-ton rotor had already been pulled from the equipment. The shipment saw the car in a bridge configuration, with the equipment secured to the connection between the two parts of the car. The shipment was also accompanied by a staffable caboose.

Loaded Schnabel car
Final assembly complete, the railcar has been moved by a BNSF switcher to the Centralia Yard to await departure.
Close-up view of three-axle truck on Schnabel car
Details such as a close-up view of one of the car’s six-wheel trucks were readily available with the car along a public roadway. Robert W. Scott
This image helps show how the bridge connects to one of the car’s halves, and how the load is secured at the end. Robert W. Scott
Gray extended cupola caboose with Schnabel car
A rebuilt caboose accompanies the Schnabel car. The caboose has been upgraded for crew transport with air conditioner units and sports a new paint scheme featuring the company Fracht Group. Robert W. Scott

4 thoughts on “What is a Schnabel car?

  1. That big car reminds me of the Big Bertha German railroad artillery car from WW1&2. Schnabel means (big) beak in German.

  2. Great article, but a few more facts would be nice like when was the first one put into service, and the meaining of the name “Schnabel”.

You must login to submit a comment