Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A passenger car is a piece of railroad rolling stock that is designed to carry passengers. Most often, the term passenger car is associated with equipment that resembles a coach or sleeping car, but it can also encompass several other specialized types of equipment, including baggage , dining and railway post office cars.
19th century: First passenger cars and early development
Since the advent of railroads, people have traveled by train. Naturally, the first passenger trains didn't travel very far, but they were able to haul many more passengers for a longer distance than any wagons pulled by horses.
As railways were first constructed in England, so too were the first passenger cars. One of the early coach designs was the "Stanhope". It featured a roof and small holes in the floor for drainage when it rained, and had separate compartments for different classes of travel. The only problem with this design is that the passengers were expected to stand for their entire trip. The first passenger cars in the United States highly resembled stagecoaches. They were short, often less than 10 ft. (3 m) long, tall and rode on a single pair of axles.
British railways had a little bit of a head start on American railroads, with the first "bed-carriage" (an early sleeping car) being built there as early as 1838 for use on the London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway. Britain's early sleepers, when made up for sleeping, extended the foot of the bed into a a boot section at the end of the carriage. The cars were still too short to allow more than two or three beds to be positioned end to end.
Britain's Royal Mail commissioned and built the first Travelling Post Office cars in the late 1840s as well. These cars resembled coaches in their short wheelbase and exterior design, but were equipped with nets on the sides of the cars to catch mail bags while the train was in motion. American RPOs, first appearing in the 1860s, also featured equipment to catch mail bags at speed, but the American design more closely resembled a large hook that would catch the mailbag in its crook. When not in use, the hook would swivel down on the side of the car to prevent it from catching on any close clearances.
As locomotive technology progressed in the mid-19th century, trains grew in length and weight. Passenger cars, particularly in America, grew along with them, first getting longer with the addition of a second truck (one at each end), and wider as their suspensions improved. Cars built for European use featured side door compartments, while American car design favored a single pair of doors at one end of the car in the car's vestibule; compartmentized cars on American railroads featured a long hallway with doors from the hall to the compartments.
One possible reason for this difference in design principles between American and European carbuilding practice could be the average distance between stations on the two continents. As most European railroads connected towns and villages that were still very closely spaced, American railroads had to travel over much greater distances to reach their destinations. Building passenger cars with a long passageway through the length of the car allowed the passengers easy access to the restroom, among other things, on longer journeys.
Dining cars first appeared in the late 1870s and into the 1880s. Until this time, the common practice was to stop for meals at restaurants along the way (which led to the rise of Fred Harvey's chain of Harvey House restaurants in America). At first, the dining car was simply a place to serve meals that were picked up en route, but they soon evolved to include galleys in which the meals were prepared.
1900-1950: Lighter materials, new car types
By the 1920s, passenger cars on the larger standard gauge railroads were normally between 60 ft (18.3 m) and 70 ft (21.3 m). The cars of this time were still quite ornate, many of them being built by experienced coach makers and skilled carpenters.
With the 1930s came the widespread use of stainless steel for carbodies. The typical passenger car was now much lighter than its "heavyweight" wood cousins of old. The new "lightweight" and streamlined cars carried passengers in speed and comfort to an extent that had not been experienced to date. Aluminum and Cor-Ten steel were also used in lightweight car construction, but stainless steel was the preferred material for carbodies. It isn't the lightest of materials, nor is it the least expensive, but stainless steel cars could be, and often were, left unpainted except for the car's reporting marks that were required by law.
By the end of the 1930s, railroads and carbuilders were debuting carbody and interior styles that could only be dreamed of before. In 1937, the Pullman Company delivered the first cars equipped with roomettes – that is, the car's interior was sectioned off into compartments, much like the coaches that were still in widespread use across Europe. Pullman's roomettes, however, were designed with the single traveler in mind. The roomette featured a large picture window, a privacy door, a single fold-away bed, a sink and small toilet. The roomette's floor space was barely larger than the space taken up by the bed, but it allowed the traveler to ride in luxury compared to the multilevel semiprivate berths of old.
Now that passenger cars were lighter, they were able to carry heavier loads, but the size of the average passenger didn't increase to match the cars' new capacities. The average passenger car couldn't get any wider or longer due to side clearances along the railroad lines, but they generally could get taller because they were still shorter than many freight cars and locomotives. So the railroads soon began building and buying dome and bilevel cars to carry more passengers.
1950-present: High-technology advancements
Carbody styles have generally remained consistent since the middle of the 20th century. While new car types haven't made much of an impact, the existing car types have been further enhanced with new technology.
Starting in the 1950s, the passenger travel market declined in North America, though there was growth in commuter rail. The higher clearances in North America enabled bi-level commuter coaches that could hold more passengers. These cars started to become common in the United States in the 1960s.
While intercity passenger rail travel declined in America, ridership continued to increase in other parts of the world. With the increase came an increased use of newer technology on existing and new equipment. The Spanish company Talgo began experimenting in the 1940s with technology that would enable the axles to steer into a curve, allowing the train to move around the curve at a higher speed. The steering axles evolved into mechanisms that would also tilt the passenger car as it entered a curve to counter the centrifugal force experienced by the train, further increasing speeds on existing track. Today, Talgo trains are used in many places in Europe and they have also found a home in North America on some short and medium distance routes such as Seattle, Washington, to Vancouver, British Columbia.
The basic design of a passenger car hasn't changed much since the middle of the 19th century, but there are several different passenger car types in service around the world. Generally, these can be split into heavyweight versus lightweight cars.
Heavyweight vs. lightweight
A heavyweight car is one that is physically heavier than a lightweight car due to its construction. Heavyweight cars can be easily spotted by their wood construction, usually six-wheeled trucks (bogies) and stepped roof line. The roofs of early heavyweights usually consisted of a center sill section (the clerestory) that ran the length of the car and extended above the roof sides by as much as a foot. This section of the roof usually had windows or shutters that could be opened for ventilation while the train was in motion. However, railroad crews and passengers quickly discovered that when these windows were opened on a passenger train pulled by one or steam locomotives, smoke and soot from the locomotives tended to drift in through the windows, especially when the train went through a tunnel.
In the early 20th century, air conditioning was added to heavyweight cars for the first time. An air conditioned heavyweight car could be spotted easily since the area where the roof vent windows existed was now covered, either partially or in full, by the AC duct. As lightweight cars were introduced, many heavyweight cars were repurposed into maintenance of way service by the railroads that owned them.
Lightweight passenger cars required developments in steel processing that weren't available until the 1920s and 1930s. By building passenger cars out of steel instead of wood, the manufacturers were able to build lighter weight cars with smooth or fluted sides and smooth roof lines. Using steel for carbodies was so effective that the Union Pacific Railroad's M-10000 three-car trainset weighed only 85 tons, which was less than the average weight of one heavyweight dining car.
Steel cars were ushered in at the beginning of the streamline era of the 1930s (although not all lightweight cars were streamlined) and steel has continued in use ever since then. With the use of steel for the car sides, railroads were able to offer more innovative passenger car types. It wasn't until after the first lightweight cars were introduced that railroads began building and using dome cars because the sides of heavyweight cars weren't strong enough to support the weight of the dome and its passengers. Lightweight cars also enabled the railroads to operate longer passenger trains; the reduced car weight meant that more passengers could be carried in a greater number of cars with the same locomotives. The cost savings in hauling capacity coupled with the increased car type options led to the quick replacement of heavyweight cars with lightweight cars.
Passenger cars, whether heavyweight or lightweight, can be split into several car types (listed in alphabetical order):
Although passengers generally were not allowed access to the baggage car, they were included in a great number of passenger trains as regular equipment. The baggage car is a car that was normally placed between the train's motive power and the remainder of the passenger train. The car's interior is normally wide open and is used to carry passengers' checked baggage. Baggage cars were also sometimes commissioned by freight companies to haul less-than-carload (lcl) shipments along passenger routes (Railway Express Agency was one such freight company). Some baggage cars included restroom facilities for the train crew, so many baggage cars had doors to access them just like any other passenger car. Baggage cars could be designed to look like the rest of a passenger train's cars, or they could be repurposed box cars equipped with high-speed trucks and passenger train steam and air connections.
The car's interior is filled with row upon row of seats, generally all arranged facing toward one end of the car. The seats are often so close together that there is not much room for anything more than a passenger or two in them. Carry-on baggage is stowed on a shelf above the passenger seating area. Coaches are sometimes referred to as chair cars. The seats in most coaches until the middle of the 20th century, were usually bench seats; the backs of these seats could be adjusted, often with one hand, to face in either direction so the car would not have to be turned for a return trip. The conductor would simply walk down the aisle in the car, reversing the seat backs to prepare for the return trip.
A combine is a car that combines features of two types of passenger cars into one car. The most common combination is that of a coach and a baggage, but the combination of coach and RPO was also common. Combines were used most frequently on branch lines and short line railroads where there wasn't necessarily enough traffic to economically justify single-purpose cars. As lightweight cars began to appear on railroads, passenger cars more frequently combined features of two or more car types on one car, and the classic heavyweight combine fell out of use.
The car's interior is split with a portion of the interior partitioned off for a galley, which is off-limits to passengers. A narrow hallway is left between the galley and one side wall of the car for passengers to use. The remainder of the interior is laid out with tables and chairs to look like a long, narrow restaurant dining room. Railroad employees were hired to perform waitstaff and kitchen duties.
A dome car can include features of a lounge car, dining car and an observation. A portion of the car, usually in the center of the car, is split between two levels, with stairs leading both up and down from the train's regular passenger car floor level. The lower level of the dome usually consisted of a small lounge area, while the upper portion was usually coach or lounge seating within a "bubble" of glass on the car's roof. Passengers in the upper portion of the dome were able to see in all directions from a vantage point above the train's roofline. On some dome cars, the lower portion was built as a galley, where car attendants used dumbwaiters to transfer items between the galley and a dining area in the dome portion of the car.
Lounge car interiors resembled a lounge. They usually had benches or large swivelling chairs along the sides of the car with a bar or other light meal and drink service at one end of the car. Some lounge cars included small pianos and were staffed by contracted musicians to entertain the passengers.
The observation car almost always operated as the last car in a passenger train. Its interior could include features of a coach, lounge, diner, or sleeper. The main spotting feature was at the tail end of the car - the walls of the car usually were curved together to form a large U shape, and larger windows were installed all around the end of the car. Before these cars were built with steel walls, the observation end of heavyweight cars resembled a roofed porch area; larger windows were installed at the observation end on these cars as well. At this end of the car, there was almost always a lounge where passengers could enjoy the view as they watch the track recede into the distance.
First conceived by George Pullman in the late 1850s, the Pullman car originally was designed to resemble a coach during the daytime with fold-out beds and privacy curtains for night time. The beds were located on each side of the car, in up to three levels. Passengers used portable ladders to access the upper berths. This type of car was often used as a plot device in cinema through World War II, such as in one scene from Some Like It Hot starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe; the passengers in that scene cram themselves into a space that is normally used only by one person for great comedic effect. As railroads began building and buying "lightweight" steel cars, Pullman cars took on the look of the newer sleepers with compartments instead of privacy curtains.
Like baggage cars, paying passengers were not allowed access to the railway post office (RPO) cars. These cars' interiors were designed with sorting facilities that were often seen and used in conventional post offices around the world. The RPO is where mail was sorted while the train was en route. Because these cars carried mail, which often included valuables or quantities of cash and checks, the RPO staff (who were employed by the postal service and not the railroad) were the only train crews allowed to carry guns. The RPO cars were normally placed in a passenger train between the train's motive power and baggage cars, further inhibiting their access by passengers.
Often called sleepers, these cars' interiors were normally partitioned into separate bedroom compartments for passengers. The beds were designed in such a way that they either rolled or folded out of the way or converted into seats for daytime use. Compartments varied in size; some were only large enough for a bed, while others resembled efficiency apartments including bathrooms.
Other passenger equipment
Passengers have travelled on rails in trains other than the conventional type of passenger trains that are referred to above. Trams, streetcars and subways have been heavily used in urban areas throughout the world. On lighter trafficked branch lines and short line railways, multiple unit trains or powered diesel cars have been used.
Passenger car manufacturers
While some railroads, like the Milwaukee Road, preferred to build their own passenger cars, several railcar manufacturers built the majority of passenger cars. Most of these companies produced both passenger and freight equipment for the railroads.
American Car and Foundry
American Car and Foundry was formed in 1899 through the merger of 13 smaller railroad car manufacturing companies (in much the same way as the American Locomotive Company was formed from the merger of 8 smaller locomotive manufacturers two years later in 1901). ACF built the first all-steel passenger car in the world for Interborough Rapid Transit in 1904, and then built the first steel cars used on the London Underground in the following year. The company continued to manufacture passenger equipment until 1959. ACF still manufactures freight cars today.
The Budd Company got its start in the early 1930s when Edward G. Budd developed a way to build carbodies out of stainless steel. In 1932 he completed his first railcar, dubbed the Green Goose. It used rubber tires and a stainless steel body, and was powered by the engine out of Budd's own Chrysler Imperial automobile. Budd sold a few of these early powered cars to the Reading Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad and the Texas and Pacific Railroad . The next year, Ralph Budd, only a very distant relation, but president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad at the time, came to Budd to build the Pioneer Zephyr.
Budd continued building lightweight powered and unpowered cars through the 20th century for nearly every major railroad in North America.
Pullman-Standard is the company that evolved from the Pullman Company of the 19th century.
St. Louis Car Company
Founded in April 1887, in its namesake city, St. Louis Car Company manufactured railroad cars for streetcar lines (urban passenger railways) and steam railroads. The company made brief forays into building automobiles and aircraft, but they are best known as the manufacturers of Birney and PCC streetcars which have seen worldwide use. St. Louis Car Company closed in 1973.
Military uses and specialized passenger equipment
Military organizations around the world have always needed a convenient way to transport troops and supplies to and from battle sites. Since the middle of the 19th century, military organizations have made heavy use of railroad equipment. While supplies and vehicles have been hauled in conventional freight cars, their troops have also been carried in passenger cars. Troops in good health would be carried in coaches, troop cars or troop sleepers for longer trips (usually standard-built passenger cars, but sometimes repurposed box cars with seats, windows, doors and sometimes cots installed), while injured soldiers would be returned from the battlefield in "hospital trains".
A hospital train consists of passenger cars that have been (usually) retrofit with rows of beds and a small examination area. The hospital cars most closely resembled the Pullman cars of old where the beds were stacked up to three tiers high, but hospital cars normally did not include the luxury of privacy curtains.
- Superliner (railcar) - The brand name of the high-level passenger cars operated by Amtrak
- Double decker - Many commuter coaches were built as bilevel cars, such cars still operate in many large cities in North America.
- List of named passenger trains, Category:Named passenger trains - Passenger cars operated in passenger trains, so here are links to information on many different trains.
- Pullman Company - The Pullman name has become synonymous with sleeping car amenities.
- Train station - The public interface to passenger trains around the world.
- Mencken, August (1957, reprinted 2000). The railroad passenger car: An illustrated history of the first hundred years with accounts by contemporary passengers. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. ISBN 0-8018-6541-7.
- Talgo, Talgo technology. Retrieved February 25 2005.
- Welsh, Joe (2005) New deal for rail travel, Classic trains special edition: Streamliner pioneers, Kalmbach Publishing, Waukesha, WI, 3, 8-17.
- White, John H., Jr. (1978). The American railroad passenger car, part 1. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. ISBN 0-8018-2722-1.
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