Railway Cars: Boxcars
Boxcars were once as ubiquitious as Well Cars hauling containers are today. Most items on a train were hauled on a boxcar. Even bulk grain! Today, shipping containers have taken over many of the roles that boxcars used to be commonly used for. Gone are the days of a 40ft long, wooden boxcar, which was the old standard back in the heyday of rail. Back then, you would see all train cars had walkways on the roof, in order to allow brakemen to walk along the top of the train, and apply the handbrakes on cars as needed.
image from pinterest.com
After 1978, Railroads made an effort to remove walkways and full height ladders from Boxcars, as there was no need for them, with modern braking systems. And the idea of having someone being able to walk on top of a moving train, was now a liability. Many old wooden boxcars were scrapped or turned into makeshift bulk carrier cars for grain service, with filling hatches fitted to the roof. In this case, the walkways and ladders were left in place, for access to the hatches. Regardless, the AAR (Association of American Railroads) enacted a guideline as of July 1974 which stated that any rail car over 40 years old, could not be run in interchange service unless it has an exception of some sort. The 40 year rule is still considered to be in effect, and many modern carriers still enforce it. So you will not see old, wooden boxcars in actual working service anymore, unless it is running on a museum line.
Modern Boxcars typically run from 50ft, to 60ft, with some larger ones at 86ft. 50ft Boxcars carry a wide range of products, including rolled paper, pulp, newsprint, metals, building materials, appliances, food products, or any bagged and palletized material. They have a 70ton or 100ton load capacity. 60ft Boxcars typically are used for similar items, but often for more bulky, lighter loads, which tend to 'cube out' before they 'weigh out'. There are "Hi-Cube" versions of each Boxcar, which allow for more height. This is useful in the transport of roller paper, and to allow the double stacking of palletized loads.
60ft High Cube boxcar
50ft High Cube boxcar
The 86ft Boxcars are typically "Hi-Cube" versions, and are often used to transport Auto Parts, related to the assembly of automobiles. Racks of body frames, stamped panels, interior panels, or doors, wouldn't be uncommon to be found inside a 86ft Boxcar. They are sometimes also used for transporting bulk loads of large lightweight material, such as insulation or bulk shipments of consumer cereal boxes, or consumer tissue boxes. Because they are so big, they are more limited in how much load they can carry, and thus the lighter, more voluminous loads.
86ft High Cube boxcar
Boxcars do tend to move around between railroads a lot. It isn't uncommon to see boxcars owned by other lines, traveling on a foreign railroad. Many are now run by rail car 'pool' services such as TTX. Which is a company that is partly owned by shares from most of the major Class 1 railroads in North America.
Another common type of boxcar is called a reefer. No, not that kind of reefer... This is a boxcar designed to transport items that need to be kept cool, or even frozen. You will typically notice these boxcars as being brightly colored, or white, with a HVAC unit on one end. The unit has a small generator, and runs all the time. They also have GPS tracking and provide information back to their owners to remotely allow monitoring of the temperature and fuel levels of the generator fuel reserve. Modern units are typically 64ft long, tho some 57ft long units are still in use. Back in the old days, they used to use insulated wooden boxcars, with small roof hatches which would allow them to load cubes of ice into the ceiling of the car. This would provide the cooling needed for the journey. In most cases trains would have to stop several times to be 're-iced'.
That should give the reader a good overview of the differences and types of common boxcars that are in operation today. You should also have some understanding as to the history behind them, and be able to identify them to some extent now.