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Greenbrier, U.S. Steel and Norfolk Southern green the gondola

Gondola uses steel stronger and lighter than existing cars

Eastern Class I railroad Norfolk Southern, railcar manufacturer Greenbrier and steel producer U.S. Steel have worked together to produce a sustainable gondola railcar.

NS (NYSE: NSC) will initially acquire 800 of these gondolas, engineered by Greenbrier (NYSE: GBX) with a high-strength, lighter-weight steel from U.S. Steel (NYSE: X), the three said Thursday. The creation of the gondola comes with the understanding that the existing aging fleet will need to be replaced someday with a design that’s more sustainable, they said.

Gondolas transport loose bulk material such as metal scraps, coils, wood chips, steel slabs and ore. 

This model differs from older iterations because of efforts to extend the railcar’s life cycle, enable greater freight capacity and reach sustainability goals, according to the group. The new steel is twice as strong as the steel traditionally used in the railcar manufacturing process, thus potentially extending the gondola’s life to 50 years, while the stronger external finish strengthens the railcar body and lowers maintenance costs, they said. The high-strength steel also requires less structural reinforcement, which in turn simplifies the manufacturing process and allows more total cargo space per car.

The group also said the new gondola is more energy efficient during the production process and while it’s in use. The steel fabrication process requires less time, while the lower weight of the railcar decreases fuel consumption, which in turn lowers emissions.

“The use of lightweight, high-strength steel is a real revolution for railcars. Not only will each gondola carry more material, they will do so by using less energy, making our operations, and our customers’ operations, even more environmentally friendly,” NS CEO Jim Squires said in a release. “The advancements made by Norfolk Southern, U.S. Steel and Greenbrier on these gondolas can be applied to other car types, ensuring that this sustainable innovation continues well into the future. Further, once these new gondolas are in service, we plan to recycle the previous models.”

(Video: Greenbrier)

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.