An autorack (auto rack, car hauler, autocarrier, or stack car; though, commonly abbreviated as "autoracks") is a form of rollingstock or type of freight car commonly used for carrying automotive products.
TTX Autorack

A typical TTX autorack (one seen being a demonstrator or leased unit) commonly seen throughout the United States and North America on various different railroads. TTX is the largest manufacturer in autorack cars, and also invented the modern style of the fully-enclosed tri-level car.

It is commonly used throughout various railroad and railway systems throughout North America, South America, and Europe (with the exception of numerous places in Africa and Asia).

American HistoryEdit

When the first commercially-successful automobiles were developed in the United States (as well as the rest of the modern world) during the 1910's, the newly-established automotive industry experienced it's birth boom by convincing customers and other average people that cars "were the way to travel". Although passenger trains, horse-drawn carriages, and street-cars (trolleys/trams) were still common forms of transportation in urban places throughout the United States and North America, cars were quickly booming into becoming the main form of ground passenger transportation. Thus, to accommodate the steep rise in the production and popularity of automobiles, railroads began to become involved in transporting new automobiles from the manufacturer to whichever unloading facility to then be delivered by truck to the nearest dealership in which an order were to be placed.

The first known successful autorack cars were built in 1923 by the Grand Trunk Western (GTW, or GT), and were originally built upon modified wooden flatcars with collapsible frames to allow for double-deck operation (meaning that the cars were able to be loaded on top of one another within two frame layers on a single car). Though, the design wasn't favorable with overall regulations from the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) due to safety reasons, and was ultimately scrapped until a newer, more successful (and safer) design was developed during the 1940's and 50's.
N&W Autorack Car

An early N&W (Norfolk And Western) autorack car revealing damaged Ford vans.

From then on, companies such as Trailer Train (TTX; Trailer Train Leasing), Thrall Car, and the Whitehead & Kales Co. were among the first designers and developers for modernizing automotive transportation with developing the safest and most reliable form of autorack car. Though, it wasn't until the late 1960's when railroads such as the Missouri Pacific (MoPac, MP) began to develop covered or plated autorack cars to protect the vehicles or automobiles from weather damage or vandalism. Though, with efforts from Southern Pacific (SP) and Norfolk And Western (N&W) came the early experimental fully-enclosed autorack cars. SP's designs and methods were known as "Stac-Pac", "Vert-A-Pac", and the "Auto-Max"; which were unfortunately deemed to be unsuccessful, but inspired ideas for Thrall Car (later part of Trinity Industries as a result of the 2001 merger or acquisition) to establish designs that began the partially-enclosed style of autorack which in-turn was successful, but still didn't fully protect automobiles from becoming damaged or vandalized.

It wasn't until the mid-1980's to the early 1990's when the first modern and current fully-covered, tri-level autorack design became fully developed and succeeded past and previous designs on railroads across the United States and North America. Today, autorack cars can be found on just about any autorack unit train; transporting today's newest and most recent manufactured automobiles from various automotive plants and facilities across the United States and North America, or from within a mixed freight or manifest (whether they're being transported to the next yard to await their next assignment, or are being transferred to the next facility to be loaded or unloaded).
TTX Articulated Autorack car

A typical articulated autorack car, which is actually a set of two cars separated or connected together by a special cushion, and is supported on a single axle set. Photo by Patrick Harris

As of 2013, Greenbrier Cos. has since developed a revolutionary, "game-changing" model or type of autorack car known as the "Multi-Max" (or Multimax), which includes adjustable multilevel (specifically bi-level and tri-level) deck configurations to accommodate various automobiles simultaneously (such as having mid-size SUVs on one deck, sedans on the upper decks, etc.), as well as featuring galvanized (zinc-coated) roof and side screens to protect against rust unlike previous models, along with having higher loading capacities. So far, companies like CSX have since purchased or acquired such cars for revenue service.

Numerous variants such as the "Auto-Max" articulated car also exist, and are currently used in general revenue service.


As required by law under the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), all new and current autoracks (such as the "Muli-Max cars produced by TTX) are required to have a yellow reflective coating of paint applied to the tops of both side loading door areas.

Most autorack cars are usually empty whenever they are transported by a mixed freight or manifest train. Though, in some cases, they can often be found to be loaded and/or be part of a back-order on said trains.



Railroad Rolling Stock by Steve Barry (ISBN: 978-0-7603-3260-3)

Trains Magazine Vol. 73 Issue 11 (November 2013)