Atlas Model Railroad Trainman Trash Flatcar

Published: 2021-09-01 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2021-09-17
visibility: Public - Headline
In America we are fill of garbage – seriously... six pounds a day or over 2,000 pounds of trash and waste is produced on average per individual annually in the United States (not including construction or industrial waste). Our spouse may yell at us to “take out the garbage” after dinner but how many of us think about where our nasty trash ends up after the sanitary truck hauls it away - especially in the densely populated eastern and western states?

In November of 2019, Atlas released for the fifth time an N scale Trainman series of 85-foot Trash Flatcars – this time with four 20-foot containers included in the mix. First introduced in June of 2011, the newest collection revealed four new paint schemes (Conrail, Covanta, RSGX and Southern Pacific) to help make your layout a tidier place in its own little world.

Road Names and Pricing

This Trainman release included six different paint schemes. The road names represented in this collection include:
  • Conrail
  • Covanta
  • East Coast Carbon
  • GIMX
  • RSGX
  • Southern Pacific
Three different road numbers were assigned for each rail line. The suggested retail price was $56.95 for the flatcar and four matching 20-foot trash containers. My review includes observations of Atlas stock number: 50 005 429 – Southern Pacific (SP) #905112 with containers #1010, 1022, 1041 & 1083.

Prototype History

The use of railcars to discard waste is not a new phenomenon. The budding cities of the early 1900’s - such as Chicago, Cleveland and New Orleans -began using rail trash cars over 100 years ago. San Francisco and Washington D.C. were soon to follow in the 1930’s with gondolas transporting ash from their waste incinerators to landfills outside their city limits.

The closure of local landfills (either filled to capacity or environmental issues) and the lack of suitable nearby real estate for dumping has increased the distance that waste is needed to be transported for disposal. Since the mid-1970’s railcars have been seen as an efficient and cost-effective means of hauling waste: trains are competitive in the cost of moving waste when compared with trucks, trash trains help keep highways less congested in populated areas, and they can safely function year-round in all weather conditions.

A waste hauling system I am very familiar with is the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). This department was established in 1889 with the mission to protect both the public and natural water systems. The MWRD treats over 1.5 billion gallons of water daily and since 1930 has maintained a 30-mile short line railway to transport sludge (solids separated from suspension in a liquid) to drying pits. The MWRD currently owes four locomotives (three SW-1 and a MP-15DC) and over 150 pneumatic gondola dump cars to haul the collected sludge to clay-lined drying stations located currently in the southwest suburb of Willow Springs.

Chicago Sanitary District #39 – Retired Pneumatic Sludge Dump Car (Union, IL – Koltz)

In short, wastewater goes those several filtering processes and bacteria is introduced to help reduce any remaining sewage. This water is then pumped into settling tanks where sludge accumulates on the bottom. The sludge is then drawn into a series of filters to remove water and a new batch of microbes is introduced to aid in the breaking-down of the waste. The concentrated sludge is then baked in an oxygen-free tank where the total volume of the sludge is reduced by 20 percent. Once finished cooking the grey gooey sludge must be dried – this is where the 60K load capacity dump cars come in – transporting sludge several miles to the drying fields of suburban Chicago. The process of completely drying the sludge compound may take up to five years. Once fully transformed, the sludge has a crumbly, dark grey texture with a slight odor and is used as top dressing or ground-fill at construction sites – or matter-of-factly hauled to landfills to be dumped. Sadly, this material cannot be used as fertilizer or for any agricultural purpose as it was discovered that plants absorb the heavy metals that are still present in the sludge product which are harmful to animal and human.

Alright - we see an example how the railroads haul away sewage waste but what about those six pounds of ‘stuff’ you drop in the wastebasket every day? A combination of landfills, waste-to-energy and recycling are needed to manage this problem.

Once your non-recyclable trash is collected, the trucks deliver the waste to a local transfer station where it is dumped onto the floor or into a collection pit. Two popular methods to process the garbage for rail transport are: 1. Have the trash shoved into underground compactors and have it formed into a bale that is the maximum weight for the waiting container. The bale is pushed into the empty container and stacked onto a flatcar. 2. Have high-side gondola cars under the open slots of the collection floor and the trash is pushed directly into the gondola roof opening. A crane is used to tamp the garbage tightly into the gondola. Lock-down lids are fitted once the railcar is filled. The well-known bright green Roanoke Valley Resource Authority trash train is an example of this type of trash hauling. The specially designed gondola cars were placed into service in 1993 and have a load capacity of 65 tons (The Roanoke trash train was discontinued in April 2021 and replaced by trucks).

The flatcars or gondolas filled with trash create a unit train to haul their load to a regional landfill site. A unit train is defined as the transporting of a single commodity. The railroads have classified waste into three main categories: A.) radioactive or nuclear waste, B.) non-hazardous and non-radioactive and C.) hazardous waste materials. The railroads have placed the responsibility of sorting and handling of these materials solely on the shipper or commodity owner. The railroads only duty is the transportation of the railcars to their destination. The shipper is responsible for loading and unloading the waste material. The shipper is liable for the securing of all lids, tarps and locks on the containers or gondolas and making certain all local & federal laws are followed with the handling and disposal of the waste material. Furthermore, it is the shipper’s job to weigh the railcar and make certain the maximum weight is not exceeded. If a car is overloaded, the railcar will be ‘set-out’ and the shipper will be responsible for the fees associated with either sending the car back to the loading station to be emptied to the proper weight or sending an empty railcar out to transfer the miscalculated tonnage and bring the load back into compliance. Finally, it is the shipper’s job to clean any decontaminated rail equipment before placing it back into service.

The final designation for the trash can be a waste-to-energy plant – the loaded containers or gondolas are moved to rotating tippers that unload their cargo into a collection pit. The waste is then moved into a tank where it is heated – the steam recovered from the combusting of trash can be converted into electricity. Additionally, the sorted trash can be delivered to a recycling facility to be renewed or to a regional landfill – which is the easiest and cheapest way to ‘hid’ our waste...simply bury it.

The Model

The ready-to-run flatcar comes packaged in a clear plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a clear two-piece plastic cradle to support the model and containers. The flatcar and each container are nestled in their own slot. The product information is clearly labeled on the end of the case for ease to locate when in storage. A thin plastic sleeve was wrapped around the flatcar to protect the model from scuffmarks.

Model and Containers in Plastic Cradle

The paint job is clean and even along the entire die-cast metal model and plastic containers. The open-deck flatcar and container loads are prototypical boxcar red in color with white and black printing. I was not able to locate evidence of 20-foot Southern Pacific MSW (municipal solid waste) containers so this release might be a ‘fantasy’ paint scheme.

Typical municipal solid waste consists of paper, plastic, rubber, glass, food and general household discards. Contaminated soil, sewage sludge and incinerator ash can also be hauled in the industry supplied 20-foot containers on 85’ or 89’ flatcars. The average MSW container measures 20’ (length) x 12’ (height) x 8’6” (width) with 20+ tons of lading.

The 20-foot solid waste container differs from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) intermodal container in height and design. The ISO containers are 8’6” tall and do not have a top lid like the MSW models. The excessive height of the municipal solid waste (MSW) container restricts double stacking on flatcars.

Close-Up Detail of Waste Containers

The MSW design has a steel post pattern with ribbed top lid and bottom panels. Most shipping containers are construction from Corten Steel (aka weathered steel) - a material developed by U.S. Steel in the 1930’s. Corten Steel is durable and can withstand rust and corrosion, although it will develop a rusty appearance if unpainted and left outside exposed to the elements. Corten (Cor-Ten) refers to CORrosion resistance and TENsile strength (amount of stress a material can handle without breaking).

The flatcar features side grab irons and stirrups. The lettering is crisp and sharp - even when magnification is needed for tiny printing. The directives stenciled on the decking are all legible... instructing the crew to:


Clean, Sharp Printing – Forklift Pockets Located on the Bottom Sill of the Containers

The flatcar is assigned a Plate F designation. Railcars weighing 143 tons fully loaded and measuring a maximum of 17’ above the top of the rail and 10’8” wide are assigned as Plate F rail equipment. Some of the older rail lines serving the eastern and southern regions cannot accommodate these larger modern railcars and are placed at a competitive disadvantage.

The Atlas 20-foot waste containers are individually numbered and proudly wear the South Pacific Lines badge. The steel boxes have the correct prototypical four-post side pattern and two-post end pattern as found on modern day images. Lastly, the containers feature see-through forklift pockets for loading & unloading, a fire port on one side and corner mounting pins to secure the load to the flatcar deck.

I have a few complainants concerning the containers. First, the lack of reflective conspicuity stripes that are seen on modern rail equipment Based on photographs I have seen, containers representing the 1980’s-90’s would surely have had warning stripes applied. Secondly, the molded safety chains are painted the same color as the model. A little variety of color (silver) would have created a more life-like presentation.

Metal Flatcar Frame with Body Mounted Couplers

The underside features a die-cast metal frame for balance and weight. Atlas Model Trains added this weight for optimal performance - including a heavy metal center brace with cross members. Basic underside details are represented with prototype brake equipment and piping. The metal flatcar is 6 3/8 inches in length and weighs about 0.8 ounces without the containers and 1.3 ounces with the four container loads on deck, which is marginally light according to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendations (which are 1.5 - 1.6 ounces for this size car). Moreover, the model containers are 1 ½ inches in length.

The flatcar is equipped with proper height body mounted Accumate knuckle couplers. Additionally, the railcar rides along 100-ton trucks with blackened free-rolling metal wheels. The railroads designed flatcars with 100-ton trucks to handle the maximum gross loads for solid waste containers.

The flatcar ran well on Kato Unitrack at slow and medium speeds with minor issues around curves and through turnouts – the containers were a bit wobbly at times and had a hollow plastic sound when hitting an uneven section (but no cases of losing a load). Attention and care are needed maneuvering around curves with a recommended radius of at least 11”.

Flatcar without Containers

Another solid release from Atlas Model Trains – a nicely designed railcar and container collection that is true to trash car prototypes. A few cosmetic items on the containers and a slight unstableness of the container loads are the only minor issues – heck, the flatcar even looks great without the containers on deck. The use of a metal frame to achieve balance makes this model an excellent runner that needs no adjustment. String a few of these together to make an impressive unit train – all that would be missing is the smell!!!

To view a complete list of Atlas Model Trains 85’ Trash Flatcars CLICK HERE.

About the Author

CNW400 became enamored with trains while watching the ‘Green & Yellow’ double-decker cars clad with shiny green windows (C&NW) rumble by his childhood house in Chicago. His first train set was the Tyco Bicentennial model in 1976. Always a fan of the railroad, CNW400 is newer to the hobby, active for the last four years (now that all the kids are grown-up!). Furthermore, he is also a collector of railroadiana focusing on lanterns, locks & keys and insulators.