Choosing the Right Pressure Tank Car for Your Needs: A Buyer's Guide

Discover the perfect pressure tank car for your industrial needs. Our guide covers types, specifications, and safety features crucial for compliance. Make informed decisions with McKenzie Valve & Machining's expert insights. Contact us for quality tank car solutions.

Team McKenzie
January 10, 2024
Choosing the Right Pressure Tank Car for Your Needs: A Buyer's GuideChoosing the Right Pressure Tank Car for Your Needs: A Buyer's Guide
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Pressure tank cars are the backbone of industrial transportation. They ensure the safe, efficient, and reliable movement of hazardous liquids and compressed gasses under pressure across vast distances.

Choosing the right pressure tank car for your specific needs is more than just a matter of preference: it's a critical decision that significantly impacts the safety, compliance, and operational efficiency of your operations. An unsuitable selection can compromise containment integrity, resulting in leaks and creating safety hazards during transportation.

But how do you know you're making the right choice?

Join us at McKenzie Valve & Machining as we explore the basics of pressure tank cars and the technical and regulatory considerations to help you make informed decisions that align with your industry's unique requirements.

Understanding Pressure Tank Cars

Picking a pressure tank car can be confusing, particularly if you have little understanding of the technicalities behind these railway cargo giants. Let's unravel the complexity surrounding pressurized rail tank cars to help you make informed decisions that align with your industry-specific needs.

Types of Pressure Tank Cars

There are several types of railcar tanks. Each kind is designed and constructed to cater to its intended cargo's unique characteristics and requirements. Making the right choice requires you to clearly understand your specific needs. Let's explore:

High-Pressure Tank Cars

High-pressure tank cars are designed to transport gasses or liquids that require very high pressure levels for containment. These tank cars are crucial for industries dealing with materials that must be maintained at specific pressures.

Design Features:

These tanks have reinforced structures to withstand the higher internal pressure of certain gasses. Construction materials are chosen for their strength and resistance to pressure-induced stresses. Specialized fittings help manage pressure fluctuations in the tank.


Industries such as the petrochemical sector (where certain materials need to be transported under high pressure) rely on these specialized tank cars.

Non-Pressurized Pressure Tank Cars

Also known as general-service tank cars, non-pressurized pressure tank cars are versatile in their applications. They transport substances that do not require pressurization but still need secure containment.

Design Features:

General-service tank cars typically have a larger volume compared to pressurized tank cars. Designed to be adaptable, these tanks may include internal coatings or linings for compatibility with specific cargo substances. Some have multiple compartments for carrying different materials in a single car.


They are used for transporting a wide range of materials, from food products to chemicals that do not require pressurization during transit.

Cryogenic Pressure Tank Cars

Cryogenic pressure tank cars are engineered to transport materials at extremely low temperatures, typically below -150°C (-238°F).

Design Features:

Cryogenic tanks are constructed with specialized materials and double walls to handle the weight and pressure of liquefied gasses. They feature vacuum layers to provide insulation that minimizes temperature changes, which helps maintain the cargo in a cryogenic state (in a liquid form). These tanks also have built-in safety features like a vacuum relief valve and emergency shutoff valves that come handy when internal pressure changes occur.


Cryogenic tank cars are crucial for industries requiring the transportation of gasses in a liquid state, ensuring they remain at low temperatures throughout the journey. These include gasses like liquid nitrogen, oxygen, and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Liquefied Petroleum Gas Tank Cars

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) tank cars transport petroleum gasses, including propane and butane. These tank cars are designed to maintain the gasses during transit.

Design Features:

These tanks are made from corrosion-resistant materials and have specialized features to handle the unique characteristics of liquefied gasses, including pressure relief devices.


Sectors relying on LPG for various purposes, from heating to industrial processes, use these tank cars for efficient and safe transportation.

Acid Tank Cars

Acid tank cars are designed to transport corrosive materials, such as sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid.

Design Features:

These tanks are typically lined with corrosion-resistant materials like carbon steel and aluminum alloys. They also have specific fittings to prevent leaks of hazardous substances.

Food-Grade Tank Cars

Food-grade tank cars are constructed to transport liquids or dry goods intended for human consumption, such as edible oils, sweeteners, or corn syrup. Milk is the most transported commodity in these types of railcar tanks.

Design Features:

These tank types adhere to strict sanitary standards and are constructed with stainless steel to ensure the transported goods remain uncontaminated.

Size, Shape, and Functionality:

The size and shape of a pressure tank car are more than merely aesthetic choices; they directly impact its functionality and suitability for specific cargos.

Larger tanks offer increased capacity but require specially designed infrastructure and logistical considerations. Smaller tanks, while providing greater flexibility, may require more frequent transport cycles.

The specific shape of the tank also plays a crucial role in optimizing its performance.

Elongated cylindrical structures are ideal for transporting large volumes of liquids, while spherical shapes offer superior strength-better suited for high-pressure gasses.

Specifications and Technical Considerations

Every pressure tank car is meticulously designed and constructed with specific technical parameters, each playing a role in its functionality. Understanding these technical considerations facilitates informed decision-making to ensure optimal efficiency, safety, and compliance.

They include:

  • Capacity and dimensions: This dictates the volume of cargo the tank can safely accommodate. Consider your operational needs and the required transport frequency to determine the optimal capacity.
  • Material strength: The tank's material must possess sufficient strength to withstand internal pressure from the cargo and external forces during transport. It also ensures structural integrity and cargo containment.
  • Pressure rating: This spec specifies the maximum pressure the tank can safely handle.
    It's recommended to choose a tank with a pressure rating exceeding the maximum operating pressure of your cargo to prevent leaks and potential catastrophic failures.
  • Product compatibility: The tank's material composition must be compatible with the specific substance it will transport. Compatibility guarantees long-term functionality and prevents potential reactions that could compromise the tank's integrity or contaminate the cargo.
  • Safety features: Opt for tanks with robust safety features, including a vacuum relief valve, emergency venting systems, and leak detection technology to minimize risks and maximize safety.

These technical specs function in tandem to influence the overall performance of the pressure tank car. For instance, a tank with high capacity but inadequate pressure rating could pose a significant safety risk when transporting highly pressurized gasses.

Regulatory Compliance

The industrial transportation sector operates under a strict set of rules. Ensuring compliance with these stringent regulations is essential for safe and legal pressure tank car operations.

Railcar tank regulations include:

• Department of Transportation (DOT): Responsible for establishing and enforcing safety regulations for transporting hazardous materials, DOT regulations dictate tank car design, construction, testing, and maintenance to ensure safe transport.

• Association of American Railroads (AAR): Develops and maintains technical standards and codes for tank cars used in North America. AAR standards complement DOT regulations and provide additional guidelines for safe and reliable operation.

Staying abreast of evolving regulations is crucial, as new rules or updates can significantly impact pressure tank cars' design, usage, and maintenance.

A recent example is the DOT's implementation of the Enhanced Tank Car Standards (ETCS).

They mandate that certain tank cars be constructed with thicker shell walls and stronger head shields for improved puncture resistance-news that affects manufacturers and operators alike.

Quality Standards and Certifications

Railcar tanks that adhere to these requirements offer tangible assurance of reliability, safety, and performance.

Common quality standards in the pressure tank car industry include:

• International Organization for Standardization (ISO): These globally recognized benchmarks for quality management systems provide standards for tank car design, construction, and testing. ISO certification signifies that a tank car meets rigorous international quality standards for global transportation.

• American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME): ASME standards provide detailed specifications for the design, construction, and testing of pressure vessels, including tank cars. This certification indicates that a tank car has been designed and manufactured in compliance with strict safety and performance requirements.

Choosing a tank car with all relevant certifications is a testament to its quality. This translates to reduced downtime due to maintenance issues, optimized operational efficiency, and, ultimately, enhanced safety for your personnel and the environment.

Decision-Making Process

Now that we've unveiled all the technicalities associated with pressure car tanks, here's a step-by-step guide on how to choose a railcar tank:

Assess Your Needs

Identify the product you want to transport, its volume, pressure requirements, and any unique safety considerations. This initial assessment serves as the foundation for selecting the appropriate tank car.

Research and Explore

Research offerings of pressure tank car manufacturers by comparing and examining features and specifications that align with your specific needs. Familiarize yourself with industry leaders and reputable manufacturers known for quality craftsmanship and adherence to stringent standards.

Evaluate and Compare

Utilize a checklist to pick a potential buy. It should include factors like:

• Capacity

• Material composition

• Pressure rating

• Safety features

• Regulatory compliance

• Maintenance requirements

• Cost

Your selection should adhere to the regulations and standards of your particular industry to guarantee safety and optimal performance within your operational framework.

Test and Inspect

Before committing to your final selection, thoroughly test and inspect the chosen tank car.

This ensures the tank meets all performance specifications, functions as intended, and complies with the agreed-upon standards.

Seek Expert Guidance

Engage qualified professionals to gain valuable insights and ensure your selection aligns with industry best practices and regulatory requirements. They have the skills and knowledge to help you navigate complex technical aspects and identify potential challenges or opportunities.


Choosing the right pressure tank car is a decision that directly impacts your operations' safety, compliance, and efficiency. But with an understanding of types, technical specifications, industrial regulations, and quality standards, you are well-equipped to make an informed decision when choosing the right pressure tank car.

Remember, it's best to consult industrial professionals, like McKenzie Valve, to offer insight on quality tank car valves, fittings, and fabrications. Contact us for all your pressure tank car needs.