A covered hopper is a self-clearing enclosed railroadfreight car with fixed roof, sides, and ends with openings for loading through the roof and bottom openings for unloading. Covered hopper cars are designed for carrying dry bulk loads, varying from grain to products such as sand and clay. The cover protects the loads from the weather. Dry cement would be very hard to unload if mixed with water in transit, while grain would be likely to rot if exposed to rain.
While hoppers had long been used to carry mined products like coal, ore, and gravel; boxcars were used for granular materials requiring protection from moisture until waterproof covers were devised for hopper cars. Gravity flow through the bottom of the hopper car simplifies unloading granular bulk commodities. Although removable canvas covers are sometimes used to protect moisture sensitive commodities in open hopper cars, a metal top with waterproof loading hatches provides superior protection. These loading hatches along the top of the covered hopper may be a single long opening along the centerline or a pattern of multiple round or square openings positioned to allow uniform weight distribution when loading the car.
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