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What is a Crew Car?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A crew car is a type of railroad car especially outfitted for and used by railroad crews on long-distance rail journeys. Equipped with sleeping quarters, eating facilities and a lounge area, the crew car is a place for the train crew to relax when they are not working. A typical crew car will be a converted passenger coach car and is often equipped with its own generator, laundry facilities, showers and air conditioning units. The crew car serves as a portable bunk house for the crew members when the train is on an extended trip between towns or facilities.

Federal regulations in most countries govern the length of time that a railroad train's crew can work without rest. In the United States, when that time is reached, it is said that the crew has "died." The train must then stop and await the arrival of a relief crew before the train can move at all. Often, the train is left sitting in sight of its destination, yet it cannot pull in until the relief crew arrives. This can sometimes take hours of waiting while the "dead" crew sits idle on the train.

In countries such as Australia where there are vast expanses of open rail between cities, a crew car allows a fresh crew to be transported with the train. Once the primary crew reaches the time limit allowed for a day's work, the train is stopped and the crews change places. The fresh crew assumes the operational duties of the train while the tired crew relaxes in the crew car. The tired crew can take showers, do laundry, and eat a meal before going to sleep in a clean bunk. For the railroad, this is a much more cost-efficient method than attempting to build a bunk house in the empty countryside to house the crews.

Most freight trains place the crew car a short distance from the locomotive to give members a feeling of separation when off duty. This removes some of the noise and distractions associated with a diesel locomotive and allows the crew to relax and attempt to enjoy a brief time off while still traveling down the tracks. The benefit of including a crew car in the train makeup is having a fresher and more alert crew that is able to operate the train with fewer accidents and injuries. This addition also eliminates any prolonged downtime while waiting for a relief crew.

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Discussion Comments
By angelBraids — On Apr 17, 2011

I've always had a secret longing to be a train driver so anything connected to this topic fascinates me! I like that the staff get to rest between shifts, the same way flight crews do.

I think it would be quite hard to travel with the train for long periods of time though. Even though the crew cars sound comfortable, after a few weeks of working and resting with the same people I would be wanting my own space!

By Acracadabra — On Apr 15, 2011

@anon165292 - It seems like bad management to me, the way trains share tracks like that. I am surprised Amtrak can keep their customers with the delays that this causes. As it is so cheap to fly domestically I wouldn't want to risk being stuck on a train that's not moving!

By anon165292 — On Apr 04, 2011

One of the problems with train travel in the U.S. is that the same rails are used for both freight and passenger trains. That can lead to the "dead" crew waiting hours to be relieved, as well as causing delays in passenger travel.

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