Rail Car Thawers Information

Rail car thawersRail car thawers facilitate the unloading or transloading of railcars in cold climates by heating loads of viscous liquids and frozen aggregate. Tank cars enduring harsh climates are prone to moisture ingress causing the load within the tank to freeze and adhere to the inner walls of the container. Rail car thawers warm the tank car and its contents in order to expedite unloading and to ensure that no material is left frozen to the tank car’s inner walls. The systems may be housed in a shed or otherwise located outdoors.

Types of Rail Car Thawers

Gas-fired radiant heaters: Open flame or gas-fired radiant heaters use a combustible fluid, such as natural gas or propane, to emit radiant heat. Ventilation is required as the byproducts from combustion can create a toxic environment. Proper maintenance is also essential as dust and moisture ingress can disrupt the otherwise safe and reliable heat source.

Electric infrared heaters: Electric infrared heaters contain a resistive heating element that is typically composed of chromel, an iron, chromium, and aluminum alloy. The element is either housed in a tubular element backed by a reflective shield or integrated into a flat panel with a transparent surface that exhibits high emissivity. Like gas-fired radiant heaters, electric infrared heaters emit radiant heat.

Steam generators: Low-pressure steam generators differ from infrared and radiant heaters as they convect heat via a stream of high temperature steam. Aside from unloading and transloading applications, low-pressure steam generators dissipate volatile organic compounds and function to degas petroleum tank cars prior to welding and repair. 


Rail car thawing systems heat loads of frozen aggregate and viscous liquids, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Aggregate
  • Caustic soda
  • Coal and bitumen
  • Paper pulp
  • Petroleum and derivatives
  • Food products (corn syrup, molasses, etc.)

Image credit:

Aitken Products, Inc.


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