Your Complete Railroad Scale Guide

Aerial View Of Colorful Railroad Trains

Weighing scales are necessary for different industries, including the food service, healthcare, and retail sectors. They are also used in shipping and receiving departments to determine the weight of packages and products.

Weighing scales are available in a variety of sizes and capacities. Some models are portable, while others are floor-mounted. The type of scale you need will depend on the nature of your business and industry.

The railroad industry primarily uses railroad scales since a railroad scale has applications in both the public and private sectors. Here’s an overview of how railroad scales work and why they’re instrumental to the said industry.

What Is a Railroad Scale?

Railroad scales are weighing tools installed on train rails to measure the weight of trains and rail cars. 

Knowing this weight helps in making calculations about the freight charges. It also determines if the cars have the ideal weight for a safe journey.

Excessive weight (beyond the railroad’s capacity) can affect the longevity of the tracks and increase maintenance costs. These scales also spot if anything was placed or removed from the train without informing the train engineer. 

How Do Railroad Scales Work?

Railroad scales, (also known as rail scales or rail car scales), are installed on the train tracks and measure the train’s weight as it passes over the scale. The scale will record the weight and signal the track operator. The track operator can then use this information to determine if the train is too heavy for the tracks or if there are any problems with the tracks.

Rail car scales are an essential part of safety for both the train operator and the passengers. By knowing the train’s weight, the operator can make sure that the tracks can handle it.

When selecting the right scale, all railcars that will be weighed must be considered. The difference between the wheelbases of the shortest car and the longest car will be a determining factor in the in the scale size and positions needed.

An image demonstrating the difference between the wheelbases of the shortest car and the longest car on a train which are a determining factor of the right railroad scale size to choose.ed.

Train weight is especially important when the tracks are wet or icy. Tracks that cannot handle a train’s weight can cause a derailment.

Some scales weigh the cars from the top (overhead scales). However, these scales are not that common. They are commonly used in manufacturing facilities in the food industry or conveyor systems. 

You can also buy portable railroad scales to temporarily mount them on the rails, measure the weight, and gather the much-needed data.

Different Types of Railroad Scales

Different types of railroad scales mainly differ by configuration or design. Here are the four types of rail scales used throughout the world:

Pit Railcar Scales

Pit design railroad scales are built into the ground, requiring no installation or leveling. As a result, they are ideal for facilities with limited space and common in rail applications.

Many models come equipped with features like remote displays, data storage, and software that can interface with existing systems. The significant advantage of such a scale is that it can integrate into existing infrastructure with little disruption.

Pit railcar scales weigh entire railcars and their contents accurately. They typically have a capacity of 250 tons or more and can accommodate standard gauge or narrow gauge railcars.

The Comboweigh scale is an example of a pit railcar scale. Since it has dual applications, it is ideal for rails and trucks. 

In-Motion Rail Scales

In-motion rail scales can weigh rail cars without needing to stop them completely. Over time, better technology has made these scales far more accurate. 

The in-motion railroad scales are more efficient and convenient than pit scales, making them ideal for time-sensitive transportation operations. 

The weighline rail scale is a railroad scale that can accommodate both static and moving rail cars. It’s an economical solution with quick installation, ideal for businesses that don’t necessarily need legal-for-trade scales. 

Hydraulic Deck Pit Scales

A hydraulic deck scale uses hydraulic force to measure the weight of an object. The scale has two parts: a platform or deck where the object to be weighed is placed and a cylinder that contains hydraulic fluid.

When an object is placed on the platform, the fluid in the cylinder is displaced and produces a force proportional to the object’s weight. A hydraulic pressure gauge measures this force. You can calculate the weight of the object from this reading.

Hydraulic deck scales are typically used in industries where large or heavy objects need weighing, such as railroads. The LPRA Railroad Scales have hydraulic load scales that work per this mechanism.

Pitless Railroad Scales

A pitless railroad scale is installed above the ground rather than in a pit. Pitless scales are available in both static and dynamic versions. Static pitless scales weigh stationary vehicles, while dynamic pitless scales weigh vehicles in motion.

Pitless railroad scales offer many advantages over pit-type scales. First, these scales are easier and less expensive to install since there is no need to excavate a pit. Plus, they are also more convenient to use.

The Railweight has a pitless design, offering low installation cost, advanced modular construction, self-alignment, low maintenance, and extra capacity load cells of 130,000 pounds. Plus, it has steel covers to protect the load cells from weather elements and accidental damage.

Applications of Railroad Scales

Btek Railroad Scale

Railroad scales offer numerous benefits, from preventing hazardous situations to overloading fines. A railroad scale: 

  • Helps determine cars and tankers’ mass to gather revenue for cargo from the shippers 
  • Helps check the car’s weight to ensure its efficiency for each shipment 
  • Keeps track of potential cargo leakages to prevent dangerous situations
  • Ensures you’re invoicing clients for the right weight 
  • Enables the industry to determine the weight of cars and wagons for collecting freight revenue 
  • Minimizes high-impact loads, especially at crossings, joints, and turnouts 
  • Controls loads during bulk loading 

Accuracy of Railroad Scales

The accuracy of any scale is affected by many factors. However, the most significant influence on accuracy is the scale’s calibration.

To ensure accurate weighing, scales must be regularly calibrated. A factory-trained technician can do this regularly. American Scale’s trained technicians are available around the clock to calibrate your scales and keep them operating at their best.

Other factors that affect a railroad scale’s accuracy include the following:

  • The amount of traffic or use the scale gets
  • The environment in which the scale is used (indoor, outdoor, dusty, etc.)
  • Build

Keep in mind that the accuracy of different railroad scales differs based on their mechanism of action. For instance, hydraulic scales are considered more accurate than their conventional counterparts. 

Pros and Cons of Railroad Scales

Generally speaking, railroad scales offer benefits for the most part, and there are hardly any disadvantages. However, here’s an overview of how they can be beneficial and what drawbacks might follow:


  • Versatility. Railroad scales are highly versatile and can be used in multiple industries that use railroad applications, such as construction, mining, refineries, and chemical plants. They can weigh full railroad cars, axles, and wheelsets.
  • Accuracy. Railroad scales are incredibly accurate, allowing for precise measurements that can be critical in some industries.
  • Safety. Railroad scales are generally very safe to use, as they are designed with safety features such as anti-slip surfaces and guardrails.
  • Convenience. Railroad scales are typically easy to use, as they often have built-in ramps and loading docks for easy access.


  • Maintenance. Some railroad scales require more maintenance than others. Maintenance can be costly, depending on the type of scale.
  • Liabilities. Railroad scales can present liabilities if they are not used or maintained properly. For instance, if a scale is not calibrated correctly, it could give false readings that lead to problems.

Railroad Weighing Tips

Because a railroad scale is a primary tool to weigh rails and cars, you must ensure its accurate usage to benefit from it. Check out these tips to maximize the advantages of rail scales. 

  • Appropriate installation. An improperly installed rail scale will not provide accurate readings. You must hire a professional or experienced contractor to perform the job for you. 
  • Maintenance. Debris accumulation on the scale will give unreliable readings, and it isn’t uncommon for dust and dirt to gather on the scale. Make sure you clean it and repair worn parts. 
  • Calibration. It’s imperative to calibrate a scale regularly to ensure accuracy. At a minimum, you should calibrate your scale once a month, but weekly calibration is ideal if you use the scale frequently. Depending on the type of scale and how often you use it, the frequency may vary. It’s always best to have a certified scale company do the calibration to ensure that it is done accurately.

Railroad Scale Near Me

Railroad scales have a wide range of applications, including weighing entire trains (locomotives, cars, and loads) and weighing individual railcars. They are also used for weighing at many industries that ship by rails, such as coal mines, steel mills, and grain elevators.

If you want to ensure accurate results and durable build, it’s crucial to get railroad scales from a reliable company, such as American Scale, which boasts a 30-year of experience in the scale manufacturing industry. Established in 1985, the organization takes pride in providing quality industrial scales and relevant products. 

On top of that, they also offer scale calibration services, ensuring the scales last the test of time and give accurate readings. Get in touch to learn more about the company’s custom solutions and services.