The first wagons were cooled with ice that had been cut in winter from special pools or lakes. It was Gustavus Swift who succeed in the winter of 1877 for the first time in developing an efficient cooling system for railway wagons for Chicago businesses and meat producers. It circulated air through the ice and then through the entire wagon in order to cool it down. This system was the basis of the success of the Union Stock Yard, the Chicago slaughterhouses. The cooled wagons made it possible for the first time to transport the meat of slaughtered animals to the whole of the USA. Later, manufactured ice was used, but this rapidly gave way to other means of cooling; the simplest was the substitution of normal (water) ice by dry ice. With the increasing reliability of combustion engines, engine-powered refrigerator vans emerged. There are even vans whose cooling is achieved by the evaporation of liquid gas.
Compared with machine-cooled vans, ice-cooled wagons have the disadvantage of uneven temperature control, because the cooling effect is only achieved by air circulation. On the other hand, machine-cooled wagons are expensive to maintain and operate, but can be set to the desired temperature and maintained at that temperature throughout the entire journey. They are also better suited to transporting goods at deep-freeze temperatures of around −30 °C (−22 °F), whereas evaporators and ice-cooling are more suited to maintaining temperatures of around 0 °C (32 °F). Banana transport wagons with gas evaporators have an optimum internal temperature of +14.4 °C (57.9 °F) In addition to proper refrigerated vans, there are covered wagons with thermal insulation and, in some cases, even those are equipped with refrigerating sets. These wagons can only operate at temperatures between 0 and +20 °C (32 and 68 °F), where a constant internal temperature is desired.
Most food is transported by road nowadays due to the shorter journey times. The stock of refrigerated vans owned by railway companies has therefore shrunk considerably. Most refrigerated vans in Europe today are operated by Interfrigo. These wagons are easy to tell apart externally: white vans are normal refrigerated wagons, blue ones with white stripes along the side are machine-cooled refrigerator vans.
|UIC 571-3: Special classes|
|Class||two-axle refrigerated vans||four-axle refrigerated vans|
|Standardwagen||Ferry wagons||1st Variant||2nd Variant|
|Class1)||Ibbs / Ibbgs||Ibfs / Ibfgs||Ias / Iags|
|Axle base||8.00 m||−|
|Bogie pivot pitch||−||15.80 m||16.80 m|
|Length over buffers||14.02 m||21.04 m||22.24 m|
|Loading length, min.1)||10.50 m / 11.00 m||16.40 m / 16.80 m||17.80 m / 18.00 m|
|Loading area, ca.1)||27 m² / 28 m²||23 m² / 24 m²||42 m² / 43 m²||45 m² / 46 m²|
|Unladen weight, max.1)||15,5 t / 18.5 t||31.0 t / 35.0 t||32.0 t / 36.0 t|
|Door height||1.90 m|
|Door width||2,70 m|
1) Refrigerated and insulated vans / Refrigerated vans with cooling equipment
- Refrigerator car (covers US practice)