When a Schnabel car is empty, the two lifting arms are connected together, and the car can usually operate at normal freight train speeds. Some Schnabel cars include hydraulic equipment that will either lift or horizontally shift the load while in transit (at very low speeds) to clear obstructions along the car's route. There are 30 of this type of car in operation in North America, 31 in Europe and 26 in Asia.
The largest Schnabel car in operation, owned by ABB, carries road number CEBX 800, and is used in North America. It has 36 axles (18 for each half). Each half contains nine trucks which are connected by a complex system of span bolsters. Its tare (unloaded) weight is 370 tons (335.658 t). When empty, this car measures 231 ft 8 in (70.6 m) in length; it can carry loads up to 113 ft 4 in (34.5 m) long. For comparison, a conventional boxcar currently operating on North American railroads has a single two-axle truck at each end of the car, measures 50 to 89 ft (15.2 to 27.1 m) long and has a capacity of 70 to 105 tons (63.5 t to 95.25 t).
The word Schnabel car is from german "Tragschnabelwagen", meaning "carrying-beak-wagon", because of the usually tapered shape of the lifting arms, resembling a bird's beak.