Rail transport is a means of transferring of passengers and goods on
wheeled vehicles running on rails, also known as tracks. It is also
commonly referred to as train transport. In contrast to road
transport, where vehicles run on a prepared flat surface, rail
vehicles (rolling stock) are directionally guided by the tracks on
which they run. Tracks usually consist of steel rails, installed on
ties (sleepers) and ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually
fitted with metal wheels, moves. Other variations are also possible,
such as slab track, where the rails are fastened to a concrete
foundation resting on a prepared subsurface.
A RC 6 electric locomotive pulls the SJ express train between Narvik,
Malmö in Sweden
Two Canadian National diesel locomotives pull a southbound freight
train on the Norfolk-Southern railroad, near
Columbus, Ohio in the
GWR 7800 Class
GWR 7800 Class steam locomotive hauling the Cambrian Coast Express
Pwllheli in the United Kingdom
Part of a series on
Part of a series on
Terminology (AU, NA, NZ, UK)
Couplers by country
Rolling stock in a rail transport system generally encounters lower
frictional resistance than road vehicles, so passenger and freight
cars (carriages and wagons) can be coupled into longer trains. The
operation is carried out by a railway company, providing transport
between train stations or freight customer facilities. Power is
provided by locomotives which either draw electric power from a
railway electrification system or produce their own power, usually by
diesel engines. Most tracks are accompanied by a signalling system.
Railways are a safe land transport system when compared to other forms
of transport.[Nb 1] Railway transport is capable of high levels of
passenger and cargo utilization and energy efficiency, but is often
less flexible and more capital-intensive than road transport, when
lower traffic levels are considered.
The oldest known, man/animal-hauled railways date back to the 6th
century BC in Corinth, Greece.
Rail transport then commenced in mid
16th century in
Germany in form of horse-powered funiculars and
wagonways. Modern rail transport commenced with the British
development of the steam locomotives in the early 19th century. Thus
the railway system in Great Britain is the oldest in the world. Built
George Stephenson and his son Robert's company Robert Stephenson
and Company, the
Locomotion No. 1
Locomotion No. 1 is the first steam locomotive to
carry passengers on a public rail line, the Stockton and Darlington
Railway in 1825. George also built the first public inter-city railway
line in the world to use only the steam locomotives all the time, the
Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. With steam
engines, one could construct mainline railways, which were a key
component of the Industrial Revolution. Also, railways reduced the
costs of shipping, and allowed for fewer lost goods, compared with
water transport, which faced occasional sinking of ships. The change
from canals to railways allowed for "national markets" in which prices
varied very little from city to city. The spread of the railway
network and the use of railway timetables, led to the standardisation
of time (railway time) in Britain based on Greenwich Mean Time. Prior
to this, major towns and cities varied their local time relative to
GMT. The invention and development of the railway in the United
Kingdom was one of the most important technological inventions of the
19th century. The world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan
Railway (part of the
London Underground), opened in 1863.
In the 1880s, electrified trains were introduced, leading to
electrification of tramways and rapid transit systems. Starting during
the 1940s, the non-electrified railways in most countries had their
steam locomotives replaced by diesel-electric locomotives, with the
process being almost complete by the 2000s. During the 1960s,
electrified high-speed railway systems were introduced in
later in some other countries. Many countries are in process of
replacing diesel locomotives with electric locomotives, mainly due to
environmental concerns, a notable example being Switzerland, which has
completely electrified its network. Other forms of guided ground
transport outside the traditional railway definitions, such as
monorail or maglev, have been tried but have seen limited use.
Following decline after
World War II
World War II due to competition from cars,
rail transport has had a revival in recent decades due to road
congestion and rising fuel prices, as well as governments investing in
rail as a means of reducing
CO2 emissions in the context of concerns
about global warming.
1.1 Ancient systems
1.2.1 Wooden rails introduced
1.2.2 Metal rails introduced
1.3 Steam power introduced
Electric power introduced
1.5 Diesel power introduced
1.6 High-speed rail
2.2 Motive power
2.3 Passenger trains
2.4 Freight train
3.1 Right of way
Train inspection systems
5 Social, economical, and energetic aspects
5.1.1 Energy efficiency
5.3 Social and economic benefits
5.4 Modern rail as economic development indicator
5.5.3 North America
188.8.131.52 United States
6 See also
9 External links
Main article: History of rail transport
The history of rail transport began in the 6th century BC in Ancient
Greece. It can be divided up into several discrete periods defined by
the principal means of track material and motive power used.
Evidence indicates that there was 6 to 8.5 km long
trackway, which transported boats across the Isthmus of
Greece from around 600 BC. Wheeled vehicles pulled by
men and animals ran in grooves in limestone, which provided the track
element, preventing the wagons from leaving the intended route. The
Diolkos was in use for over 650 years, until at least the 1st century
AD. The paved trackways were also later built in Roman Egypt.
See also: Funicular, Wagonway, Tramway (industrial), and Plateway
Wooden rails introduced
Railways reappeared again only in the 14th century.
Reisszug, as it appears today
In 1515, Cardinal
Matthäus Lang wrote a description of the Reisszug,
a funicular railway at the
Hohensalzburg Castle in Austria. The line
originally used wooden rails and a hemp haulage rope and was operated
by human or animal power, through a treadwheel. The line still
exists and is operational, although in updated form and is possibly
the oldest operational railway.
Minecart shown in
De Re Metallica
De Re Metallica (1556). The guide pin fits in a
groove between two wooden planks.
Wagonways (or tramways) using wooden rails, hauled by horses, started
appearing in the 1550s to facilitate the transport of ore tubs to and
from mines, and soon became very popular in Europe. Such an operation
was illustrated in
Germany in 1556 by
Georgius Agricola (image right)
in his work De re metallica. This line used "Hund" carts with
unflanged wheels running on wooden planks and a vertical pin on the
truck fitting into the gap between the planks to keep it going the
right way. The miners called the wagons Hunde ("dogs") from the noise
they made on the tracks.
There are many references to their use in central Europe in the 16th
century. Such a transport system was later used by German miners
at Caldbeck, Cumbria, England, perhaps from the 1560s. A wagonway
was built at Prescot, near Liverpool, sometime around 1600, possibly
as early as 1594. Owned by Philip Layton, the line carried coal from a
Prescot Hall to a terminus about half a mile away. A
funicular railway was also made at
Shropshire some time
before 1604. This carried coal for James Clifford from his mines down
to the river Severn to be loaded onto barges and carried to riverside
Wollaton Wagonway, completed in 1604 by Huntingdon
Beaumont, has sometimes erroneously been cited as the earliest British
railway. It ran from Strelley to
Wollaton near Nottingham.
Middleton Railway in Leeds, which was built in 1758, later became
the world's oldest operational railway (other than funiculars), albeit
now in an upgraded form. In 1764, the first railway in the America was
built in Lewiston, New York.
Metal rails introduced
In the late 1760s, the
Coalbrookdale Company began to fix plates of
cast iron to the upper surface of the wooden rails. This allowed a
variation of gauge to be used. At first only balloon loops could be
used for turning, but later, movable points were taken into use that
allowed for switching.
A replica of a "Little Eaton Tramway" wagon, the tracks are plateways
A system was introduced in which unflanged wheels ran on L-shaped
metal plates – these became known as plateways. John Curr, a
Sheffield colliery manager, invented this flanged rail in 1787, though
the exact date of this is disputed. The plate rail was taken up by
Benjamin Outram for wagonways serving his canals, manufacturing them
at his Butterley ironworks. In 1803,
William Jessop opened the Surrey
Iron Railway, a double track plateway, erroneously sometimes cited as
world's first public railway, in south London.
Cast iron fishbelly edge rail manufactured by Outram at the Butterley
Company ironworks for the
Cromford and High Peak Railway
Cromford and High Peak Railway (1831). These
are smooth edgerails for wheels with flanges.
William Jessop had earlier used a form of all-iron edge
rail and flanged wheels successfully for an extension to the Charnwood
Forest Canal at Nanpantan, Loughborough,
Leicestershire in 1789. In
1790, Jessop and his partner Outram began to manufacture edge-rails.
Jessop became a partner in the
Butterley Company in 1790. The first
public edgeway (thus also first public railway) built was Lake Lock
Rail Road in 1796. Although the primary purpose of the line was to
carry coal, it also carried passengers.
These two systems of constructing iron railways, the "L" plate-rail
and the smooth edge-rail, continued to exist side by side until well
on into the early 19th century. The flanged wheel and edge-rail
eventually proved its superiority and became the standard for
Cast iron used in rails proved unsatisfactory because it was brittle
and broke under heavy loads. The wrought iron invented by John
Birkinshaw in 1820 replaced cast iron.
Wrought iron (usually simply
referred to as "iron") was a ductile material that could undergo
considerable deformation before breaking, making it more suitable for
iron rails. But iron was expensive to produce until Henry Cort
patented the puddling process in 1784. In 1783 Cort also patented the
rolling process, which was 15 times faster at consolidating and
shaping iron than hammering. These processes greatly lowered the
cost of producing iron and rails. The next important development in
iron production was hot blast developed by James Beaumont Neilson
(patented 1828), which considerably reduced the amount of coke (fuel)
or charcoal needed to produce pig iron.
Wrought iron was a soft
material that contained slag or dross. The softness and dross tended
to make iron rails distort and delaminate and they lasted less than 10
years. Sometimes they lasted as little as one year under high traffic.
All these developments in the production of iron eventually led to
replacement of composite wood/iron rails with superior all iron rails.
The introduction of the Bessemer process, enabling steel to be made
inexpensively, led to the era of great expansion of railways that
began in the late 1860s.
Steel rails lasted several times longer than
Steel rails made heavier locomotives possible,
allowing for longer trains and improving the productivity of
Bessemer process introduced nitrogen into the
steel, which caused the steel to become brittle with age. The open
hearth furnace began to replace the
Bessemer process near the end of
the 19th century, improving the quality of steel and further reducing
costs. Thus steel completely replaced the use of iron in rails, thus
becoming standard for all railways.
The first passenger horsecar or tram,
Swansea and Mumbles Railway
Swansea and Mumbles Railway was
Wales in 1807. Horses
remained the preferable mode for tram transport even after the arrival
of steam engines, well till the end of the 19th century. The major
reason was that the horse-cars were cleaner compared to steam driven
trams which caused smoke in city streets.
Steam power introduced
See also: Steam locomotive
James Watt, a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, greatly
improved the steam engine of Thomas Newcomen, hitherto used to pump
water out of mines. Watt developed a reciprocating engine in 1769,
capable of powering a wheel. Although the Watt engine powered cotton
mills and a variety of machinery, it was a large stationary engine. It
could not be otherwise: the state of boiler technology necessitated
the use of low pressure steam acting upon a vacuum in the cylinder;
this required a separate condenser and an air pump. Nevertheless, as
the construction of boilers improved, Watt investigated the use of
high-pressure steam acting directly upon a piston. This raised the
possibility of a smaller engine, that might be used to power a vehicle
and he patented a design for a steam locomotive in 1784. His employee
William Murdoch produced a working model of a self-propelled steam
carriage in that year.
A replica of Trevithick's engine at the National Waterfront Museum,
The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built in the
United Kingdom in 1804 by Richard Trevithick, a British engineer born
in Cornwall. This used high-pressure steam to drive the engine by one
power stroke. The transmission system employed a large flywheel to
even out the action of the piston rod. On 21 February 1804, the
world's first steam-powered railway journey in the world took place
when Trevithick's unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the
tramway of the
Penydarren ironworks, near
Merthyr Tydfil in South
Wales. Trevithick later demonstrated a locomotive operating
upon a piece of circular rail track in Bloomsbury, London, the Catch
Me Who Can, but never got beyond the experimental stage with railway
locomotives, not least because his engines were too heavy for the
cast-iron plateway track then in use.
The Salamanca locomotive
The first commercially successful steam locomotive was Matthew
Murray's rack locomotive Salamanca built for the
Middleton Railway in
Leeds in 1812. This twin-cylinder locomotive was not heavy enough to
break the edge-rails track and solved the problem of adhesion by a
cog-wheel using teeth cast on the side of one of the rails. Thus it
was also the first rack railway.
This was followed in 1813 by the locomotive Puffing Billy built by
Christopher Blackett and
William Hedley for the
Railway, the first successful locomotive running by adhesion only.
This was accomplished by the distribution of weight between a number
of wheels. Puffing Billy is now on display in the Science Museum in
London, making it the oldest locomotive in existence.
The Locomotion at Darlington Railway Centre and Museum
In 1814 George Stephenson, inspired by the early locomotives of
Trevithick, Murray and Hedley, persuaded the manager of the
Killingworth colliery where he worked to allow him to build a
steam-powered machine. Stephenson played a pivotal role in the
development and widespread adoption of the steam locomotive. His
designs considerably improved on the work of the earlier pioneers. He
built the locomotive Blücher, also a successful flanged-wheel
adhesion locomotive. In 1825 he built the locomotive Locomotion for
Stockton and Darlington Railway
Stockton and Darlington Railway in the north east of England,
which became the first public steam railway in the world in 1825,
although it used both horse power and steam power on different runs.
In 1829, he built the locomotive Rocket, which entered in and won the
Rainhill Trials. This success led to Stephenson establishing his
company as the pre-eminent builder of steam locomotives for railways
in Great Britain and Ireland, the United States, and much of
Europe.:24–30 The first public railway which used only steam
locomotives, all the time, was
Liverpool and Manchester Railway, built
Steam power continued to be the dominant power system in railways
around the world for more than a century.
Electric power introduced
Electric locomotive and Railway electrification system
The first known electric locomotive was built in 1837 by chemist
Robert Davidson of
Aberdeen in Scotland, and it was powered by
galvanic cells (batteries). Thus it was also the earliest battery
electric locomotive. Davidson later built a larger locomotive named
Galvani, exhibited at the
Royal Scottish Society of Arts Exhibition in
1841. The seven-ton vehicle had two direct-drive reluctance motors,
with fixed electromagnets acting on iron bars attached to a wooden
cylinder on each axle, and simple commutators. It hauled a load of six
tons at four miles per hour (6 kilometers per hour) for a distance of
one and a half miles (2 kilometers). It was tested on the Edinburgh
and Glasgow Railway in September of the following year, but the
limited power from batteries prevented its general use. It was
destroyed by railway workers, who saw it as a threat to their job
Lichterfelde tram, 1882
Werner von Siemens
Werner von Siemens demonstrated an electric railway in 1879 in Berlin.
The world's first electric tram line, Gross-Lichterfelde Tramway,
opened in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany, in 1881. It was built by
Siemens. The tram ran on 180 Volt DC, which was supplied by running
rails. In 1891 the track was equipped with an overhead wire and the
line was extended to Berlin-Lichterfelde West station. The Volk's
Electric Railway opened in 1883 in Brighton, England. The railway is
still operational, thus making it the oldest operational electric
railway in the world. Also in 1883, Mödling and Hinterbrühl Tram
opened near Vienna in Austria. It was the first tram line in the world
in regular service powered from an overhead line. Five years later, in
the U.S. electric trolleys were pioneered in 1888 on the Richmond
Union Passenger Railway, using equipment designed by Frank J.
Baltimore & Ohio electric engine
The first use of electrification on a main line was on a four-mile
stretch of the
Baltimore Belt Line
Baltimore Belt Line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
(B&O) in 1895 connecting the main portion of the B&O to the
new line to New York through a series of tunnels around the edges of
Baltimore's downtown. Electricity quickly became the power supply of
choice for subways, abetted by the Sprague's invention of
multiple-unit train control in 1897. By the early 1900s most street
railways were electrified.
Passengers wait to board a tube train on the
London Underground in the
London Underground, the world's oldest underground railway, opened
in 1863, and it began operating electric services using a fourth rail
system in 1890 on the City and South
London Railway, now part of the
London Underground Northern line. This was the first major railway to
use electric traction. The world's first deep-level electric railway,
it runs from the City of London, under the River Thames, to Stockwell
in south London.
The first practical AC electric locomotive was designed by Charles
Brown, then working for Oerlikon, Zürich. In 1891, Brown had
demonstrated long-distance power transmission, using three-phase AC,
between a hydro-electric plant at
Lauffen am Neckar
Lauffen am Neckar and Frankfurt am
Main West, a distance of 280 km. Using experience he had gained
while working for Jean Heilmann on steam-electric locomotive designs,
Brown observed that three-phase motors had a higher power-to-weight
ratio than DC motors and, because of the absence of a commutator, were
simpler to manufacture and maintain. However, they were much
larger than the DC motors of the time and could not be mounted in
underfloor bogies: they could only be carried within locomotive
In 1894, Hungarian engineer
Kálmán Kandó developed a new type
3-phase asynchronous electric drive motors and generators for electric
locomotives. Kandó's early 1894 designs were first applied in a short
three-phase AC tramway in Evian-les-Bains (France), which was
constructed between 1896 and 1898.
In 1896, Oerlikon installed the first commercial example of the system
on the Lugano Tramway. Each 30-tonne locomotive had two 110 kW
(150 hp) motors run by three-phase 750 V 40 Hz fed from
double overhead lines. Three-phase motors run at constant speed and
provide regenerative braking, and are well suited to steeply graded
routes, and the first main-line three-phase locomotives were supplied
by Brown (by then in partnership with Walter Boveri) in 1899 on the
40 km Burgdorf—Thun line, Switzerland.
A prototype of a Ganz AC electric locomotive in Valtellina, Italy,
Italian railways were the first in the world to introduce electric
traction for the entire length of a main line rather than just a short
stretch. The 106 km
Valtellina line was opened on 4 September
1902, designed by Kandó and a team from the Ganz works. The
electrical system was three-phase at 3 kV 15 Hz. In
1918, Kandó invented and developed the rotary phase converter,
enabling electric locomotives to use three-phase motors whilst
supplied via a single overhead wire, carrying the simple industrial
frequency (50 Hz) single phase AC of the high voltage national
An important contribution to the wider adoption of AC traction came
from SNCF of
France after World War II. The company conducted trials
at AC 50 HZ, and established it as a standard. Following SNCF's
successful trials, 50 HZ, now also called industrial frequency was
adopted as standard for main-lines across the world.
Diesel power introduced
Diesel locomotive and Dieselisation § Rail_transport
Diagram of Priestman Oil Engine from The
Steam engine and gas and oil
engines (1900) by John Perry
Earliest recorded examples of an internal combustion engine for
railway use included a prototype designed by William Dent Priestman,
which was examined by
Sir William Thomson
Sir William Thomson in 1888 who described it as
a "[Priestman oil engine] mounted upon a truck which is worked on a
temporary line of rails to show the adaptation of a petroleum engine
for locomotive purposes.". In 1894, a 20 hp (15 kW)
two axle machine built by
Priestman Brothers was used on the Hull
In 1906, Rudolf Diesel,
Adolf Klose and the steam and diesel engine
Gebrüder Sulzer founded Diesel-Sulzer-Klose GmbH to
manufacture diesel-powered locomotives. Sulzer had been manufacturing
diesel engines since 1898. The Prussian State Railways ordered a
diesel locomotive from the company in 1909. The world's first
diesel-powered locomotive was operated in the summer of 1912 on the
Winterthur–Romanshorn railway in Switzerland, but was not a
commercial success. The locomotive weight was 95 tonnes and the
power was 883 kW with a maximum speed of 100 km/h. Small
numbers of prototype diesel locomotives were produced in a number of
countries through the mid-1920s.
Swiss & German co-production: world's first functional
diesel–electric railcar 1914
A significant breakthrough occurred in 1914, when Hermann Lemp, a
General Electric electrical engineer, developed and patented a
reliable direct current electrical control system (subsequent
improvements were also patented by Lemp). Lemp's design used a
single lever to control both engine and generator in a coordinated
fashion, and was the prototype for all diesel–electric locomotive
control systems. In 1914, world's first functional diesel–electric
railcars were produced for the Königlich-Sächsische
Staatseisenbahnen (Royal Saxon State Railways) by Waggonfabrik Rastatt
with electric equipment from Brown, Boveri & Cie and diesel
engines from Swiss Sulzer AG. They were classified as DET 1 and DET 2
(de.wiki). The first regular use of diesel–electric locomotives was
in switching (shunter) applications.
General Electric produced several
small switching locomotives in the 1930s (the famous "44-tonner"
switcher was introduced in 1940) Westinghouse Electric and Baldwin
collaborated to build switching locomotives starting in 1929.
In 1929, the
Canadian National Railways
Canadian National Railways became the first North
American railway to use diesels in mainline service with two units,
9000 and 9001, from Westinghouse.
See also: High-speed rail
Although high-speed steam and diesel services were started before the
1960s in Europe, they were not very successful.
0-Series Shinkansen, introduced in 1964, triggered the intercity train
The first electrified high-speed rail Tōkaidō
introduced in 1964 between
Osaka in Japan. Since then
high-speed rail transport, functioning at speeds up and above
300 km/h, has been built in Japan, Spain, France, Germany, Italy,
the People's Republic of China, Taiwan (Republic of China), the United
Kingdom, South Korea, Scandinavia,
Belgium and the Netherlands. The
construction of many of these lines has resulted in the dramatic
decline of short haul flights and automotive traffic between connected
cities, such as the London–Paris–Brussels corridor,
Madrid–Barcelona, Milan–Rome–Naples, as well as many other major
High-speed trains normally operate on standard gauge tracks of
continuously welded rail on grade-separated right-of-way that
incorporates a large turning radius in its design. While high-speed
rail is most often designed for passenger travel, some high-speed
systems also offer freight service.
Main article: Train
A train is a connected series of rail vehicles that move along the
track. Propulsion for the train is provided by a separate locomotive
or from individual motors in self-propelled multiple units. Most
trains carry a revenue load, although non-revenue cars exist for the
railway's own use, such as for maintenance-of-way purposes. The engine
driver (engineer in North America) controls the locomotive or other
power cars, although people movers and some rapid transits are under
Russian 2TE10U Diesel-electric locomotive
Traditionally, trains are pulled using a locomotive. This involves one
or more powered vehicles being located at the front of the train,
providing sufficient tractive force to haul the weight of the full
train. This arrangement remains dominant for freight trains and is
often used for passenger trains. A push-pull train has the end
passenger car equipped with a driver's cab so that the engine driver
can remotely control the locomotive. This allows one of the
locomotive-hauled train's drawbacks to be removed, since the
locomotive need not be moved to the front of the train each time the
train changes direction. A railroad car is a vehicle used for the
haulage of either passengers or freight.
A multiple unit has powered wheels throughout the whole train. These
are used for rapid transit and tram systems, as well as many both
short- and long-haul passenger trains. A railcar is a single,
self-powered car, and may be electrically-propelled or powered by a
diesel engine. Multiple units have a driver's cab at each end of the
unit, and were developed following the ability to build electric
motors and engines small enough to fit under the coach. There are only
a few freight multiple units, most of which are high-speed post
RegioSwinger multiple unit of the Croatian Railways
Steam locomotives are locomotives with a steam engine that provides
adhesion. Coal, petroleum, or wood is burned in a firebox, boiling
water in the boiler to create pressurized steam. The steam travels
through the smokebox before leaving via the chimney or smoke stack. In
the process, it powers a piston that transmits power directly through
a connecting rod (US: main rod) and a crankpin (US: wristpin) on the
driving wheel (US main driver) or to a crank on a driving axle. Steam
locomotives have been phased out in most parts of the world for
economical and safety reasons, although many are preserved in working
order by heritage railways.
Electric locomotives draw power from a stationary source via an
overhead wire or third rail. Some also or instead use a battery. In
locomotives that are powered by high voltage alternating current, a
transformer in the locomotive converts the high voltage, low current
power to low voltage, high current used in the traction motors that
power the wheels. Modern locomotives may use three-phase AC induction
motors or direct current motors. Under certain conditions, electric
locomotives are the most powerful traction. They are
also the cheapest to run and provide less noise and no local air
pollution. However, they require high capital
investments both for the overhead lines and the supporting
infrastructure, as well as the generating station that is needed to
produce electricity. Accordingly, electric traction is used on urban
systems, lines with high traffic and for high-speed rail.
Diesel locomotives use a diesel engine as the prime mover. The energy
transmission may be either diesel-electric, diesel-mechanical or
diesel-hydraulic but diesel-electric is dominant. Electro-diesel
locomotives are built to run as diesel-electric on unelectrified
sections and as electric locomotives on electrified sections.
Alternative methods of motive power include magnetic levitation,
horse-drawn, cable, gravity, pneumatics and gas turbine.
Interior view of the top deck of a VR InterCity2 double-deck carriage
A passenger train travels between stations where passengers may embark
and disembark. The oversight of the train is the duty of a guard/train
manager/conductor. Passenger trains are part of public transport and
often make up the stem of the service, with buses feeding to stations.
Passenger trains provide long-distance intercity travel, daily
commuter trips, or local urban transit services. They even include a
diversity of vehicles, operating speeds, right-of-way requirements,
and service frequency. Passenger trains usually can be divided into
two operations: intercity railway and intracity transit. Whereas as
intercity railway involve higher speeds, longer routes, and lower
frequency (usually scheduled), intracity transit involves lower
speeds, shorter routes, and higher frequency (especially during peak
Intercity trains are long-haul trains that operate with few stops
between cities. Trains typically have amenities such as a dining car.
Some lines also provide over-night services with sleeping cars. Some
long-haul trains have been given a specific name. Regional trains are
medium distance trains that connect cities with outlying, surrounding
areas, or provide a regional service, making more stops and having
lower speeds. Commuter trains serve suburbs of urban areas, providing
a daily commuting service.
Airport rail links provide quick access
from city centres to airports.
High-speed rail are special inter-city trains that operate at much
higher speeds than conventional railways, the limit being regarded at
200 to 320 kilometres per hour (120 to 200 mph). High-speed
trains are used mostly for long-haul service and most systems are in
Western Europe and East Asia. The speed record is 574.8 km/h
(357.2 mph), set by a modified French TGV. Magnetic
levitation trains such as the
Shanghai airport train use under-riding
magnets which attract themselves upward towards the underside of a
guideway and this line has achieved somewhat higher peak speeds in
day-to-day operation than conventional high-speed railways, although
only over short distances. Due to their heightened speeds, route
alignments for high-speed rail tend to have shallower grades and
broader curves than conventional railways.
Their high kinetic energy translates to higher horsepower-to-ton
ratios (e.g. 20 horsepower per short ton or 16 kilowatts per tonne);
this allows trains to accelerate and maintain higher speeds and
negotiate steep grades as momentum builds up and recovered in
downgrades (reducing cut, fill, and tunnelling requirements). Since
lateral forces act on curves, curvatures are designed with the highest
possible radius. All these features are dramatically different from
freight operations, thus justifying exclusive high-speed rail lines if
it is economically feasible.
Rail network in Paris, France
Higher-speed rail services are intercity rail services that have top
speeds higher than conventional intercity trains but the speeds are
not as high as those in the high-speed rail services. These services
are provided after improvements to the conventional rail
infrastructure in order to support trains that can operate safely at
Rapid transit is an intracity system built in large cities and has the
highest capacity of any passenger transport system. It is usually
grade-separated and commonly built underground or elevated. At street
level, smaller trams can be used. Light rails are upgraded trams that
have step-free access, their own right-of-way and sometimes sections
Monorail systems are elevated, medium-capacity systems. A
people mover is a driverless, grade-separated train that serves only a
few stations, as a shuttle. Due to the lack of uniformity of rapid
transit systems, route alignment varies, with diverse rights-of-way
(private land, side of road, street median) and geometric
characteristics (sharp or broad curves, steep or gentle grades). For
Chicago 'L' trains are designed with extremely short
cars to negotiate the sharp curves in the Loop. New Jersey's PATH has
similar-sized cars to accommodate curves in the trans-Hudson tunnels.
BART operates large cars on its well-engineered
Main article: Rail freight transport
Bulk cargo of minerals
A freight train hauls cargo using freight cars specialized for the
type of goods. Freight trains are very efficient, with economy of
scale and high energy efficiency. However, their use can be reduced by
lack of flexibility, if there is need of transshipment at both ends of
the trip due to lack of tracks to the points of pick-up and delivery.
Authorities often encourage the use of cargo rail transport due to its
Container trains have become the beta type in the US for bulk haulage.
Containers can easily be transshipped to other modes, such as ships
and trucks, using cranes. This has succeeded the boxcar (wagon-load),
where the cargo had to be loaded and unloaded into the train manually.
The intermodal containerization of cargo has revolutionized the supply
chain logistics industry, reducing ship costs significantly. In
Europe, the sliding wall wagon has largely superseded the ordinary
covered wagons. Other types of cars include refrigerator cars, stock
cars for livestock and autoracks for road vehicles. When rail is
combined with road transport, a roadrailer will allow trailers to be
driven onto the train, allowing for easy transition between road and
Bulk handling represents a key advantage for rail transport. Low or
even zero transshipment costs combined with energy efficiency and low
inventory costs allow trains to handle bulk much cheaper than by road.
Typical bulk cargo includes coal, ore, grains and liquids. Bulk is
transported in open-topped cars, hopper cars and tank cars.
Left: Railway turnouts; Right:
Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago Transit Authority control tower
18 guides elevated
Chicago 'L' north and southbound Purple and Brown
lines intersecting with east and westbound Pink and Green lines and
the looping Orange line above the Wells and Lake street intersection
in the loop at an elevated right of way.
Right of way
Railway tracks are laid upon land owned or leased by the railway
company. Owing to the desirability of maintaining modest grades, rails
will often be laid in circuitous routes in hilly or mountainous
terrain. Route length and grade requirements can be reduced by the use
of alternating cuttings, bridges and tunnels – all of which
can greatly increase the capital expenditures required to develop a
right of way, while significantly reducing operating costs and
allowing higher speeds on longer radius curves. In densely urbanized
areas, railways are sometimes laid in tunnels to minimize the effects
on existing properties.
Main article: Trackage
Map of railways in Europe with main operational lines shown in black,
heritage railway lines in green and former routes in light blue
Long freight train crossing the Stoney Creek viaduct on the Canadian
Pacific Railway in southern British Columbia
Track consists of two parallel steel rails, anchored perpendicular to
members called ties (sleepers) of timber, concrete, steel, or plastic
to maintain a consistent distance apart, or rail gauge. Rail gauges
are usually categorized as standard gauge (used on approximately 54.8%
of the world's existing railway lines), broad gauge, and narrow
gauge. In addition to the rail gauge, the tracks will
be laid to conform with a
Loading gauge which defines the maximum
height and width for railway vehicles and their loads to ensure safe
passage through bridges, tunnels and other structures.
The track guides the conical, flanged wheels, keeping the cars on the
track without active steering and therefore allowing trains to be much
longer than road vehicles. The rails and ties are usually placed on a
foundation made of compressed earth on top of which is placed a bed of
ballast to distribute the load from the ties and to prevent the track
from buckling as the ground settles over time under the weight of the
vehicles passing above.
The ballast also serves as a means of drainage. Some more modern track
in special areas is attached by direct fixation without ballast. Track
may be prefabricated or assembled in place. By welding rails together
to form lengths of continuous welded rail, additional wear and tear on
rolling stock caused by the small surface gap at the joints between
rails can be counteracted; this also makes for a quieter ride
On curves the outer rail may be at a higher level than the inner rail.
This is called superelevation or cant. This reduces the forces tending
to displace the track and makes for a more comfortable ride for
standing livestock and standing or seated passengers. A given amount
of superelevation is most effective over a limited range of speeds.
Turnouts, also known as points and switches, are the means of
directing a train onto a diverging section of track. Laid similar to
normal track, a point typically consists of a frog (common crossing),
check rails and two switch rails. The switch rails may be moved left
or right, under the control of the signalling system, to determine
which path the train will follow.
Spikes in wooden ties can loosen over time, but split and rotten ties
may be individually replaced with new wooden ties or concrete
substitutes. Concrete ties can also develop cracks or splits, and can
also be replaced individually. Should the rails settle due to soil
subsidence, they can be lifted by specialized machinery and additional
ballast tamped under the ties to level the rails.
Periodically, ballast must be removed and replaced with clean ballast
to ensure adequate drainage. Culverts and other passages for water
must be kept clear lest water is impounded by the trackbed, causing
landslips. Where trackbeds are placed along rivers, additional
protection is usually placed to prevent streambank erosion during
times of high water. Bridges require inspection and maintenance, since
they are subject to large surges of stress in a short period of time
when a heavy train crosses.
Train inspection systems
A Hot bearing detector w/ dragging equipment unit
The inspection of railway equipment is essential for the safe movement
of trains. Many types of defect detectors are in use on the world's
railroads. These devices utilize technologies that vary from a
simplistic paddle and switch to infrared and laser scanning, and even
ultrasonic audio analysis. Their use has avoided many rail accidents
over the 70 years they have been used.
Bardon Hill box in
England is a
Midland Railway box dating from 1899,
although the original mechanical lever frame has been replaced by
electrical switches. Seen here in 2009.
Main article: Railway signalling
Railway signalling is a system used to control railway traffic safely
to prevent trains from colliding. Being guided by fixed rails which
generate low friction, trains are uniquely susceptible to collision
since they frequently operate at speeds that do not enable them to
stop quickly or within the driver's sighting distance; road vehicles,
which encounter a higher level of friction between their rubber tyres
and the road surface, have much shorter braking distances. Most forms
of train control involve movement authority being passed from those
responsible for each section of a rail network to the train crew. Not
all methods require the use of signals, and some systems are specific
to single track railways.
The signalling process is traditionally carried out in a signal box, a
small building that houses the lever frame required for the signalman
to operate switches and signal equipment. These are placed at various
intervals along the route of a railway, controlling specified sections
of track. More recent technological developments have made such
operational doctrine superfluous, with the centralization of
signalling operations to regional control rooms. This has been
facilitated by the increased use of computers, allowing vast sections
of track to be monitored from a single location. The common method of
block signalling divides the track into zones guarded by combinations
of block signals, operating rules, and automatic-control devices so
that only one train may be in a block at any time.
Main article: Railway electrification system
The electrification system provides electrical energy to the trains,
so they can operate without a prime mover on board. This allows lower
operating costs, but requires large capital investments along the
lines. Mainline and tram systems normally have overhead wires, which
hang from poles along the line. Grade-separated rapid transit
sometimes use a ground third rail.
Power may be fed as direct or alternating current. The most common DC
voltages are 600 and 750 V for tram and rapid transit systems,
and 1,500 and 3,000 V for mainlines. The two dominant AC
systems are 15 kV AC and 25 kV AC.
Goods station in Lucerne, Switzerland
A railway station serves as an area where passengers can board and
alight from trains. A goods station is a yard which is exclusively
used for loading and unloading cargo. Large passenger stations have at
least one building providing conveniences for passengers, such as
purchasing tickets and food. Smaller stations typically only consist
of a platform. Early stations were sometimes built with both passenger
and goods facilities.
Platforms are used to allow easy access to the trains, and are
connected to each other via underpasses, footbridges and level
crossings. Some large stations are built as culs-de-sac, with trains
only operating out from one direction. Smaller stations normally serve
local residential areas, and may have connection to feeder bus
services. Large stations, in particular central stations, serve as the
main public transport hub for the city, and have transfer available
between rail services, and to rapid transit, tram or bus services.
In the United States, railroads such as the Union Pacific
traditionally own and operate both their rolling stock and
infrastructure, with the company itself typically being privately
Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing trend to split up
railway companies, with companies owning the rolling stock separated
from those owning the infrastructure. This is particularly true in
Europe, where this arrangement is required by the European Union. This
has allowed open access by any train operator to any portion of the
European railway network. In the UK, the railway track is state owned,
with a public controlled body (Network Rail) running, maintaining and
developing the track, while
Train Operating Companies have run the
trains since privatization in the 1990s.
In the U.S., virtually all rail networks and infrastructure outside
Northeast Corridor are privately owned by freight lines. Passenger
lines, primarily Amtrak, operate as tenants on the freight lines.
Consequently, operations must be closely synchronized and coordinated
between freight and passenger railroads, with passenger trains often
being dispatched by the host freight railroad. Due to this shared
system, both are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration
(FRA) and may follow the AREMA recommended practices for track work
and AAR standards for vehicles.
The main source of income for railway companies is from ticket revenue
(for passenger transport) and shipment fees for cargo. Discounts and
monthly passes are sometimes available for frequent travellers (e.g.
season ticket and rail pass). Freight revenue may be sold per
container slot or for a whole train. Sometimes, the shipper owns the
cars and only rents the haulage. For passenger transport,
advertisement income can be significant.
Governments may choose to give subsidies to rail operation, since rail
transport has fewer externalities than other dominant modes of
transport. If the railway company is state-owned, the state may simply
provide direct subsidies in exchange for increased production. If
operations have been privatized, several options are available. Some
countries have a system where the infrastructure is owned by a
government agency or company – with open access to the tracks
for any company that meets safety requirements. In such cases, the
state may choose to provide the tracks free of charge, or for a fee
that does not cover all costs. This is seen as analogous to the
government providing free access to roads. For passenger operations, a
direct subsidy may be paid to a public-owned operator, or public
service obligation tender may be helt, and a time-limited contract
awarded to the lowest bidder. Total EU rail subsidies amounted to
€73 billion in 2005.
Amtrak, the US passenger rail service, and Canada's
Via Rail are
private railroad companies chartered by their respective national
governments. As private passenger services declined because of
competition from automobiles and airlines, they became shareholders of
Amtrak either with a cash entrance fee or relinquishing their
locomotives and rolling stock. The government subsidizes
supplying start-up capital and making up for losses at the end of the
fiscal year.[page needed]
Eurostat and European Railway Agency, on European
railways, there is a fatality risk for passengers and occupants 28
times lower compared with car usage. Based on data by EU-27 member
Trains can travel at very high speed, but they are heavy, are unable
to deviate from the track and require a great distance to stop.
Possible accidents include derailment (jumping the track), a collision
with another train or collision with automobiles, other vehicles or
pedestrians at level crossings. The last accounts for the majority of
rail accidents and casualties. The most important safety measures to
prevent accidents are strict operating rules, e.g. railway signalling
and gates or grade separation at crossings.
Train whistles, bells or
horns warn of the presence of a train, while trackside signals
maintain the distances between trains.
An important element in the safety of many high-speed inter-city
networks such as Japan's
Shinkansen is the fact that trains only run
on dedicated railway lines, without level crossings. This effectively
eliminates the potential for collision with automobiles, other
vehicles or pedestrians, vastly reduces the likelihood of collision
with other trains and helps ensure services remain timely.
As in any infrastructure asset, railways must keep up with periodic
inspection and maintenance in order to minimize effect of
infrastructure failures that can disrupt freight revenue operations
and passenger services. Because passengers are considered the most
crucial cargo and usually operate at higher speeds, steeper grades,
and higher capacity/frequency, their lines are especially important.
Inspection practices include track geometry cars or walking
inspection. Curve maintenance especially for transit services includes
gauging, fastener tightening, and rail replacement.
Rail corrugation is a common issue with transit systems due to the
high number of light-axle, wheel passages which result in grinding of
the wheel/rail interface. Since maintenance may overlap with
operations, maintenance windows (nighttime hours, off-peak hours,
altering train schedules or routes) must be closely followed. In
addition, passenger safety during maintenance work (inter-track
fencing, proper storage of materials, track work notices, hazards of
equipment near states) must be regarded at all times. At times,
maintenance access problems can emerge due to tunnels, elevated
structures, and congested cityscapes. Here, specialized equipment or
smaller versions of conventional maintenance gear are used.
Unlike highways or road networks where capacity is disaggregated into
unlinked trips over individual route segments, railway capacity is
fundamentally considered a network system. As a result, many
components are causes and effects of system disruptions. Maintenance
must acknowledge the vast array of a route's performance (type of
train service, origination/destination, seasonal impacts), line's
capacity (length, terrain, number of tracks, types of train control),
trains throughput (max speeds, acceleration/deceleration rates), and
service features with shared passenger-freight tracks (sidings,
terminal capacities, switching routes, and design type).
Social, economical, and energetic aspects
BNSF Railway freight service in the United States
Rail transport is an energy-efficient but capital-intensive means
of mechanized land transport. The tracks provide smooth and hard
surfaces on which the wheels of the train can roll with a relatively
low level of friction being generated. Moving a vehicle on and/or
through a medium (land, sea, or air) requires that it overcomes
resistance to its motion caused by friction. A land vehicle's total
resistance (in pounds or Newtons) is a quadratic function of the
displaystyle qquad qquad R=a+bv+cv^ 2
R denotes total resistance
a denotes initial constant resistance
b denotes velocity-related constant
c denotes constant that is function of shape, frontal area, and sides
v denotes velocity
v2 denotes velocity, squared
Essentially, resistance differs between vehicle's contact point and
surface of roadway. Metal wheels on metal rails have a significant
advantage of overcoming resistance compared to rubber-tyred wheels on
any road surface (railway – 0.001g at 10 miles per hour
(16 km/h) and 0.024g at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h); truck
– 0.009g at 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) and 0.090 at 60 miles
per hour (97 km/h)). In terms of cargo capacity combining speed
and size being moved in a day:
human – can carry 100 pounds (45 kg) for 20 miles (32 km)
per day, or 1 tmi/day (1.5 tkm/day)
horse and wheelbarrow – can carry 4 tmi/day (5.8 tkm/day)
horse cart on good pavement – can carry 10 tmi/day (14 tkm/day)
fully utility truck – can carry 20,000 tmi/day (29,000
long-haul train – can carry 500,000 tmi/day (730,000 tkm/day)
Most trains take 250–400 trucks off the road, thus making the road
In terms of the horsepower to weight ratio, a slow-moving barge
requires 0.2 horsepower per short ton (0.16 kW/t), a railway and
pipeline requires 2.5 horsepower per short ton (2.1 kW/t), and
truck requires 10 horsepower per short ton (8.2 kW/t). However,
at higher speeds, a railway overcomes the barge and proves most
As an example, a typical modern wagon can hold up to 113 tonnes (125
short tons) of freight on two four-wheel bogies. The track distributes
the weight of the train evenly, allowing significantly greater loads
per axle and wheel than in road transport, leading to less wear and
tear on the permanent way. This can save energy compared with other
forms of transport, such as road transport, which depends on the
friction between rubber tyres and the road. Trains have a small
frontal area in relation to the load they are carrying, which reduces
air resistance and thus energy usage.
In addition, the presence of track guiding the wheels allows for very
long trains to be pulled by one or a few engines and driven by a
single operator, even around curves, which allows for economies of
scale in both manpower and energy use; by contrast, in road transport,
more than two articulations causes fishtailing and makes the vehicle
Main article: Energy efficiency in transportation § Trains
Considering only the energy spent to move the means of transport, and
using the example of the urban area of Lisbon, electric trains seem to
be on average 20 times more efficient than automobiles for
transportation of passengers, if we consider energy spent per
passenger-distance with similar occupation ratios. Considering an
automobile with a consumption of around 6 l/100 km
(47 mpg‑imp; 39 mpg‑US) of fuel, the average car in
Europe has an occupancy of around 1.2 passengers per automobile
(occupation ratio around 24%) and that one litre of fuel amounts to
about 8.8 kWh (32 MJ), equating to an average of 441 Wh
(1,590 kJ) per passenger-km. This compares to a modern train with
an average occupancy of 20% and a consumption of about
8.5 kW⋅h/km (31 MJ/km; 13.7 kW⋅h/mi), equating to
21.5 Wh (77 kJ) per passenger-km, 20 times less than the
Due to these benefits, rail transport is a major form of passenger and
freight transport in many countries. It is ubiquitous in Europe, with
an integrated network covering virtually the whole continent. In
South Korea and Japan, many millions use trains as
regular transport. In North America, freight rail transport is
widespread and heavily used, but intercity passenger rail transport is
relatively scarce outside the Northeast Corridor, due to increased
preference of other modes, particularly automobiles and
airplanes.[page needed] South Africa, northern Africa and
Argentina have extensive rail networks, but some railways elsewhere in
Africa and South America are isolated lines. Australia has a generally
sparse network befitting its population density but has some areas
with significant networks, especially in the southeast. In addition to
the previously existing east-west transcontinental line in Australia,
a line from north to south has been constructed. The highest railway
in the world is the line to Lhasa, in Tibet, partly running over
permafrost territory. Western Europe has the highest railway density
in the world and many individual trains there operate through several
countries despite technical and organizational differences in each
Social and economic benefits
Railways are central to the formation of modernity and ideas of
progress. Railways contribute to social vibrancy and economic
competitiveness by transporting multitudes of customers and workers to
city centres and inner suburbs.
Hong Kong has recognized rail as "the
backbone of the public transit system" and as such developed their
franchised bus system and road infrastructure in comprehensive
alignment with their rail services. China's large cities such as
Beijing, Shanghai, and
Guangzhou recognize rail transit lines as the
framework and bus lines as the main body to their metropolitan
transportation systems. The Japanese
Shinkansen was built to meet
the growing traffic demand in the "heart of Japan's industry and
economy" situated on the Tokyo-
German soldiers in a railway car on the way to the front in August
1914. The message on the car reads Von München über Metz nach Paris.
(From Munich via Metz to Paris).
During much of the 20th century, rail was an invaluable element of
military mobilization, allowing for the quick and efficient transport
of large numbers of reservists to their mustering-points, and infantry
soldiers to the front lines. However, by the 21st century, rail
transport – limited to locations on the same continent, and
vulnerable to air attack – had largely been displaced by the
adoption of aerial transport.
Railways channel growth towards dense city agglomerations and along
their arteries, as opposed to highway expansion, indicative of the
U.S. transportation policy, which incents development of suburbs at
the periphery, contributing to increased vehicle miles travelled,
carbon emissions, development of greenfield spaces, and depletion of
natural reserves. These arrangements revalue city spaces, local
taxes, housing values, and promotion of mixed use
Modern rail as economic development indicator
European development economists have argued that the existence of
modern rail infrastructure is a significant indicator of a country's
economic advancement: this perspective is illustrated notably through
the Basic Rail Transportation
Infrastructure Index (known as BRTI
Main article: Rail subsidies
In 2014, total rail spending by China was $130 billion and is likely
to remain at a similar rate for the rest of the country's next Five
Year Period (2016–2020).
The Indian railways are subsidized by around ₹400 billion
(US$6.1 billion), of which around 60% goes to commuter rail and
short-haul trips. It is the fourth largest railway network in
the world comprising 119,630 kilometres (74,330 mi) of total track and
92,081 km (57,216 mi) of running track over a route of 66,687 km
(41,437 mi) with 7,216 stations at the end of 2015–16.
For subsidies in Europe, see European rail subsidies
European rail subsidies in euros per passenger-km for 2008
Subsidy in billions of Euros
In total, Russian Roadways receives 90 billion roubles (around US$1,5
billion) annually from the government.
For rail subsidies in the United States, see
Amtrak public funding and
Modern US rail history
Current subsidies for
Amtrak (passenger rail) are around $1.4
billion. The rail freight industry does not receive subsidies.
List of rail transport topics
List of railroad-related periodicals
List of railway companies
List of transnational trains
List of transnational railways
List of railway industry occupations
Passenger rail terminology
Rail transport by country
Rail transport in Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
Rail usage statistics by country
Railway systems engineering
Environmental design in rail transportation
International Union of Railways
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for locomotive purposes, on tramways Missing or empty title=
^ Diesel Railway Traction, Railway Gazette, 17: 25, 1963, In one sense
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Priestman locomotive put in its short period of service in 1894
Missing or empty title= (help)
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Bus rapid transit
Open top bus
Public light bus
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Medium-capacity rail system
Vehicles for hire
Personal rapid transit
Bus garage (bus depot)
Bus turnout (bus bay)
Park and ride
Ticketing and fares
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Contract of carriage
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Free public transport
Free travel pass
Manual fare collection
Reduced fare program
Public transport timetable
Transit-oriented development (TOD)
Hail and ride
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Zig Zag / Switchback
Minimum curve radius
Clip and scotch
Rail fastening system
Track transition curve
Railway electrification system
Motive power depot