In rail transport, a train consists of several connected
rail vehicles that are capable of being moved together along a guideway
to transport freight or passengers from one place to another along a planned
route. The guideway usually consists of conventional rail, but may be
monorail or maglev. Propulsion for the train may come from a variety of
sources, but often from a locomotive or self-propelled multiple unit.
Types of trains
There are various types of train designed for particular purposes, see
rail transport operations.
A train can consist of a combination of a locomotive and attached railroad
cars, or a self-propelled multiple unit (or occasionally a single powered
coach, called a railcar). Trains can also be hauled by horses, pulled
by a cable, or run downhill by gravity.
Special kinds of trains running on corresponding special 'railways' are
atmospheric railways, monorails, high-speed railways, maglev, rubber-tired
underground, funicular and cog railways.
A passenger train may consist of one or several locomotives, and one
or more coaches. Alternatively, a train may consist entirely of passenger
carrying coaches, some or all of which are powered as a "multiple
Freight trains comprise wagons or trucks rather than carriages, though
some parcel and mail trains (especially Travelling Post Offices) are outwardly
more like passenger trains.
A train hauled by two locomotives is said to be "double headed".
Trains can also be mixed, hauling both passengers and freight, see e.g.
Transportation in Mauritania. Such mixed trains have become rare in many
Special trains are also used for track maintenance.
A single uncoupled rail vehicle is not technically a train, but is usually
referred to as such for signalling reasons.
The first trains were rope-hauled or pulled by horses, but from the
early 19th century, almost all were powered by steam engines. From the
1920s onwards they began to be replaced by diesel (and some petrol) and
electric-hauled trains. Most countries had replaced steam trains for day-to-day
use, by the 1970s. A few countries, most notably the People's Republic
of China and India where coal is in cheap and plentiful supply, still
use steam trains, but this is being gradually phased out. Historical steam
trains still run in many other countries, for the leisure and enthusiast
Modern locomotives and powered coaches may have a diesel engine and/or
electric motors. On the most common form of diesel train, the diesel engine
drives a generator which provides power for electric motors which turn
the wheels (diesel-electric), or in some cases the power from the diesel
engine is transferred to the wheels by hydraulic means (diesel-hydraulic).
Mechanical transmission, like that in an automobile, is used on a few
trains, and shunting engines (switchers). However diesel powered trains
are expensive to run. Where a railway line has sufficient traffic to justify
the expense, it may be electrified, to allow the running of electric powered
trains, which are cheap to run, and have higher performance than diesel
For straight electric trains the power to run the electric motors is generated
at a power station and supplied to the train by some form of distribution
system. There are two common means of doing this, current may be supplied
to the train by overhead wires, or by a third rail system. Funiculars
do not have an engine within the vehicle, but are pulled on a cable by
a motor in the station.
Passenger trains have passenger cars.
Passenger trains travel between stations; the distance between stations
may vary from under 1 km to much more.
Long-distance trains, sometimes crossing several countries, may have
a dining or restaurant car; they may also have sleeping cars, but not
in the case of high-speed rail, these arrive at their destination before
the night falls and are in competition with airplanes in speed. Very long
distance trains such as those on the Trans-Siberian railway are usually
Very fast trains sometimes tilt.
For trains connecting cities, we can distinguish inter-city trains, which
do not halt at small stations, and trains that serve all stations, usually
known as local trains or "stoppers" (and sometimes an intermediate
kind, see also limited-stop).
For shorter distances many cities have networks of commuter trains, serving
the city and its suburbs. Some carriages may be laid out to have more
standing room than seats, or to facilitate the carrying of prams, cycles
or wheelchairs. Some countries have some double-decked passenger trains
for use in conurbations. Double deck high speed and sleeper trains are
becoming more common in Europe.
Passenger trains usually have emergency brake handles (or a "communication
cord") that the public can operate. Abuse is punished by a fine.
Large cities often have a metro system, also called underground, subway
or tube. The trains are electrically powered, usually by third rail, and
their railroads are separate from other traffic, without level crossings.
Usually they run in tunnels in the center and sometimes on elevated structures
in the outer parts of the city. They can accelerate and decelerate faster
than heavier, long-distance trains.
A light one- or two-car rail vehicle running through the streets is not
called a train but a tram or streetcar, but the distinction is not strict.
The term light rail is sometimes used for a modern tram, but it may also
mean an intermediate form between a tram and a train, similar to metro
except that it may have level crossings. These are often protected with
crossing gates. They may also be called a trolley.
Maglev trains and monorails represent minor technologies in the train
The term rapid transit is used for public transport such as commuter
trains, metro and light-rail.
See also people mover, trains in the Netherlands, trains in Germany,
trains in the United States, liberalization in train transport, driving.
Much of the world's freight is transported by train. In countries such
as the USA the rail system is used mostly for transporting freight.
Under the right circumstances, transporting freight by train is highly
economic, and also more energy efficient than transporting freight by
Rail freight is most economic, when freight is being carried in bulk
and over long distances. But is less suited to short distances and small
The main disadvantage of rail freight is its lack of flexibillity, for
this reason, rail has lost much of the freight business to road competition.
Many governments are now trying to encourage more freight onto trains,
because of the environmental benefits that it would bring.
There are many different types of freight train, which are used to carry
many different kinds of freight, with many different types of wagon. One
of the most common types on modern railways are container trains, whereby
the containers can be lifted on and off the train by cranes and loaded
off or onto trucks or ships.
This type of freight train has largely superseded the traditional "box
wagon" type of freight train, whereby the cargo had to be loaded
or unloaded manually.
In some countries "piggy back" trains are used whereby trucks
can drive straight onto the train and drive off again when the end destination
is reached. A system like this is used on the Channel Tunnel between England
and France. There are also some "inter-modal" vehicles, which
have two sets of wheels, for use in a train, or as the trailer of a road
There are also many other types of wagon, such as "low loader"
wagons for transporting road vehicles. There are refrigerator wagons for
transporting food. There are simple types of open-topped wagons for transporting
minerals and bulk material such as coal and tankers for tranporting liquids
Freight trains are sometimes illegaly boarded by passengers who do not
wish to or have the means to travel by ordinary means. This is referred
to as "Hopping" and is considered by some communities to be
a viable form of transport. Most hoppers sneak into train yards and stow
away in boxcars. More bold hoppers will catch a train "on the fly",
that is, as it is moving, leading to occasional fatalities, some of which
Trains were first utilized in Roman times. See rail transport, History
of rail transport.
Famous historical train services include the Orient Express and the Trans-Siberian.