An electric multiple unit pulling into Tile Hill station; Coventry, England UK

A train is a set of coupled land-vehicles (or sometimes just one) with flanged wheels that runs on a railway.

Table of contents
1 Types of trains
2 Traction
3 Passenger Trains
4 Freight Trains
5 History
6 Model railways
7 Fictional trains
8 External links
9 Other meanings

Types of trains

A train can consist of a combination of a locomotive and attached carriages (also known as coaches or cars) or wagons, 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 unit".

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 French Steam Train of the early 20th century

A train hauled by two locomotives is said to be "double headed".

Mixed trains, hauling both passengers and freight, have become rare in many countries.

Special trains are also used for track maintenance.

A locomotive travelling on its own (a "light engine") is not properly called a train, though the plural "trains" can include such locotmotives, in, say, rules or timetables.


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 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 market.

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 trains.

Freight wagons filled with limestone await unloading, at sidings in Rugby England UK

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

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 not high- speed.

Very fast trains sometmes 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.

4-6-0 Grange Class steam train (Calcot Grange) at Temple Meads station, Bristol, England. Built 1937, withdrawn from use 1965. Photographed somewhere between 1959 and 1965.

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.

Maglev trains and monorails represent minor technologies in the train field.

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, liberalization in train transport, driving.

Freight Trains

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 road.

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 loads.

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 vehicle.

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 and gases.

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 "train-hopping" and is considered by some communities to be a viable form of transport. Most train-hoppers sneak into train yards and stow away in boxcars. More bold train-hoppers will catch a train "on the fly", that is, as it is moving, leading to occasional fatalities, some of which go unrecorded.


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.

The First Transcontinental Railroad

Train incidents in history

Model railways

Toy trains have been popular with children since railroads were first built. In the 20th century, the hobby of model railroadinging, which attempts a more accurate depiction of railroad equipment and operation, gained popularity. Toy train collecting is also popular.

Fictional trains

External links

Other meanings

  • A caravan of wagons, mules or other forms of transport is also called a train.

  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word train comes from French roots that mean "to drag or draw".

  • Thus, the word also refers to the trailing part of a bride's dress, as well as to a powder train leading to an explosive.

  • The verb to train, meaning "to educate", embodies the idea of drawing the student along.

  • A sequence of incidents is called a train of events.