A train is a series of connected vehicles. Most people think of a train as vehicles on rails. A single (moving) locomotive is also referred to as a train, but strictly speaking incorrectly.

In tourist areas, a train often runs, but not on rails. It consists of a tractor (with pneumatic tires, steerable wheels and a number plate) that looks like a locomotive, with a number of trailers. According to the correct definition, such a road train is indeed a train.

In Australia, long-distance freight is transported by road trains. A road train is a truck with a large number of trailers. This too is indeed a train.

Train on bridge
Photo provided by pixabay


Rail transport takes place with trains, carried out by one or more railway company (s).

A towed train is an operational combination of one or more carriages without a propulsion system in combination with a locomotive (or other power source with a cab). A special form is the push-pull train: a more or less fixed unit of locomotive and carriages, the latter of which has a steering position from which the locomotive can be controlled remotely with a cable connection running through the train.

Power vehicles have their own propulsion system. A locomotive is therefore considered a power vehicle.

A trainset is a fixed unit consisting of a number of carriages with a steering position at both ends. Due to the permanent composition and the presence of its own drive, a train set is also one power vehicle.

Axle layout

The UIC notation is used to indicate how the drive of a power vehicle is distributed among the wheel axles. A combination of driven wheel axles housed in a (bogie) frame is indicated with a capital letter (A for 1 driven axle, B for 2 driven axles, etc.). If these axles are driven separately, the capital letter is supplemented with an “o”. Non-driven wheel axles are indicated with a number. If the wheel axles are housed in a bogie, an apostrophe is added. A + indicates that the power vehicle consists of more than one part.

Braking system

In trains, the brake is operated pneumatically (by air pressure) (see Westinghouse brake). The train line of the continuous self-acting air pressure brake runs through the entire train. One brake crane is in service in each train. This brake valve keeps the air pressure in the train line at 5 bar (overpressure). The brakes of the train are then released. With the help of this crane, the train driver can lower the air pressure in the train line, causing the brakes to apply. The braking force is more or less proportional to the pressure drop. The maximum braking force has been reached at 3.5 bar train line pressure.

In the event of a break in the train line (when a train coupling breaks), an emergency braking by passengers or an intervention of the train control system, the train line is bled, causing the entire train to brake.

Different types of brakes are used on trains:

Block brake: A brake block presses directly on the tread of the wheel. Brake pads are made of enriched cast iron, sintered metal or plastic. The block brake makes the wheels of the train rough, so that the train produces considerably more noise than a train with disc brakes. The advantage of this roughness is that the wheel does not lock quickly and is therefore less affected by flat places in the autumn period. The electrical contact (detection) between wheel and rail is also considerably better than with stock with disc brakes.
Disc brake: Separate brake discs are mounted on the wheel axles, which are clamped between brake pads during braking. The disadvantage of this braking method is that the wheels are more likely to slide on slippery rails. However, the brake pads are lighter and easier to replace. The braking effect at high speeds is better than with the block brake.

  • Electrodynamic brake: The electrodynamic brake (ED brake) converts the kinetic energy into electrical energy. The ED brake only works sufficiently at high speeds. At low speeds, block brakes or disc brakes take over the work. The generated electrical energy is converted into heat in braking resistors or returned to the overhead line (recovery). In trains that run on DC voltage, such as in the Netherlands and Belgium, the energy savings are limited: the rectifier in the substation cannot convert the generated DC voltage into AC voltage that can be fed back into the grid. The energy generated must therefore be used by another train in the relevant overhead line section, for example for train heating. If there are no consumers, the braking energy is converted into heat in braking resistors. The advantage of this brake is the absence of wear. The disadvantage is the complicated electrical traction circuit and the need to accommodate braking resistors. The brake only works on driven axles.
  • Hydrodynamic brake: The hydraulic transmission converts kinetic energy into heat. Only works on driven axles.
  • Magnetic brake: Here a magnet is lowered onto the rail. The attraction of the magnet causes friction on the rail, slowing down the train. Magnetic brakes are used for rapid braking because the wear on equipment and track is otherwise great. The magnetic brake can also be used as a parking brake. Both electromagnetic brakes and permanent magnet brakes are used.

The following brakes differ in operation or control:

  • Handbrake: With a handwheel or crank, the vehicle’s brakes are fixed and released. Before the general introduction of the air brake, trains were manually braked. With the whistle of the locomotive, the train driver instructed the brakes on every braked car to release or apply the brakes. Nowadays this brake is used almost exclusively as a parking brake.
  • Direct air brake: This brake, fitted to locomotives, is usually referred to as shunting brake. Only the locomotive is braked. The brake is faster in braking and releasing than the self-acting continuous air brake.
  • Self-acting continuous air brake: The brake is pneumatically controlled remotely from the driver’s cab. A brake control valve (trip valve) in each vehicle converts a drop in train line pressure into an increase in brake cylinder pressure. This brake is required by law for trains.
  • Electro-pneumatic brake: The brake is electrically controlled from the driver’s cab from a distance. Due to the legally required presence of the air brake, the EP brake is not fail-safe. In the Netherlands, the analog ep-rem (since 1961) and the binary three-bit ep-rem (since 1975) are used. The advantages over the pneumatic brake are the short braking and release times and the simultaneous application and release of the brakes throughout the train.
  • High-pressure brake: Because the braking effect of the “normal” pad brake at high speeds is insufficient, equipment for use above 100 km / h is often equipped with an HD brake: above a certain speed, additional brake cylinders are activated or the maximum brake cylinder pressure increased.
  • Parking brake: This brake keeps equipment in place. With “Federspeicher” brakes, a spring holds the brakes. A permanent magnet brake keeps itself on the track. A manual screw brake holds the brakes by friction in the transmission or by a detent. A hydraulic parking brake by fluid pressure. The handbrake is often used as a parking brake.
  • Emergency brake: The emergency brake actuation directly or indirectly opens a valve in the train line of the air pressure brake. A train may be equipped with an emergency brake override that allows the driver, after receiving a receipt, to release the emergency brake and bring the train to a stop at a suitable place (for example outside a tunnel).
  • Anti-slip brake: The anti-slip brake, fitted on locomotives, provides a certain pressure in the brake cylinders of the block brake. This brake prevents wheels from spinning when starting on a slippery track.

World speed records

This list contains the world speed records of vehicles on rails.

  • 1804 (Feb 21) – 8 km / h by Richard Trevithick’s steam train in the UK.
  • 1825 – 24 km / h by the Locomotion No. 1 in the UK.
  • 1829 – 46 km / h by Stephenson’s Rocket in the UK.
  • 1830 – 48 km / h by Stephenson’s Rocket in the UK.
  • 1848 – 96.6 km / h by Antelope of the Boston and Maine Railroad in the United States.
  • 1850 – 125.6 km / h by the GWR Iron Duke of Great Western Railway.
  • 1854 – 131.6 km / h by the 41st Bristol & Exeter Railway in the United Kingdom.
  • 1934 (November 30) – 161 km / h by LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman in the UK.
  • 1934 (July 20) – 166.6 km / h by Milwaukee Road class F6 # 6402 in the United States.
  • 1935 (March 5) – 168.5 km / h by the LNER Class A3 No. 2750 Papyrus in the United Kingdom.
  • 1935 (September 29) – 180.3 km / h by the LNER Class A4 2509 Silver Link in the UK.
  • 1936 (February 17) – 205 km / h by the DRG SVT 137 “Bauart Leipzig” in Germany.
  • 1939 (June 23) – 215 km / h by the DRG SVT 137 155 (Kruckenberg) in Germany.
  • 1954 (February 21) – 243 km / h by the SNCF CC 7100 in France.
  • 1955 (March 28) – 320.6 km / h by Alsthom CC 7107 in France.
  • 1955 (March 29) – 331 km / h by the Jeumont-Schneider BB 9004.
  • 1981 (February 26) – 380 km / h by SNCF TGV Sud-Est Set No. 16 in France.
  • 1988 (May 1) – 406.9 km / h by the InterCityExperimental in Germany.
  • 1989 (December 5) – 482.4 km / h by TGV Atlantique No. 325 in France.
  • 1990 (May 18) – 515.3 km / h by TGV Atlantique No. 325 in France.
  • 2003 (December 2) – 581 km / h by JR-Maglev in Japan. However, this train is not commercial and unmanned.
  • 2007 (April 3) – 574.8 km / h by SNCF TGV POS Set No. 4402 in France.
  • 2015 (April 16) – 590 km / h by a JR-Maglev in Japan.
  • 2015 (April 21) – 603 km / h by a JR-Maglev in Japan.

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