Can Trains Be Over a Mile Long? Exploring the Pros and Cons

Traveling through the Swiss Alps last weekend, a 2-mile-long locomotive set the record for the longest passenger train in the world. But what about freight trains? How long can they be? The railway industry defends the use of long trains, claiming that limiting their length would increase greenhouse gas emissions without improving safety or service. But is this really true? Let's explore the pros and cons of longer freight trains.

Train Composition and Crossings

Stakeholders have identified two main issues to consider when it comes to safely operating longer freight trains: the arrangement of train cars and locomotives (known as “train composition”) and the possibility of blocking crossings between roads and railroads. Developing and implementing a strategy to share the results of research conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and identify any potential impact of longer freight trains on road and railway junctions would allow the FRA and interested parties to better determine what measures are needed, if any, to ensure the safe operation of longer freight trains.

Training for Engineers and Drivers

To avoid derailment, it is important that longer trains are properly organized and that crews are trained to operate them.

The GAO recommends that the FRA develop and implement a strategy to share the results of its study on longer trains and that it work with railroads to involve state and local governments to identify and reduce the impacts of longer freight trains at crossings between highways and railroads. Sudden applications of emergency brakes on trains can cause derailments or load changes, which can also cause opposing trains to wreck. While class I railroads and others said that longer trains could reduce the frequency of blocked crossings, some state and local officials said that these trains can extend their duration, posing challenges for first responders who cannot cross the tracks.

Maximizing Economic Efficiency

In general, freight trains are much longer than passenger trains, as they try to maximize their economic efficiency. By using fewer crews, they can deliver products to customers within a reasonable time period.

However, this comes with its own set of risks. Longer trains require more careful organization and additional training for engineers and drivers in order to ensure safety. Overall, while longer freight trains may be more economically efficient, there are still many safety concerns that need to be addressed before they can be safely operated. The FRA should work with railroads to involve state and local governments in order to identify any potential impacts of longer freight trains on road and railway junctions. Additionally, engineers and drivers should receive additional training in order to safely operate long trains. The question remains: can freight trains be over a mile long? The answer is yes, but only if certain safety measures are taken into consideration.

Train composition must be carefully organized, engineers must be properly trained, and state and local governments must be involved in order to identify any potential impacts on road or railway junctions. If these steps are taken, then it is possible for freight trains to be over a mile long without compromising safety.

Heidi Longbotham
Heidi Longbotham

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