Freight train

Freight train

Freight train or goods train is a series of freight cars hauled by a locomotive on a railway, ultimately transporting cargo between two points as part of the logistics chain. Trains may haul bulk, containers or specialized cars.

Under the right circumstances, freight transport by rail is more economic and energy efficient than by road, especially when carried in bulk or over long distances. Rail freight is often subject to transshipment costs since it must be transferred from one mode to another in the chain; these costs may dominate and practices such as containerization aim at minimizing these. Bulk is less susceptible, with distances down to thirty kilometers (twenty miles) sufficient to cover transshipment costs. Freight trains are less flexible than road transport, and much freight has been transferred from rail to road or sea.


Freight teams of wagons pulled by horse, mule, oxen and/or cattle were common in earlier times, and are still used in less developed areas.

The main disadvantage of rail freight is its lack of flexibility. For this reason, rail has lost much of the freight business to road transport. Many governments are now trying to encourage more freight onto trains, because of the environmental benefits that it would bring; rail transport is very energy efficient.

Many rail systems have turned to computerized scheduling for trains which has helped add more train traffic to the rails. Overall, most businesses ship their products by rail if they are shipping long distance because it is cheaper to ship in large quantities by rail than by truck; however shipping remains a viable competitor where water transport is available. Economics of scale are achieved because less labour and energy is required to haul the same amount of cargo.

Traditional transport of manufactured goods was with boxcars, where the goods was manually loaded and unloaded of the wagon. During the 1960s containerization has made this extra level of labour-intense work unnecessary; while the containers must be moved onto or off the wagons with cranes, the content in the container remains constant from sender to receiver. Containers allow easy change of mode from road and sea and rail.

In some countries "piggy back" trains are used; 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 the United Kingdom and France. Piggy back trains are the fastest growing type of freight trains in the United States, where they are also known as 'trailer on flat car' or TOFC trains. There are also some intermodal 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, simple types of open-topped wagons for transporting minerals and bulk material such as coal, and tankers for transporting liquids and gases. Most coal and aggregates are moved in hopper wagons that can be filled and discharged rapidly, to enable efficient handling of the materials.

Freight trains are sometimes illegally boarded by passengers who do not wish, or do not have the money, 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. Bolder hoppers will catch a train "on the fly", that is, as it is moving, leading to occasional fatalities, some of which go unrecorded. The act of leaving a town or area by hopping a freight train is sometimes referred to as "catching-out", as in catching a train out of town. [ [ A brief guide to riding the rails, by Wes Modes.] ]


Containerization' is a system of intermodal freight transport cargo transport using standard "ISO containers" (known as shipping containers or isotainers) that can be loaded and sealed intact onto container ships, railroad cars, planes, and trucks. Containerization has revolutionized cargo shipping. Today, approximately 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide moves by containers stacked on transport ships; 26% of all containers originate from China.Fact|date=February 2007 As of 2005, some 18 million total containers make over 200 million trips per year.

Use of the same basic sizes of containers across the globe has lessened the problems caused by incompatible rail gauge sizes in different countries. The majority of the rail networks in the world operate on a RailGauge|sg gauge track known as standard gauge but many countries (such as Russia, Finland, and Spain) use broader gauges while many other countries in Africa and South America use narrower gauges on their networks. The use of container trains in all these countries makes trans-shipment between different gauge trains easier.

Double-stack containerization

Most flatcars cannot carry more than one standard 40 foot container, but if the rail line has been built with sufficient vertical clearance, a double-stack car can accept a container and still leave enough clearance for another container on top. This usually precludes operation of double-stacked wagons on lines with overhead electric wiring. However, the Betuweroute, which was planned with overhead wiring from the start, has been built with tunnels that do accommodate double-stacked wagons so as to keep the option to economically rebuild the route for double stacking in the future. The overhead wiring would then have to be changed to allow double stacking. [cite web| title =Betuweroute:Frequently Asked Questions | publisher =Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Government of the Netherlands | year =2007 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-14] Lower than standard size containers are run double stacked under overhead wire in China. [cite news| last =Das |first =Manumi|title =Spotlight on double-stack container movement | work =The Hindu Business Line | publisher =The Hindu Group | date =2007-10-15 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-14]

In the United States, Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) with Malcom McLean came up with the idea of the first double-stack intermodal car in 1977.Cudahy, Brian J., - [ "The Containership Revolution: Malcom McLean’s 1956 Innovation Goes Global"] "TR News". - (c/o National Academy of Sciences). - Number 246. - September-October 2006. - (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document)] [cite web |url= |title=Chronological History |author=Union Pacific Railroad Company] SP then designed the first car with ACF Industries that same year. [Kaminski, Edward S. (1999). - "American Car & Foundry Company: A Centennial History, 1899-1999". - Wilton, California: Signature Press. - ISBN 0963379100] [ [ "A new fleet shapes up. (High-Tech Railroading)"] . - "Railway Age". - (c/o HighBeam Research). - September 1, 1990] At first it was slow to become an industry standard, then in 1984 American President Lines started working with the SP and that same year, the first all "double stack" train left Los Angeles, California for South Kearny, New Jersey, under the name of "Stacktrain" rail service. Along the way the train transferred from the SP to Conrail. It saved shippers money and now accounts for almost 70 percent of intermodal freight transport shipments in the United States, in part due to the generous vertical clearances used by U.S. railroads. These line are diesel operated with no overhead wiring.

Double stacking is also used in Australia between Adelaide, Parkes, Perth and Darwin. These are diesel only lines with no overhead wiring. Double stacking is proposed in India for selected freight-only lines. These would be electrified lines with specially high overhead wiring.


Bulk cargo is commodity cargo that is transported unpackaged in large quantities. These cargo are usually dropped or poured, with a spout or shovel bucket, as a liquid or solid, into a bulk carrier's hold, railroad car, or tanker truck/trailer/semi-trailer body. Bulk cargos are classified as liquid or dry, but only the latter are normally transported as bulk on rail, the former being freighted in tank cars. [cite book |first=Martin |last=Stopford |title=Maritime Economics |publisher=Routledge |location=London |year=1997 |pages=292-93]

Hopper cars are freight cars used to transport loose bulk commodities such as coal, ore, grain, track ballast, and the like. This type of car is distinguished from a gondola car in that it has opening doors on the underside or on the sides to discharge its cargo. The development of the hopper car went along with the development of automated handling of such commodities, with automated loading and unloading facilities. There are two main types of hopper car: open and covered; Covered hopper cars are used for cargo that must be protected from the elements (chiefly rain) such as grain, sugar, and fertilizer. Open cars are used for commodities such as coal, which can get wet and dry out with less harmful effect. Hopper cars have been used by railways worldwide whenever automated cargo handling has been desired. Rotary car dumpers simply invert the car to unload it, and have become the preferred unloading technology, especially in North America; they permit the use of simpler, tougher, and more compact (because sloping ends are not required) gondola cars instead of hoppers.

Heavy duty ore traffic

The heaviest trains in the world carry bulk traffic such as iron ore and coal. Loads can be 130 tonnes per wagon and tens of thousands of tonnes per train. Daqin Railway transports more than 1 million tonnes of coal to the east sea shore of China every day.Fact|date=June 2008 Such economies of scale drive down operating costs.

pecial cargo

Several types of cargo are not suited for containerization or bulk; these are transported in special cars custom designed for the cargo. Automobiles are stacked in open or closed autoracks, the vehicles being driven on or off the carriers. Steel plates are transported in modified gondolas called coil cars. Goods that require certain temperatures during transportation can be transported in refrigerator cars (or reefers), but refrigerated containers are becoming more dominant. Liquids, such as petroleum, chemicals and gases, are often transported in tank cars.

Named freight trains

Unlike passenger trains, freight trains are rarely named.

* Super C


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Freight train — Freight Freight (fr[=a]t), a. Employed in the transportation of freight; having to do with freight; as, a freight car. [1913 Webster] {Freight agent}, a person employed by a transportation company to receive, forward, or deliver goods. {Freight… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • freight train — freight trains N COUNT A freight train is a train on which goods are transported …   English dictionary

  • freight train — freight′ train n. rai a train of freight cars • Etymology: 1835–45 …   From formal English to slang

  • freight train — ☆ freight train n. a railroad train made up of freight cars …   English World dictionary

  • freight-train — freightˈ train noun A goods train • • • Main Entry: ↑freight …   Useful english dictionary

  • freight train — UK US noun [C] ► GOODS TRAIN(Cf. ↑goods train) …   Financial and business terms

  • freight train — n a train that carries goods …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • freight train — freight ,train noun count a train that carries goods …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • freight train — noun a railroad train consisting of freight cars • Syn: ↑rattler • Hypernyms: ↑train, ↑railroad train • Hyponyms: ↑freight liner, ↑liner train • …   Useful english dictionary

  • freight train — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms freight train : singular freight train plural freight trains a train that carries goods …   English dictionary

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