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Rail transport
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Rail transport

This is the top-level page of WikiProject trains

Rail tracks

A railroad or railway is a guided means of land transport, designed to be used by trains, for transporting both passengers and freight. It consists of two parallel rails, usually made of steel, and wooden or concrete sleepers or ties that hold the rails exactly at the proper distance from each other. See Rail tracks

Table of contents
1 General
2 Operations
3 History
4 Terminology
5 Rail transport by country
6 See also
7 External links


(full list of topics)
The future
[ [ edit] ]
Rail transport is one of the most
energy efficient means of mechanised land transport known. The rails provide very smooth and hard surfaces on which the wheels of the train may roll with a minimum of friction. This is more comfortable and saves energy. Trains also have a small frontal area in relation to the load they are carrying, which cuts down on air resistance and thus energy usage. In all, under the right circumstances, a train needs 50-70% less energy to transport a given tonnage of freight (or given number of passengers), than by road. Furthermore, together with the sleepers the rails distribute the weight of the train evenly, allowing significantly greater loads per axle/wheel than in road transport.

Rail transport is also one of the safest modes of transport, and also makes a highly efficient use of space: a double tracked rail line can carry more passengers or freight in a given amount of time, than a four-laned road.


''Main Article: Rail transport operations

A rail transport system consists of several necessary elements, and should be viewed from a system-wide perspective. Some locomotives may be wonderfully aesthetic constructions, but they won't work unless they are given an appropriate system on which to run.

Firstly there is the geography onto which the permanent way is built. Next is the requirements of the system - what was it built for? For carrying freight? commuters, medium or long-distance travellers? Has that requirement changed over time and left the system to adapt?

As a result of this, what is the type of system. Is it light or heavy rail, high-speed? To what gauge is it built? In a broader sense, rail transport includes monorail, rubber-tyred metros and maglev, since the cars also run in a guided path.

A propulsion mechanism is required, be it horses, or steam, diesel or electric locomotives. If the last is employed, which are more energy efficient, the system requires electrification.

To be electrified, a means of supplying electricity to the train is needed. This can be done with overhead wires or with a third rail system. The former is the most common method.

Depending on how much traffic they carry, railways can be built with a varying number of tracks. Rail lines that carry little traffic are often built with a single track which is used by trains traveling in both directions; on rail lines like these, "passing loops" or "passing sidings", which consist of short stretches of double track, are provided at certain points along the line to allow trains to pass each other, and travel in different directions. Alternatively, there may be larger sections of the line that are double track - effective timetabling can allow train travel up and down the partially double track line equivalent to travel on fully double tracks. Conversely, double tram track is sometimes intertwined at narrow passages (see Tram). Single-track lines are cheaper to build, but can only handle a limited amount of traffic.

On busier lines, two or more tracks are provided, one or more for each direction of travel. On very busy lines as many as eight tracks (four tracks in each direction) are used to handle large amounts of traffic.

With the advent of containerized freight in the 1960s, rail and ship transportation have become an integrated network that move bulk goods very efficiently with a very low labor cost. An example is that goods from east Asia that are bound for Europe will often be shipped across the Pacific and transferred to trains to cross North America and be transferred back to a ship for the Atlantic crossing.

Major cities often have metro and/or light rail/tram systems. For a tram on the road the terms streetcar track or tram track are used, rather than railroad or railway. A tram with its own right-of-way is called a tramway.


Main Article: History of rail transport.

The first horse tracked vehicles, drawn wagonways appeared in Greece, Malta, and parts of the Roman Empire at least 2000 years ago using cut stone tracks. They began reappearing in Europe, from around 1550 usually operating with crude wooden tracks. In the late 18th century, iron rails began to be employed: British civil engineer William Jessop designed edge rails to be used with flanged wheels for use on a scheme in Loughborough, Leicestershire (in 1789 and subsequently opened an iron-works to produce more rails). In 1802, Jessop opened the Surrey Iron Railway in south London - arguably, the world's first public railway, albeit a horse-drawn one.

The first steam locomotive to operate on tracks, built by Richard Trevithick was operated in 1804 in Wales, although it was not financially successful.

The first successful steam locomotives were built by George Stephenson, culminating in his famous Rocket locomotive.

The first successful steam operated railway was the Stockton and Darlington Railway in northern England in the 1820s. This was soon followed by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which proved the viability of rail transport.

Railways soon spread throughout Britain and through the world, and became the dominant means of land transport for nearly a century, until the invention of aircraft and automobiles, which prompted a gradual decline in railways.

Diesel and electric trains and locomotives replaced steam, in many countries, in the decades after World War II.

Many countries since the 1960s have adopted High-speed railways.


In Britain and other commonwealth countries the term railway is used in preference to railroad, while in the United States the reverse is true. However, railroad has been used historically in Britain and a number of American companies have railway in their names instead of railroad (the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway being the most pre-eminent modern example). See the article on usage of the terms railroad and railway for more information.

American English - railroad
Chinese - tie3lu4 (铁路) (iron roadway)
Commonwealth English - railway
Danish - jernbane (iron way)
Dutch - spoorweg (track road)
Esperanto - fervojo (iron-way)
Finnish - rautatie (iron road)
French - chemin de fer (way of iron)
German - Eisenbahn (iron way)
Greek - σιδηρόδρομος - sidiródromos (iron road)
Irish - iarnród (iron road)
Italian - ferrovia (iron way)
Japanese - tetsudou (鉄道) (iron path)
Korean - cheoldo (iron road)
Norwegian - jernbane (iron track)
Portuguese (Brazilian) - ferrovia (iron way) or estrada de ferro (road of iron)
Portuguese (Iberic) - caminho de ferro (way of iron)
Romanian - cale ferată (iron way)
Russian - zheleznaya doroga (железная дорога) (iron road)
Scottish Gaelic - rathad iarainn (road of iron)
Spanish - ferrocarril (iron road)
Swedish - järnväg (iron way)
Welsh - rheilffordd (rail road)

In Britain the term railway is often used to refer to the complete organisation of tracks, trains, stations, signaling, timetables and the organising companies which collectively make up a coordinated railway system, while permanent way or p/way refers to the tracks alone. See also Rail transport in the United Kingdom.

Rail transport by country

Main Article: Rail transport by country

Of the 236 countries and dependencies, 143 have rail transport (including several with very little), of which ca. 90 with passenger services.

see also Rail usage statistics by country, List of countries by rail transport network size.

See also

Underground railway, Rail gauge, History of rail transport, List of railway companies, Locomotive, Public transport, Private transport, Private railroad, Railroad switch, Famous trains, Railway Mail Service, Economy of Earth (Transportation section), Driving, First Transcontinental Railroad (North America), Railway electrification system, Railway ferry.

External links