Home Automotive AdviceAutomotive Tips & Tricks Types Of Trains – From Steam Locomotives To Magnetic Levitation

Types Of Trains – From Steam Locomotives To Magnetic Levitation

by Jordan Harris
Types Of Trains

Trains are described as transport systems with a series of associated vehicles running along a track. Being the world’s largest rail network, trains are also the most popular means of transport around the globe and are designed according to the capacity of each type of passenger. Given rail transport’s tremendous efficiency and affordability, there are different types of trains in use today. From large to small, they all serve a primary purpose: to move freight and passengers.

Types Of Trains: Where Did It All Begin?

Trains, like any other mode of transportation, have been in the making for centuries. Nowadays, you can easily purchase a train ticket and travel freely depending on your location. But where did it all begin?

Well, the history of modern trains spans within the last 200 years of modern human civilization, who then used this stunning discovery to drastically transform the industry and how we travel on a daily basis.

The earliest forms of transportation were horse or human-powered. Hand propelled cars and wagonways were used from the 1500s till when steam-powered locomotives were introduced in the early 1800s. These wagonways involved tracks that allowed larger loads to be transported without needing extra horse/manpower.

By the late 1700s, wooden rails and wheels were updated with cast iron plates as wagonways evolved into “tramways” and became popular in Europe. The first steam-powered locomotives originated at the dawn of the 19th century in Great Britain. Although these locomotives pulled wagons full of coal, they were eventually engineered to accommodate their first passengers.

Later on, in the late 1900s, steam-powered locomotives were then retired from service routes. However, some are still in service as heritage or tourist lines. Heritage rails operate with the intention to preserve or recreate the past railways, keeping their history alive.

Today, diesel-powered and electric locomotives gradually replaced steam-powered ones. Like the first types of trains, there have been cardinal developments for the recent ones, too. In this article, we’ll discuss the various types of trains, including the high-speed ones riding at 200, 300mph, and even more!

Types Of Trains

There are many different types of trains you may come across when you travel. Most of which are listed below.

Passenger Trains

Passenger trains are slowly becoming a popular means of transportation in most parts of the world. These trains are often fast and long to carry many passengers. They may also have a combination of locomotives or a self-powered unit.

Passenger trains travel between stations and depots, where passengers can board or alight. Besides, they also have a fixed schedule, which explains why they usually have more excellent track occupancy compared to other trains like freight.

Passenger trains can be categorized into three main types: short-distance, long-distance, and within-city trains.

Short-Distance Trains

These types of trains are designed in such a way that they can accommodate a significant number of passengers. The seats are often more and closely packed and can have space for other passengers to stand while traveling. The main objective of short-distance trains is to transport more passengers over short distances.

While this may seem unwelcoming to some people, it makes them eco-friendly than vehicles and also helps cut traffic congestion on roads. One good example of a short-distance train is the commuter train.

Commuter Trains

Also known as suburban rails, commuter trains offer transport services between city centers, commuter towns, outer suburbs, or other locations that draw a large number of commuters – people who travel regularly or daily. The primary purpose of the commuter train is to take passengers to and from work. These trains are often scheduled for weekends and rush hours. Besides, they also operate following a schedule, at speeds varying between 50 to 200 km/h.

Commuter trains are an efficient mode of transport that reduces the burden of traffic from roads. They are optimized for maximum passenger volume, and in most cases, without sacrificing much luggage space and comfort. Some are built with more standing room than seats, while many modern trains have foldable seats to create more standing space during rush hour. They even facilitate prams, cycles, and wheelchairs.

To decrease disembarking and boarding time, trains have doors on both sides as well. Double-decker trains are also prevalent to cope with the vast number of passengers.

Long-distance Trains

These trains travel between numerous cities or regions of a country, and sometimes even cross several countries. Long-distance train routes form the foundation of the national passenger train network. Their unique capability allows them to link jammed urban areas to small towns and rural areas hence leading to increased economic growth in these areas.

Long-distance trains often have a dining or restaurant car for passengers to enjoy their preferred meals during the course of their voyage.  Night trains also have sleeping cars so that passengers can rest and feel more comfortable during the journey. Distances more than 500 miles are often reserved for air travel. However, trains are a more common and cheaper way to travel long distances in various countries.

There are numerous types of long-distance trains you’ll likely come across during your train travel. They include:

  • High-speed trains
  • Inter-city trains
  • Regional trains
High-speed Train

High-speed trains are built for long-distance travel because they can quickly get passengers to their destination. Usually, high-speed trains run at high speeds above 200km/h. Their trails are designed to put up with such rates without the danger of fire from friction.

The first high-speed train was Japan’s Shinkansen (also known as the bullet train) that debuted in 1964. Nowadays, the fastest trains are the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Rail, the Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Rail system, and Japan’s L0 Series Maglev. These trains have been known to run at high speeds of more than 350 km/h.

They are also eco-friendly than airplanes. Besides carrying more passengers, they also consume less fuel.

Inter-city Trains

Inter-city trains are passenger train services that cover longer distances than regional or commuter trains. They connect people from one city to another. These trains may provide amenities like dining options or sleeper cars.

They may offer international services as well. This is quite common in Europe, where travel is more open, and over 50 countries are closely packed. Common examples of such trains are the Eurostar and EuroCity, which many people consider the best option for long-distance travel.

Regional Trains

Also known as stopping or local trains, regional trains operate between cities and towns. These trains function with more stops over short distances than inter-city trains, but faster service and lesser stops than commuter trains. Not only do they operate in urban areas, but they also connect rural regions to cities of the country.

Within City Trains

There are more than 31 cities worldwide that are home to more than 10 million people. Due to that, there is a need for numerous mass-transit systems across cities. City trains are needed to curb the amount of traffic experienced within cities on a daily basis. They include:


Tram trains are public transport vehicles that run through urban tramway networks to mainline rail lines, which are shared with conventional trains. This links a tram’s accessibility and flexibility with the train’s greater speed, and bridges the distance between a city center and main railway stations.

Rapid Transit Train

Rapid transit is distinguished from other forms of mass transit by its operation on an exclusive right-of-way, without any access for other vehicles or pedestrians. These trains may run underground (subway), at street level, or above street level. They are also powered by electricity coursing through an exclusive third rail.

The railroads are distinct from other traffic like on elevated overhead structures in the suburbs or underground tunnels in the city’s center. They are intended to accelerate and decelerate faster than long-distance trains, which are pretty heavier.


Railcars (not to be confused with a railway car) are a self-proclaimed rail system that transports passengers to their destinations. They are often used to denote a single-car, carriage, or coach with a driver’s cabin on either or both sides of the vehicle. Railcars are also capable of transporting train carriages.

Unlike inter-city trains, railcars are economical to run for fewer passengers because of their small size. In many countries, they are often used to run passenger services on minor railway lines, including rural lines where passenger traffic is minimal and where the use of a lengthy train wouldn’t be cost-effective.


This is a system of railways with a single track of rail or beam. Monorails were developed to help steer clear of traffic in urban areas and typically run on elevated rail tracks. In other regions, this rail may also be located beneath the railway cars.

In systems that use an overhead rail, cars are backed by wheeled axles that move on an overhead rail. The system used a gyroscopic stabilizer that reduces the tilting movement of the train. It senses alignment using a trivial gyroscopic and opposes rotation by altering control surfaces or exerting force to a large gyroscopic.

In systems that employ undercarriage rail, trains are stabilized gyroscopically or by guide wheels. Nearly all monorails are designed using linear induction motors.


The word Maglev is derived from ‘magnetic levitation.’ This is a system of transportation that uses two magnets to shove the train off the track. One magnet is set to repel and push the train off the track, and another magnet moves the train forward at more incredible speeds because there’s no friction that ought to be accounted for. Though they don’t travel very far, they still move at high speeds, just like airplanes and high-speed rails.

With maglev technology, trains move along a set of magnets that control the train’s speed and stability. While levitation and propulsion don’t require any moving parts, the bogies can move about the train’s body. Due to this, maglev trains are often smoother and quieter, unlike conventional trains, and can also accelerate significantly.

Maglev trains systems are, however, expensive to put up and require a significant amount of energy to get rid of drag and friction. Currently, they aren’t much safe or comfortable for passengers as well. And since the benefits of these trains don’t overcome the risk and cost they pose, they are operated in only three countries: Japan, South Korea, China.

Light Rails

Light rail transit railway systems are often powered by overhead electrical wires and used for medium-capacity local transportation in metropolitan areas. It is a form of urban passenger railway characterized by a combination of metro and tram features, but they usually have their own separate path like heavy-line railways. The term ‘light rail’ was derived from the British Light Railways Act in 1896, although the technology used was at the top-notch of what Americans perceived to be light rail.

Unlike subway trains, these trains even have level crossings protected with crossing gates. In other underprivileged or underdeveloped areas, abandoned heavy rails are usually used as modern light rails to link larger cities to these areas.

Automated People Mover Trains (APM)

An APM is a type of small-scale automated guideway transit system usually used in small areas like theme parks, airports, and downtown districts. These trains use different technologies, such as maglev, duorail, and monorail.

Some mover trains are small vehicles that work on off-line stations to transport passengers quickly and within small areas non-stop. Large vehicles carry approximately 20-40 passengers.

Freight Trains

Freight trains use freight cars to transport cargo or goods. These trains are not designed to carry or haul passengers. Modern freight trains fulfill a solid need in national and global economies worldwide. In many countries, trains are mainly used to convey goods more efficiently than any other means of transport.

Transportation of freight by railway can be very economical given the right circumstances. It’s also an eco-friendly option than roads. Trains convey lots of bulk goods over large distances faster than trucks. Besides, they aren’t suited for short-distance travel.

The biggest drawback of cargo trains is that they lack flexibility because they are designed to follow one specific route that the rails are built on. Unlike roads, you can reach remote and inaccessible areas.

The most common types of freight trains are mixed freight trains, unit trains, and intermodal trains.

Mixed Freight Trains

Mixed freight trains are used to carry large quantities of goods from one location to the other. Although they don’t move swiftly and smoothly to different areas, they are designed to carry a greater amount of varied cargo. They bring several various cargo and cars to their destination.

Unit Trains

Unlike mixed freight trains, which carry varying amounts of goods in different train cars, unit trains convey one type of freight in a single train car within the shortest time possible. These trains are suitable for quick delivery shifts since they can return to their terminus via the same track they arrived on and reload. Unit trains don’t have to remain in the station or switch tracks longer than required to offload their freight. They are cost-efficient and fast for the sender.

Intermodal Trains

In intermodal trains, cargo is transported by several different forms of transport. Goods to be conveyed in intermodal containers. They may commence the voyage by huge tow prior to being loaded on the train. However, in other instances, the freight may be shipped overseas as well. Intermodal transportation is usually cheap for cargo that needs to be transported over short distances.

What Are The Advantages Of Railway Transportation?

While rail transportation is the quickest means of transportation on land, it offers many advantages. They include:

Saves Time

Its speed is more than any other means of transportation on land. Thus, it saves the time needed by passengers to reach their destination. Besides, train journey times are getting shorter and faster yearly with the construction of new high-speed lines, enabling travel till 320km/h, and connecting numerous cities within a few hours.

Roughly, it takes about 15 minutes to check-in, apart from Eurostar, where check-in takes about 30 minutes before departure.


The most significant advantage of railway transportation is that it’s the most reliable mode of transport because it’s the least affected by weather conditions like fog, rains, etc., unlike other means of transportation.

More Eco-Friendly

Well-established high-speed rail systems function in a more eco-friendly way than other means of transport. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), freight railway lines can haul a single ton of cargo approximately 479 miles on one gallon of fuel. Besides, trains are more sustainable in terms of energy consumption, CO2 emissions, noise levels, and use of space. Using railway transport can also help lower greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.


Railway transport is more organized than any other means of transportation. Railways contain fixed routes and schedules and don’t share their tracks with the public as trucks do with roads. As a result, trains aren’t deterred by weather and traffic the same way trucks are.


Railway transport is regarded as a cheaper means of transport compared to other means of transportation. The majority of railways’ working expenses are in terms of fixed costs. A decrease in the average cost accompanies an increase in railway traffic. Railway transport is cheaper in labor as one guard and one driver is enough to carry a significant load than motor transport.


The chances of breakdowns and accidents are minimal compared to other means of transportation. Furthermore, traffic can be protected from exposure to snow, rains, sun, etc.

Travel Whenever You Want

The railway transport system offers a wide array of services on a daily basis and with numerous choices of routes and departure times. It provides the passenger a system of high-speed trains connecting the city center to other city centers daily 24 hours a day.


You’ll likely find spacious carriages aboard with large and ample seats for luggage. Other trains come with complimentary WI-FI and power sockets at the seats.

Types Of Trains: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which Is The Fastest Type Of Train In The World?

Japan’s L0 Series Maglev is currently the fastest train worldwide. The train holds a speed record of 602km/h or 374mph and can easily be distinguished by its long nose that’s 49 ft in length. This feature helps the train to reduce drag and increase energy while decreasing energy consumption.

Why Can’t Trains Stop Quickly?

There’s no sufficient friction between the train tracks and the wheels of the train. Usually, this is a good thing when it comes to haulage power and capabilities, but slightly negative when it comes to stopping quickly.

How quickly you can stop the train depends on how tightly you can grab hold of the rails and transmit kinetic energy into them. Light rails such as trams that stop pretty fast use a magnetic emergency brake that clamps the train onto the rail hard, prompting them to stop really fast. However, most trains rely on the rolling contact between the steel rail and the steel wheel.

Besides, the fact that a train weighs anywhere between 3,000 tons to 18,000 tons, coupled with speeds of approximately 40mph to 70mph for intermodal and freight trains, makes plenty of rolling mass hard to stop in a short distance.

How Many People Does It Take To Operate A Freight Train?

Technically, one person. The train service engineer or locomotive engineer. They work with the conductor to ensure the train is safely operated throughout the trip. The conductor does all the groundwork of air brake testing, coupling air hoses, coupling the locomotive to the rail cars, etc. He also handles all the reporting duties and paperwork for the train.

Why Do Other Types Of Trains Have Two Engines?

More than one engine is attached to provide more power to pull it uphill and brake downhill.

Although an individual engine can pull much, many trains are too long and heavier for one engine to pull. A single engine may lack enough power to pull it, especially on mountain lines. Due to this, many longer trains will have multiple engines placed at intervals throughout the train to help reduce the strain on the couplings between car trains.

Types Of Trains – Is Rail Transport Right For You Or Your Freight?

Trains are a vital part of the transport system in numerous ways. They help with trade and are often the most preferred mass transit system. With multiple types of trains to choose from, you can easily reach your destination faster and more efficiently.

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