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European Railroad Discussion > European freight train lengths and speeds


Date: 05/08/19 15:04
European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: yooperfan

A recent trip to Germany (all travel by rail, of course) prompts the following.  Why are European freight trains so short? I understand that the freight cars are smaller and lighter than in the US, but why don't the trains consist of more cars (compared to the US)? Since the lines are mostly double track passing track lengths don't seem to be the reason. Are shorter freight trains inherently less prone to mechanical problems that would mess up the passenger train timekeeping? Are there commercial reasons to run shorter but more frequent freight trains? Would longer, and hence heavier, freight trains require excessive horsepower to allow freights to mesh well with faster passenger trains? 

A related question - what is the normal maximum allowable freight speed, and are freights normally powered to maintain that speed? (In the US many freights seem to be under powered versus the track speed limit). 



Date: 05/08/19 15:41
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: birdman

There are quite a few reasons.  One has to do with the type of couplers used which limits train weight. A big factor is related to traffic density.  All trains are scheduled to the minute including freight trains. In many countries, on lines with freight and passenger traffic, freight trains have to run at or nearly at the same speed as passenger trains as they are fit into the slots between the many passenger trains. In addition, freight trains often are often stopped in stations or sidings to allow passenger trains to pass.  After the passenger train has passed, the stopped freight must accelerate quickly to get back up to track speed so as not to cause delays.  Long trains cannot accelerate quickly.  There are other reasons. These are the ones that come to mind right now



Date: 05/08/19 15:43
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: NDHolmes

A large part of it is the buffer and chain coupling mechanism still in use on European freight.  It simply can't take the tension forces that North American draft gear can.   I can't find the exact numbers right now, but my understanding is that they only had roughly 1/8th the rated tension capacity that the NA knuckle and drawbar did.

Then there's the speed and slot issue.  You have to power the thing to keep up with your slot in traffic.  It's not like North America where the efficient (read: slow) movement freight is king and the freight carrier owns the track.  In Europe, the network is open access, and a freight train gets a slot just like every other train, including passenger traffic.  Drop out of your slot and you cause a massive ripple effect of delays through the network.  I also suspect it's just because all of the features (siding length, distance between crossovers and other features) are sized for these smaller trains, and putting larger ones into the network causes issues, much like here in the US where we've tried to go to 12,000+ ft trains and they don't fit terribly well.



 



Date: 05/08/19 17:42
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: PHall

NDHolmes Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> A large part of it is the buffer and chain
> coupling mechanism still in use on European
> freight.  It simply can't take the tension forces
> that North American draft gear can.   I can't
> find the exact numbers right now, but my
> understanding is that they only had roughly 1/8th
> the rated tension capacity that the NA knuckle and
> drawbar did.
>

This is one thing the Soviets got right. They converted over to knuckle couplers so they could haul longer and heavier trains.
Of course they were thinking about military trains hauling military equipment.



Date: 05/08/19 18:09
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: exhaustED

Also, don't forget that that the US is a big country with many large cities, often situated quite large distances apart. It's more efficient and economical to ship lsrge trainloads in such a situation. Europe is made of many smaller countries with different regional railway systems. The only country that really runs trains that resemble the US's is Australia. Again, a big single country with cities large distances apart. 



Date: 05/08/19 18:34
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: MX3MZ1

The answer(s) distill down to these main factors:

1) Passing sidings are short, limiting train length

2) Axle loadings are quite low compared to North America, Russia and China. In the US, 32 (English) tons per axle are routine, whereas in Europe, as a general (but not absolute, depending on the line), that maximum is 21.5 metric tons per axle. This is a legacy issue, in that the bridge ratings are from a bygone era of lighter axle loadings.

3) Axle loading also affects locomotive tractive effort. In general, around 125 metric tons divided by six axles yields an per axle load of about 20.83 tons. Add additional signaling equipment (ERTMS/ECTS), along with electrical apparatus to make the locomotive compatible with up to four different voltages (generally 25kv 50 hertz (DK & Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia), 15kv 16 2/3 hertz (DE and Austria), 16 kv 16 2/3 hertz and 1500 (NL) to 3000 vdc (PL), and your quickly up to the weight limit.

4) Performance issues, as other posters have pointed out

5) The couplings, as other posters have pointed out. If there's minimal slack action, there's a lot of work for the locomotive to perform



Date: 05/08/19 19:14
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: exhaustED

MX3MZ1 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The answer(s) distill down to these main factors:
>
> 1) Passing sidings are short, limiting train
> length
>
> 2) Axle loadings are quite low compared to North
> America, Russia and China. In the US, 32 (English)
> tons per axle are routine, whereas in Europe, as a
> general (but not absolute, depending on the line),
> that maximum is 21.5 metric tons per axle. This is
> a legacy issue, in that the bridge ratings are
> from a bygone era of lighter axle loadings.
>
> 3) Axle loading also affects locomotive tractive
> effort. In general, around 125 metric tons divided
> by six axles yields an per axle load of about
> 20.83 tons. Add additional signaling equipment
> (ERTMS/ECTS), along with electrical apparatus to
> make the locomotive compatible with up to four
> different voltages (generally 25kv 50 hertz (DK &
> Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia), 15kv 16 2/3
> hertz (DE and Austria), 16 kv 16 2/3 hertz and
> 1500 (NL) to 3000 vdc (PL), and your quickly up to
> the weight limit.
>
> 4) Performance issues, as other posters have
> pointed out
>
> 5) The couplings, as other posters have pointed
> out. If there's minimal slack action, there's a
> lot of work for the locomotive to perform

I don't really agree, I think the above argument is back-to-front. I think it's more a case of these 5 points having evolved because there isn't a requirement for very large trains, for reasons already stated of geography and because of the dominance of fast passenger trains. If the geography etc. made running large trains desirable, then more US-style large trains would have become the norm, with motive power and infrastructure to match.



Date: 05/08/19 23:04
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: NebraskaZephyr

Besides all the other stuff that has already been mentioned, another thing to consider is the block signal spacing. Signals are usually fairly close together (compared to the distances between signals here in North America) to permit the headways required by the passenger service and passenger trains generally can accelerate and stop rather quickly . The longer (and heavier) a train gets, the longer its braking distance and at some point your braking distance will exceed your ability to comply with closely-spaced signal indications.

If freights are expected to operate "in slot" at passenger-train speeds, then you can't run a freight significantly heavier than the passenger trains as it will not stop as quickly as the train ahead of it, and that will spoil everyone's day.

Yes, the true high-speed operations like the ICE and TGV have looooong signal blocks but they also have dedicated rights-of-way that will never see a freight train.

NZ  



Date: 05/09/19 03:05
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: MX3MZ1

Agree, this is a factor.



Date: 05/09/19 03:08
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: MX3MZ1

No, it's as I wrote it, but there's one other point to add and that is the length of tracks in yards and all that a longer train entails in handling.



Date: 05/09/19 03:21
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: MX3MZ1

To address your post, I didn't rank order these. Consider them factors. Add the length of yard tracks, as an additional factor.


exhaustED Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> MX3MZ1 Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > The answer(s) distill down to these main
> factors:
> >
> > 1) Passing sidings are short, limiting train
> > length
> >
> > 2) Axle loadings are quite low compared to
> North
> > America, Russia and China. In the US, 32
> (English)
> > tons per axle are routine, whereas in Europe, as
> a
> > general (but not absolute, depending on the
> line),
> > that maximum is 21.5 metric tons per axle. This
> is
> > a legacy issue, in that the bridge ratings are
> > from a bygone era of lighter axle loadings.
> >
> > 3) Axle loading also affects locomotive
> tractive
> > effort. In general, around 125 metric tons
> divided
> > by six axles yields an per axle load of about
> > 20.83 tons. Add additional signaling equipment
> > (ERTMS/ECTS), along with electrical apparatus
> to
> > make the locomotive compatible with up to four
> > different voltages (generally 25kv 50 hertz (DK
> &
> > Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia), 15kv 16
> 2/3
> > hertz (DE and Austria), 16 kv 16 2/3 hertz and
> > 1500 (NL) to 3000 vdc (PL), and your quickly up
> to
> > the weight limit.
> >
> > 4) Performance issues, as other posters have
> > pointed out
> >
> > 5) The couplings, as other posters have pointed
> > out. If there's minimal slack action, there's a
> > lot of work for the locomotive to perform
>
> I don't really agree, I think the above argument
> is back-to-front. I think it's more a case of
> these 5 points having evolved because there isn't
> a requirement for very large trains, for reasons
> already stated of geography and because of the
> dominance of fast passenger trains. If the
> geography etc. made running large trains
> desirable, then more US-style large trains would
> have become the norm, with motive power and
> infrastructure to match.



Date: 05/09/19 12:21
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: 86235

exhaustED Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I don't really agree, I think the above argument
> is back-to-front. I think it's more a case of
> these 5 points having evolved because there isn't
> a requirement for very large trains, for reasons
> already stated of geography and because of the
> dominance of fast passenger trains. If the
> geography etc. made running large trains
> desirable, then more US-style large trains would
> have become the norm, with motive power and
> infrastructure to match.

I think you're right. Passenger traffic has only surpassed freight in terms of revenue generated in the past 50 years, before then freight was king, here in the UK that was predominantly coal. Distances, from mine to market, were relatively short, here in South Wales it was seldom more than 25 miles. It was hugely profitable but the cosy monopolies many companies enjoyed did little to spur innovation.

In 1925 Nigel Gresley introduced two mikados (class P1), equipped with boosters, on coal traffic from the East Midlands to London, capable of hauling 1000 ton trains. They were far too powerful, pulling the drawbars from the primitive coal wagons they hauled. So why didn't the railway respond by using knuckle couplers and continuous brakes to make use of the P1s capabilities? Sadly, most wagons used in coal service were owned not by the railway but by the colliery companies, and they simply weren't interested.

And so, the un-braked, short wheelbase wagon remained a virtual standard until after WW2.

This is not to say that trains of a length familiar in North America would ever have become standard, but such innovation might well have stemmed the losses which the railways experienced here in the 1950s as our network of modern limited access highways (motorways) expanded.

In answer to the question on train speeds here in Britain class 4 trains (most intermodals) run at 75 mph, class 6 trains at 60 mph and class 7 at 45 mph. Some of the latter, the so called Jumbo stone trains from the Mendip Hills load up to 3500 tonnes (43 wagons) many of which will be knuckle equipped.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/09/19 12:25 by 86235.



Date: 05/09/19 16:29
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: SOO6617

Ok, I am getting on this late but let me interject my thoughts; First you have vastly more OD pairs in Europe than you have in the USA. You have a population density of 303 people per square mile in Europe versus the USA with 85 people per square mile. When there is a need for heavier trains then they use specialized couplers , LKAB betweeen Lulea, Sweden and Narvik, Norway, as well as the Iron Ore trains between Rotterdam, and Dillingen, DE use a type of knuckle coupler. Also the Swiss have decided to experiment with full autocouplers on domestic freight using a special variant of the Scharfenburg coupler that also automatically connects the air lines.

One misconception that many US railfaans have is that European high-speed lines have long signal blocks, that is incorrect. The signal blocks are still roughly one kilometer long. The signal systems used on the high-speed lines such as the LGV Sud-Est, from Paris to Marseilles does not use colored lights signals in the cab, rather the speedometer indicates the trains current speed in the center, and above that the maximum allowed speed, In order for the signal system to indicate an allowed speed of 270 kph the lines maximum, the signal system must not detect any block occupancy in the 8 signal blocks ahead of the train. As the number of empty signal blocks ahead of the train is reduced, so is the trains current maximum allowed speed reduced. Also the signal system knows where any temporary or permenant speed restrictions are located and will limit the trains speed accordingly. On lines with speeds of 300 kph or higher the signal system looks ahead 9 signal blocks.

 



Date: 05/16/19 12:42
Re: European freight train lengths and speeds
Author: Shasta2rail

I've been to Europe three times since 2012 and have traveled by Eurail Pass all three times. During my trips I've watched/been aware of the freght traffic on the lines and notice that freight and passenger rail are better integrated that here in the USA. Once on a platform, waithing for a connection, the PA system announced that a fast frieght was coming thru the station and for all people waiting on the platforms to move away from the yellow lines (where people wait to board). It was a freight train consisting of raw metal rods of different diameters. It went thru the station at full speed, I'm guessing at over 60 mph.



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