freight train

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Freight trains in the port of Bremerhaven

A freight train is a train of the railway , the transportation of goods used. Freight trains are made up of freight cars and (mostly) locomotives that are specially designed for their intended use . In addition to the most universal freight wagons possible, there are also special wagons for containers , car transport, refrigerated goods, and bulk goods such as wood , coal , ores and liquids such as oil and many more. Freight trains that consist of only one type of wagon are called block trains.

The transported goods are billed per tonne-kilometer , plus fees for insurance and customs .


Container train at Einbeck
Ore train in Kosovo

The length of freight trains is determined by boundary conditions, such as the performance of the locomotives , the load capacity z. B. the couplings , the braking ability , the line class and the length of the sidings .

Until 2010, the train length on the Deutsche Bahn network was limited to 670 meters. The DB AG guideline 408 "Trains run and maneuver" allowed, in deviation from this definition, up to 250 axles and 700 m train length. Infrastructure measures make it possible to move up limits once they have been set. Infrastructure upgrading means that trains in Germany can have a maximum possible regular train length of 740 m. Since the timetable change in December 2012, trains with the maximum length of 835 m already permitted in Denmark have been running on the Maschen marshalling yard - Padborg ( Denmark ) route after the trial operation was completed.

Like passenger trains, freight trains (with the exception of shunting and connecting services ) are driven according to a timetable . Much more frequently than in passenger transport, freight trains are run as special trains (so-called "ad hoc trains"). For these, a demand timetable is created that uses free timetable routes. For reasons of capacity, this can also lead to significant detours, waiting times and overtaking.

With the introduction of the Railway Building and Operating Regulations (EBO) in 1967, the maximum number of axles for freight trains in Germany was lifted. The decisive factor was the total length of 750 m (according to Section 34 (5) EBO). For certain freight trains, there was also no requirement to carry a train attendant .

Train types

Freight trains are divided into different train types:

  • Full- or block trains : transport of a shipment from one to the other customers in between departure station and destination station unchanged along lasting throughout the train , with most cars of the same type are summarized. For both the consignor and the consignor, this favors standardized loading and unloading processes and facilities that are specially tailored to the wagon type.
  • Mixed freight trains of wagonload traffic or wagonload freight : from individual cars for different customers composite coatings that in marshalling yards dismantled and reassembled ( ranked ) have to be.
  • Mixed block trains : This relatively new designation is mainly used by Deutsche Bahn for trains that consist of several block train-like blocks that transport different goods and / or have different routes. This is an attempt to combine the flexibility of wagonload traffic with the economy of block train traffic. Single wagons and mixed block trains relate to each other like through wagons and wing trains .
  • Mixed trains : There are mixed forms between freight trains and passenger trains (they are called - depending on the main purpose of the journey - freight trains with passenger transport (GmP) or passenger trains with goods transport (PmG)). These areconsidered passenger trains by the railways in Germany in accordance with the Railway Construction and Operating Regulations (EBO). Mixed trains run very rarely in Germany.

Speeds and traffic times

The TGV postal reaches speeds of up to 270 km / h

Up until the 1950s, the speed limit for freight trains in Germany was 65 km / h and the maximum train length was 500 m. With the increasing use of roller bearings, it rose to 80 km / h until the 1960s. Since 1986 it has been 90 km / h, since 1995 100 km / h (120 km / h with empty wagons and SS wagons) and a train length of 740 m.

Today, freight trains usually travel around 90–120 km / h and thus in the lower speed range. As a result, their speed harmonizes well with the regional passenger trains , which have similar average speeds due to the numerous stops .

With the third EBO amendment regulation, the permissible speed for freight trains in Germany was increased from 100 to 120 km / h. Higher speeds require an exemption from the Federal Ministry of Transport. A faster German freight train was the InterCargoExpress , which traveled at up to 160 km / h from 1991 to 1995. Since 1997 these wagons have been in use again as Parcel InterCity at 160 km / h.

From October 1984 to mid-2015, the French SNCF used three high-speed trains to transport letter mail - the TGV postal . The operation with the 270 km / h fast trains was discontinued due to the reduced volume of mail.

Freight trains usually run in the braking position G in order to enable longer train lengths. Even in the permissible braking position P, braking effects analogous to those of fast-moving passenger trains cannot be achieved. On routes with conventional main / distant signal technology, you can only drive up to 120 km / h. Faster freight trains need due to long braking distances the cab signaling , such as automatic train (LZB) or European Train Control System (ETCS).

Due to the lower number of passenger trains at night, most freight trains are driven during this time of the day. This also leads to operational regulations that freight trains are given priority over passenger trains at night. The high-speed route Hanover – Würzburg is reserved for freight trains at night. During this time, passenger trains have to travel the slower north-south route .


The IORE double locomotives are among the most powerful electric locomotives in the world

Locomotives of freight trains require a high starting tractive effort at a lower top speed. Before the development of powerful three-phase motors , this was achieved by constructing special freight train locomotives . These had DC motors specially adapted to the application characteristics and, as a rule, more driven axles than passenger locomotives. This is necessary in order to transfer the corresponding starting tensile force to the rail. With the increased use of three-phase locomotives with controllable engine characteristics, universal locomotives are increasingly being used , possibly in double traction. Cross-border traffic is another challenge for locomotives. This requires multi-system locomotives that can run under different power systems and different train protection systems. Two-system vehicles have been available in larger numbers since the 1960s, and more and more multi-system vehicles have been used since the turn of the millennium. Nowadays special freight locomotives are only built in exceptional cases. For example the LKAB Malmtrafik AB-IORE - double locomotive , which is used to transport 8,600 t ore trains in Sweden.

In contrast to passenger traffic, freight train traffic is characterized by a very large variety of wagon types . Due to the different requirements of the goods to be transported, a large range of different freight wagons developed . Most common is the flat wagon type , which is used to transport containers , among other things . This has a share of approx. 40% of the freight wagon population in Germany. Due to the many variants and the production processes that involve longer downtimes, a large number of freight wagons is required. While there were only 12,269 passenger cars in Germany in 2003, the number for freight train cars was 164,138.

The classic screw coupling , as it is standard in Central Europe, reaches its limits on freight trains over 4,000 t . As part of the EU-funded marathon project, the SNCF is carrying out tests with extra-long trains. In this context, on the night of October 28th to 29th, 2016, a 5410-tonne train made up of vehicles with classic screw couplings ran. It consisted of two trains of the usual length coupled one behind the other - the front train consisted of two Prima locomotives of the 27000 and 44 series flat cars loaded with steel plates, the rear one of a 27000 and 23 series locomotive with coal-loaded hopper wagons. The 947 m long train ran between the marshalling yards Somain and Woippy and reached a top speed of 100 km / h.

In order to transport larger loads here, the stronger central buffer couplings are necessary. These are standard in North America and the CIS countries . In Western Europe, however, they are limited to a few heavy freight trains. The UIC central buffer coupling developed in the 1960s is used here. Since this leads to the incompatibility of the vehicles with classic wagon trains, only a few locomotives in Germany were equipped with it. To remedy this deficiency, the C-AKv coupling was developed, which can be coupled with screw couplings , Western European central buffer couplings as well as Eastern European central buffer couplings.

The heaviest freight train in Germany weighs around 6,000 tons. It transports iron ore from the port of Hamburg to the steelworks in Salzgitter. These trains are equipped with central buffer couplings.


In the last few decades, rail freight transport has lost its importance in some areas ( freight structure effect ). The general cargo , express cargo and express cargo was z. B. in Germany, beginning at the end of the 1960s, gradually abandoned (together with the transport of luggage). Other railway companies such as B. the SNCB (Belgium) still transport general cargo and / or luggage and consider the reintroduction of the classic express cargo transport on an international level, especially between airports , to be feasible and profitable. A borderline case between such general cargo and conventional freight transport is the transport of air freight containers with express freight trains, as was originally planned for the route between the DHL air freight hub at Leipzig / Halle Airport and Frankfurt am Main .

In other areas, especially in intermodal transport and in the transport of bulk goods , the importance of rail freight transport is unbroken and is tending to increase.

Studies around 1990 to introduce ICE freight transport as ICE-G , similar to the TGV Postale, were not put into practice.

Between 2002 and 2004, DB Cargo carried out the large-scale restructuring program “ Market-oriented Cargo Offer ”. This was characterized by a strong concentration on block train traffic. Many sidings and marshalling yards were shut down in this context.

Rail freight transport has been increasing since 2003, and the share of total freight transport is also growing. The rail network in Germany is increasingly reaching its capacity limits, as the economic boom in 2008 showed. In 2010, the share of rail freight transport was 17.2% of the total tonne-kilometers in Germany. This was well behind the truck with 70.1%. However, the share has grown almost steadily since 2003 from 15.7% to 17.2%. Only in 2009 was this development briefly interrupted by the economic crisis .

Freight train in Russia

In the large countries of the USA, Russia and Australia, rail freight transport is the most important mode of transport. Between 1990 and 2006, the market share of rail freight transport measured in tonne-kilometers in the USA increased from 29.5% to 40%. This puts it well ahead of trucks with 28% and pipelines with 19.8%. In Russia, the market share in 2007 was 43.1%, which is just behind pipelines with 50.9%. Trucks only have a subordinate market share of 4.3%. In Australia, rail overtook trucks between 2000 and 2005 and is now with 39.4% ahead of road freight with 35.1%. An important factor here was the opening of the Central Australian Railway in 2004. This connects Darwin with the Trans- Australian Railway and thus with the major cities in the south of the continent.

Wagonload traffic

Historic wagons for general cargo transport in the Bochum-Dahlhausen Railway Museum

Not only with the privatization of the German state railways, but especially since then, the wagonload traffic has also decreased sharply, among other things because of its assessment as too expensive and inflexible compared to the heavy goods vehicle (HGV). The reason for this is the massive discontinuation of sidings and the dismantling of other infrastructure ( MORA C ). When taking over smaller transports from DB (now DB Cargo ), non-federal railways have shown astonishing dynamism. Nonetheless, it is becoming apparent that the state programs that have meanwhile also been launched in Germany to promote sidings are at least as necessary as those to promote road connections.

It can be seen positively that (also with considerable state funds) in Germany the capacities and efficiency of the remaining large marshalling yards etc. a. can be increased by equipping them with electronic interlockings after a large number of marshalling yards had previously been shut down. In contrast to some other countries (e.g. Great Britain , Denmark , Norway and Japan ), a complete abandonment of wagonload traffic in Germany, which had already been considered on various occasions , was prevented. Deutsche Bahn has relied heavily on single wagon traffic since the profits mainly generated with this in 2005/2006 , probably also because the competition in block train traffic has increased considerably. The Maschen marshalling yard is even to be expanded by a few tracks due to the increasing traffic.

Various technical innovations are currently being developed which are intended to make classic single-wagon transport more attractive and effective: Mechatronic bogies are to be used, for example. B. be cheaper to maintain and shorten the running times and save personnel through automated brake tests. The GPS location of the wagons helps to improve the disposition. In the meantime, there is also the technical possibility of gradually converting European rail traffic to automatic couplings instead of suddenly , as new types of couplings can be installed below the conventional pulling and buffing equipment. Such a change would mean a major leap in efficiency in wagonload traffic, but is currently not intended by any European railway.

Competition with road traffic

The increased traffic on short routes exacerbates the situation on the motorways , as the volume of traffic and thus also the risk of congestion and environmental pollution have increased. Since January 1, 2005, this is to be countered in Germany with the truck toll . In other areas, such as bulk goods transport, container and large freight, which are mostly driven by block trains, the importance of rail transport has increased over long distances, as trucks are no longer competitive for this type of transport and inland waterways are only competitive to a limited extent.

So the question is to what extent road and rail actually compete in freight transport: Almost half of German rail freight transport (2004: 47.7%) is accounted for by coal and steel transport (solid fuels and metals) and mineral oil transport; these services cannot be meaningfully transported over comparable distances on the road. On the other hand, “just-in-time” deliveries are usually transported on the road, as the railroad, although the transport costs only a fraction of the road transport, can only make this delivery on schedule with great effort. Trucks are also more practical when delivering to the retail trade directly from the factory, as there is no reloading for fine distribution.

Long distance traffic

The advantage of the system, namely the ability to transport large units (well over 1000 tons) in an energy-efficient manner, is demonstrated by rail freight transport, especially over long distances. Within Germany, the point-to-point container traffic between the transshipment stations is of particular importance, where sustainable growth and strong government subsidies mean that these container terminals are constantly being expanded (most recently in Frankfurt am Main , more recently in Ludwigshafen am Rhein and Rostock ). The importance of the freight train is also growing in the hinterland traffic of the large seaports. (see also intermodal transport = the handling of a transport process using at least two different modes of transport).

However, the main growth, at least in German rail freight traffic, results from cross-border services and transit traffic . The protectionism of most of the European (ex) state railways , which is still deeply rooted to this day , however, created obstacles to interoperability in rail traffic ; The EU tries to remove these hurdles through the technical specifications for interoperability . Technical problems such as different power systems (consequence: system separation points ), track gauges and train protection systems are now technically manageable thanks to modular multi-system locomotives and lane-changing bogies. However, this is associated with higher costs and greatly increased administrative effort. Locomotives require approval from all the countries they pass through. This leads to long and complex procedures. Here, too, the EU tries to remove obstacles so that, for example, individual proofs only have to be provided once and are mutually recognized. For example, interested companies have come together in FERRMED and are trying to promote rail freight traffic between Scandinavia and the western Mediterranean countries.

Environmental pollution and public acceptance

There are also environmental and acceptance problems in rail freight transport . The causes include rail traffic noise from running and braking noises from heavy and often long trains. Despite its positive balance compared to road traffic, they exist in terms of safety, lower resource consumption and fewer traffic jams . In contrast to motorways, railway lines often run in the immediate vicinity of residential areas. Most of the freight traffic rolls at night when the noise is particularly disturbing.

New brake soles of composite materials (whisper), trackside noise protection measures such as noise barriers , organizational measures such as the particularly monitored track , new bogie types and other measures should help to reduce the negative effects.

Despite the fundamental political demand to transport more goods by rail, concrete construction measures to increase the capacity in the freight transport network are often criticized , especially because of the increased rail traffic noise. There are citizens' initiatives against the reconstruction of the Iron Rhine , the inner-city expansion of the freight bypass in Hamburg-Nord and the Hochrhein freight bypass at Grenzach-Wyhlen .


Use in war

Jews being loaded at the Warsaw Umschlagplatz

During the First and Second World Wars , freight trains were often repurposed to bring soldiers to the front. During the time of National Socialism and the Second World War, Jews , prisoners of war and forced laborers were deported to concentration and extermination camps on freight trains (see also: Holocaust ). In the Soviet Union , too, freight trains were used en masse during this period when German prisoners of war and members of Soviet peoples were deported to the penal camps under Stalin (see also: The Gulag Archipelago ). Armored trains , which were used as weapons, were a special form of freight trains in the first half of the 20th century .

Double-deck container wagons

Double deck container truck in California

In July 1985, freight trains that carried 200 40-foot containers ran in the USA for the first time . The double-decker container trains , which initially ran between Chicago and Long Beach , were each stacked two containers on top of each other. These trains have a greater height and therefore require an overhead contact line installed higher up . For this reason, these trains mostly run on non-electrified routes. Only in China and India are journeys under overhead lines on routes with a contact wire height of 7.5 m. Due to the lack of connecting connections, no double-decker container trains have been running on the appropriately prepared Betuwe route in the Netherlands.

See also

Web links

Commons : Freight Train  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Freight train  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. DB AG: Guideline 408 Trains Driving and Shunting , Module 0711 Strength or length of trains
  2. 835 m long freight trains planned between Padborg (DK) and Maschen ( Memento from December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Federal government allows longer freight trains
  4. More containers by rail - 835-meter freight trains from December 9th - Rotterdam wants it even longer . In: Daily port report of November 29, 2012, p. 4.
  5. ^ Ernst Kockelkorn: Effects of the new railway building and operating regulations (EBO) on railway operations . In: The Federal Railroad . tape 41 , no. 13/14 , 1967, ISSN  0007-5876 , pp. 445-452 .
  6. Daniel Jobstfinke, Matthias Gülker, Markus Hecht: Freight trains with ep brakes: higher speeds, less wear . In: ZEVrail, Glaser's Annalen . tape 143 , no. 4 , April 2019, ISSN  1618-8330 , ZDB -ID 2072587-5 , p. 124-129 .
  7. Fritz Pätzold, Klaus-Dieter Wittenberg: The Third Ordinance to Change the Railway Construction and Operating Regulations (EBO) . In: The Federal Railroad . No. 7-8 , 1991, ISSN  0007-5876 , pp. 759-770 .
  8. ^ Keith Barrow: Last post for French high-speed freight as postal TGVs bow out. In: Retrieved January 31, 2016 .
  9. ^ Keith Barrow: Fret SNCF trials 1000m-long freight trains. In: Retrieved January 31, 2016 .
  10. News in brief: France SNCF . In: Railway amateur . No. 2 , 2016, p. 75 .
  11. number of courses . In: mobile . No. 5 , May 2013, ISSN  0949-586X , p. 40 .
  12. Battle for the route network ( Memento of the original from November 29, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Comprehensive article in the FAS by Klemens Polatschek, October 2008  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. ^ Alliance pro rail: market shares of the rail freight operator
  14. Allianz Pro Schiene: "Rail transport worldwide on the move"
  15. Containers travel on two levels in the USA . In: Railway technical review . Hamburg 34/1985, ISSN  0013-2845 , p. 622