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Double-track railway line in Pörtschach, Carinthia

Railway lines with two or more main tracks outside a station are called multi-track .

Number of tracks

Single track routes

Single-track, non-electrified line: the Mönchengladbach – Stolberg line in Eschweiler
Two-track, electrified line in the east of the Czech Republic
Four-track, electrified route. The Main-Neckar-Bahn near Frankfurt Louisa

Many routes are single track (in Switzerland lane ; abbreviation: eingl ); the trains in both directions run on the same track. This is the case with almost all branch lines ; but also on many main lines , in Germany for example the Preußen – Münster line . Single-track operation restricts the performance of the line, as train crossings are only allowed to occur in train stations or at switches , because only one direction can be used at the same time on the open line. There is also the risk of deadlocks , in which oncoming trains block each other.

Crossing stations or passing points on single-track routes do not constitute a double-track route, so the traffic regulations may differ from those on double-track routes for operational reasons. For example, at train crossings in stations without additional safety devices when crossing the “house track”, the first train arriving is always directed to the “track away from the house” so that the train crew can secure the entry of the second train onto the “house track”.

Double track routes

All high-speed lines and many other main lines, especially in Europe, have been upgraded to double -track (also double-track, double-track or double-track ) for the purpose of higher performance . In Prussia , the individual tracks - based on the right-hand traffic there - were named after the delimiting offices: "from A to B" or "from B to A".

Multi-track routes

Very heavily used routes, especially in the vicinity of railway junctions and metropolitan areas, have three , four or, in some cases, more tracks. Since railway lines in Germany can by definition only consist of one or two main tracks, there are several lines within the meaning of the "Directory of locally permissible speeds" (VzG) that are in close proximity to one another.

Three-track routes

On three-track routes, one track is generally used in both directions , but the other two are used in only one direction in accordance with the traffic regulations in force in the country concerned. The distribution of traffic is determined by the gradient of the routes. The third track is often in the middle and is used exclusively by freight trains , for example . This usage tactic varies in mixed traffic with passenger trains stopping on one of the through tracks.

Examples in Germany are the flexibly used central tracks on the three-track high-speed sections Buchholz (Nordheide) - Rotenburg (Wümme) (VzG lines 2200 with two tracks and 1283 with one track), and Hanau - Hailer-Meerholz (VzG lines 3600 with two tracks and 3677 with one track).

On the 12.5 kilometer long three-track section of the Thuringian Railway west from Erfurt to Neudietendorf , the three tracks are planned as three single-track lines, with all three tracks being fully equipped with main and distant signals in both directions. As a rule, the southern and middle tracks are used by passenger trains according to the directions of travel (VzG route 6340) and the northern track is used by freight trains in both directions (VzG route 6291). The northern track is also used for long-distance trains, which enter Erfurt Hauptbahnhof on track 1/2 and from there continue on the high-speed line in the direction of Halle or Leipzig in order to avoid an unnecessary intersection with local trains from tracks 3-8 when entering the main train station to avoid. On the Würzburg - Rottendorf section of the Nuremberg – Würzburg railway line , the trains in the direction of Nuremberg travel over the two southern tracks of the VzG route 5910, while the northern track is used in regular operations by trains in the direction of Schweinfurt , Erfurt and Bamberg and belongs to the VzG route 5909. In Rottendorf station, however, there is still the option of continuing in any direction from all platforms.

Four-track routes

Four-track routes usually consist of at least two parallel routes, which are often designed for different types of train:

In Germany there are at least two routes within the meaning of the VzG.

They are used either in line operation or in direction operation . In regular service, the two pairs of tracks are used like two adjacent, double-track lines, for example: Minden – Löhne – Bielefeld – Hamm , or in France : Thionville – Woippy (–Metz ). In one-way operation, one pair of tracks is in the middle of the line, while the other is on both sides of it on the outside, so that both tracks are next to each other for one direction of travel, for example: west of Essen main station, transition from line operation to direction operation in front of Mülheim (Ruhr) main station , continue via Duisburg main station to Duisburg-Schlenk, then again line operation in the direction of Düsseldorf main station .

Line operation is used far more frequently than directional operation. This also applies to the area with the world's densest network of four-track lines, namely London and its wider area, as well as various other longer four-track line sections in Great Britain . On the other hand, directional operation is more common in France.

Directional operation is usually more traveler-friendly, especially in local transport. Trains run in one direction from a platform, changing the platform edge is harmless. Relocating a train in regular service requires that passengers be informed repeatedly in good time and repeatedly because of the long way with stairs. There is still a risk that connections will be lost.

With four parallel tracks, these can in some cases also be viewed as two adjacent double-track lines outside of Germany: especially when the rail systems are different.

Lines with more than four tracks

Lines with more than four tracks in Germany are accordingly at least three parallel VzG lines, which are usually also divided according to train type and direction of travel, for example the section between the junction ( Cologne -) Steinstraße and Troisdorf : Here There are six tracks of three VzG routes subject to traffic in regular service: Sieg Railway (VzG route 2651) for regional trains, high-speed line Cologne-Rhine / Main (VzG route 2690) for high-speed trains and the East Rhine Railway (VzG route 2324) for Freight trains.

In the case of lines with more than four tracks, part of the track can be laid out in line operation and another in direction operation. This hybrid form exists, for example, on the Cologne – Duisburg rail line between Düsseldorf Hbf and Duisburg Hbf , which consists of two to four individual VzG lines with the same rail structure:

  • From Duisburg it begins with five tracks in pure directional operation, with three tracks going south (2310, 2650, 2670) and two tracks going north (2650 and 2670).
  • It will have six tracks between Duisburg-Schlenk and Duisburg-Buchholz , whereby the two long-distance tracks will be brought together on the east side, as is customary with regular service (2650 (2)), while the remaining four local traffic tracks on the west side will run in the direction of operation (2310, 2670 (2 ) and 2317).
  • After Duisburg-Großenbaum station, the four tracks will be reduced to two, so that two double-track lines will remain in regular service (2650 and 2670).
  • After the Düsseldorf Airport train station, the line will again have six tracks, but this time it will be a regular service; the long-distance tracks on the east side (2650), the S-Bahn tracks in the middle (2407 or from Derendorf Dp 2400) and two regional tracks on the west side (2670), primarily for regional express trains that end at Düsseldorf Central Station or begin.

In the USA , due to the lack of technical possibilities and the fact that in some places several railway companies ran their lines next to each other, there were isolated sections with more than four tracks, especially in the area of ​​large railway junctions , which have now been partially reduced.

Share of double and multi-track routes

Worldwide distribution

According to the level of development of the countries and their railway networks, most European countries and the successor states of the Soviet Union have by far the highest proportion of double and multi-track lines in their railway networks in their railway networks, usually more than 20%. Outside Europe, their share in Egypt , South Africa , Japan , Korea , the People's Republic of China and India is at least 20%. In contrast, their share of the total network is not only lower in almost all countries of the so-called Third World , but also in the USA : There are, for example, in the largest state of Texas, apart from short sections in the area of ​​its three largest cities, Houston , Dallas and San Antonio and one longer section at Amarillo, all routes are single-track, as is almost all routes in the western half of the country with the exception of various longer double-track sections of the two transcontinental railways from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Chicago and the Seattle - Portland route . The Trans-Siberian Railway as the Russian transcontinental railway and the longest railway line in the world is double-tracked throughout.

Dismantling and expansion today

Especially in north-western and central Europe, as well as in Canada and the USA , many previously double-track lines have already been reduced to just one track, which is still happening today.

In Germany, in the area of ​​the Soviet-occupied zone (later GDR ) and the French occupation zone, the occupying powers dismantled the second track on almost all double-track lines after the Second World War , so that many main lines there were initially only single-track and the second track was also partially was never rebuilt. The station facilities mostly remained in their original condition. As a result, station heads were also adapted. The superstructure material obtained was to be used to repair the war damage in the territories of the occupying powers, but due to deviating norms it was often only used as scrap.

In contrast, in many other countries, including various developing countries such as Morocco, Iran or India, single-track lines are still being expanded to double-track; the same applies to Austria and Switzerland in north-western and central Europe, in contrast to most of its other countries. Only in these last two countries as well as in Belgium , Luxembourg and Great Britain do more than 50% of the railway lines have two or more tracks. In the pre-war period, many lines in the Netherlands were fully or partially upgraded to double tracks. During the war, the German occupying forces dismantled the second track , so that many main lines there were initially only single-track. In the post-war period, the second track was rebuilt almost everywhere. Third and fourth tracks are now being built there on a larger scale on already double-track lines.

Driving regulations in the individual countries

Right or left operation with multiple tracks in the states worldwide

In each state a predetermined track is used as a rule for each direction (driving order or direction of operation): either in the direction of the left (left-hand operation, left) or right (clockwise operation, right-hand traffic) . Accordingly, the signals are usually on the left of the track in left-hand operation and on the right-hand side in right-hand operation. The driving rules of the railroad do not necessarily correspond to those of road traffic : in some countries with left-hand rail traffic, road traffic is driven on the right-hand side of the road. In many cases, left-hand driving was the result of British influence in railway construction and operation. A case in point is Argentina, where most of the routes were built by and operated by British companies for decades.

In a few countries, for historical reasons, some multi-track lines drive on the left, while others drive on the right.

The originally rigidly defined driving regulations of the individual countries or railway networks were sporadic from the 1950s and later often weakened by the track switching operation, with both tracks being used in both directions; however, in times of less traffic on the route, the original driving order is mostly retained.

At points where the traffic regulations change, this takes place either in the ( border ) station (example: route Rotterdam - Antwerp on the right, but from the Dutch border station Roosendaal to Belgium on the left) or by means of a flyover on the open route (for example at several points in France or at the Munich S-Bahn between Giesing and Fasangarten).

There is an operational curiosity in the Netherlands. The express trains (Intercity) between Rotterdam / The Hague - Gouda - Utrecht - Amersfoort - Enschede / Leeuwarden / Groningen must be turned around in Utrecht . This is why there is a double-track entry and exit for the long-distance tracks on the north side of Utrecht station. In order to be able to turn the trains in Utrecht towards Amersfoort, turn left on the long-distance tracks between Utrecht and Utrecht Blauwkapel. After Blauwkapel there is a flyover structure and one of the long-distance tracks crosses the other long-distance track and the local traffic tracks. Then you drive right again.

The rules of operation of subways do not always match those of the railways in the same country: in countries with left-hand rail and right-hand traffic on roads, subway trains also run frequently, but not always on the right-hand track. This can also vary within the country, for example the metros of Paris and Marseille drive on the right, but those of Lyon on the left.

History of the Driving Rules

The driving regulations of the railroad were mostly taken over from the existing driving regulations of the road traffic , which is why in the early days the railroad, like the horse-drawn carriages, mostly drove on double-track routes on the left. With regard to the steam locomotive technology prevailing at the time , driving on the left was disadvantageous because the stoker had to work on the right-hand side of the driver's cab so that the driver on the left-hand side could see the signals on the left of the track , which made work difficult for the usually right-handed stoker would have. In the course of time, various railways therefore partially or completely switched from left-hand operation to legal operation, for example in Germany the former companies: Leipzig-Dresdner Bahn , Großherzoglich Badische Staatsbahn and Hannoversche Staatsbahn ; or the railway of Russia . On the other hand, in Switzerland some stretches that were initially driven on the right were converted to left-hand drive for the purpose of standardization.

Double-track railway lines in former colonies usually have the driving regulations of the former mother country . Exception: Netherlands now on the right, but its former colony Indonesia on the left.

To further increase the efficiency of double-track lines, track switching was introduced from the middle of the 20th century , with double-track lines being treated like two parallel single-track lines in terms of safety. They can be used by trains in the same direction at the same time and also overtake each other without stopping. It is also possible that two trains meet opposite the usual direction of travel. This abolished the rigid definition of the traffic regulations, even though the track corresponding to the traffic regulations in the country concerned is usually used for each direction even on lines with track-changing operations and the other only when necessary. Compared to a previously rigidly fixed driving order on multiple tracks allows railroad safety technology at today's state of the art flexible use of each track for different directions.

It is striking is that countries with a higher proportion two- and multi-track routes and rightly operation of the railway almost exclusively in the northern hemisphere of the earth are. In the countries written in italics , at least 20% of the lines have two or more tracks:

Left-hand operation

Left-hand operation in Pepinster on the Liège – Aachen route in Belgium

Left-hand operation with exceptions

Left and right operation as regular driving orders

  • Austria : During the Danube Monarchy there was a bit of a mess with the driving regulations as a result of the construction by different companies, each with their own driving regulations. In the course of the annexation to the German Reich in 1938, the introduction of right-hand driving regulations began in Austria, but this project got stuck in the Second World War. After the war, for example, peopledrove to theleftin the area of ​​the Vienna and Villach Federal Railway Directorates and to therightin the area of ​​the Linz and Innsbruck Federal RailwayDirectorates, which meant that trains on the Western Railway at Amstetten stationswitched from left to right-hand traffic. Since there was also left-hand service in Tyrol between Wörgl and Brenner for historical reasons, all trains in Wörgl main station and the Arlberg trains in Innsbruck main station had to change the regular track. In the meantime, regular operations only existed on the left between Innsbruck and Brenner. Since 1993 the Wörgl - Brenner route has also been converted to right-hand traffic regulations. Until 2012, the southern line including the Semmering line (Vienna - Werndorf ), the northern line (Vienna - Hohenau - Břeclav / Czech Republic ), the Absdorf-Hippersdorf - Tulln  - Vienna route and most routes in the urban area of ​​Vienna were operated on the left, but otherwise on the right , including the two lines previously used on the left, the Westbahn (Vienna - Amstetten) and the Brennerbahn ( Wörgl  - Innsbruck - Brenner - Italy ). Since the north ramp was changed over, people have usually changed sides at the Brenner train station . However, in terms of signaling technology, the multi-track lines in Austria are practically completelyequippedfor track changing operations. On August 6, 2012, large parts of the route network in the east were switched to right-hand operation, since then left-hand traffic has only existed on the southern line between Payerbach-Reichenau and Werndorf, on the Franz-Josefs-Bahn between Vienna Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof and Absdorf-Hippersdorf and on the Laaer Ostbahn between Vienna Südbahnhof and Vienna Süßenbrunn. On December 13, 2015, the section Vienna Central Station - Vienna Süßenbrunn was switched to right-hand traffic. The southern section between Payerbach-Reichenau and Bruck an der Mur followed on December 15, 2019. This means that regular operations on the left track only exist on the Vienna Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof - Absdorf-Hippersdorf and Bruck an der Mur - Werndorf routes.
  • Spain : On the former northern line (Norte) from (France -) Irún via Burgos and Valladolid to Madrid, along with other lines in their catchment area, there is left-hand operation, while on the double-track sections of the former railway company MZA (Madrid - Saragossa  - Alicante ) east and south of Madrid and Madrid itself as well as the high-speed lines are driven on the right. The transition between the driving orders takes place in a complicated, flat track triangle in the northwest of Madrid. In the FEVE's meter-gauge network in northern Spain, the lines around the cities of Bilbao, Zaragoza, Oviedo and Gijón are double-tracked, with left-hand traffic as a rule.

Legal operation with exceptions

Legal operation

Multiple tracks in trams

Sideways alignment of the Osijek tram

Today, tram routes are mostly double-tracked. Exceptions to this are, for example, bottlenecks in historic city centers, certain external routes in suburbs and sections of interurban trams . In the typically dense cycle timetable of a tram, double-track routing is indispensable to ensure punctual operation. Not infrequently, however, sections that are rarely used have been expanded to double-track in order to prevent trams from approaching private traffic head-on.

A typical Austro-Hungarian peculiarity is the layout of the tracks, which are separated according to the direction of travel, on the side, i.e. at the roadside. You can still find them today, for example - mostly on wide inner-city boulevards  - in Vienna on the ring line , in Zagreb , in Osijek , in Lemberg and also on the Pyongyang tram . This alignment enables passengers to board directly from the sidewalk without having to expose themselves to the dangers of road traffic. In return, individual traffic participants can overtake unhindered, and turning lanes can also be created between the tracks so that left-turners do not obstruct a straight tram, even with oncoming traffic. In addition, there is no need to create island stops if the route is laid on the side , the sidewalk serves as a platform . As a result, the difference in height when getting on and off is slightly lower, which has a positive effect on the passenger switching time. With this special form it is occasionally common to stop or park between the tracks .

However, the disadvantages predominate with the lateral alignment. Road users who drive in carelessly at junctions run the risk of colliding directly with trams. In addition, slow cyclists, pedestrians carelessly stepping onto the road, parcel deliverers, garbage trucks, taxis or other short-term drivers hinder the tram. On the other hand, the grooved rails represent a potential danger for cyclists with thin tires. Furthermore, when turning right, tighter radii are required, which cannot be implemented everywhere. In some cases, the tram tracks must therefore first be turned to the left in order to then cross the straight-ahead track. Furthermore, no parking spaces can be offered at the roadside.

In other cases it is common to arrange the two direction tracks of the tram to the left and right of a green strip or a park . Another special feature is the creation of so-called parallel lines . Here the trains run out of town through a different street than inward. The reason for this type of business are mostly one-way streets .

In particularly narrow places, usually in arches, it is necessary to signal a so-called meeting ban. This can be pronounced for all tram trains running there, or it can be restricted to particularly wide car types or car types that overhang on one side in a curve, and can lead to the track being twisted.


  • Röll: Encyclopedia of Railways at . Second, completely revised edition 1912–1923: Victor von Röll (Ed.): Enzyklopädie des Eisenbahnwesens , printed by Urban & Schwarzenberg Verlag, Berlin / Vienna (1912).
  • André Schontz: Le sens de circulation des trains en Alsace-Moselle (French). March 2011
  • Wilhelm Müller: Railway systems and driving dynamics , Berlin (West) / Göttingen / Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; Volume 1: 1950, Volume 2: 1953.
  • Ewald Grassmann: Handbook of Railway Construction . Darmstadt: Carl-Röhrig-Verlag, 1961.
  • Ralf Roman Rossberg : History of the Railway . Künzelsau: Sigloch Service Edition, 1977 (p. 519–521: Not all trains run on the right).
  • Gérard Blier: Nouvelle geographie ferroviaire de la France . Paris: La Vie du Rail. Tome (Volume) I: Le réseau: structure et fonctionnement 1991, ISBN 2-902808-34-8 (pp. 42-49).
  • [Friedrich] Wernekke: Right and left driving. In: Newspaper of the Association of Central European Railway Administrations N ° 22 of November 1, 1944 (pp. 334–336).
  • Erich Preuß : Right or Left . In: Eisenbahn-Magazin 7/2004 (p. 39).

The statistics of the International Union of Railways ( Union Internationale des Chemins de fer , UIC for short, website: ), which were previously published in paper form, contained, among other things, information on the length of double and multi-track lines and the driving regulations on most member railways , but the latter is sometimes incorrect. This will no longer be continued.

Individual evidence

  1. Guideline 408, Module 408.0102 of the Deutsche Bahn AG
  2. Jörn Pachl: System technology of rail traffic: plan, control and secure rail operations . 6th edition, Vieweg + Teubner 2011, p. 214. ISBN 978-3-8348-1428-9 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-8348-8307-0 .
  3. ^ Eisenbahndirektion Mainz (Ed.): Official Gazette of the Royal Prussian and Grand Ducal Hessian Railway Directorate in Mainz of February 6, 1904, No. 6. Announcement No. 67, p. 46.
  4. ^ ÖBB: Major changeover on the Payerbach-Reichenau - Bruck / Mur route , ÖBB press dated December 2, 2019, accessed on January 23, 2020
  5. a b Wernekke incorrectly states legal operation for India . This mistake was taken over in the article Preuss. In fact, however, the railways in India have always operated on the left. This can already be seen from its history as a former British colony , where consequently, as in the then mother country Great Britain, the railroad on double-track routes and the cars on the left . The left-hand operation of the Indian railways is proven in the station plans from the literature cited here .