How does the train measure in on energy efficiency?

How does the train measure in on energy efficiency?

Trains can be categorized by many different characteristics such as type of engine, their use and the design of their tracks. By understanding the different types we can begin to analyze the efficiency that these train have and how they compare to other types of transport.

How they are powered

Steam locomotives

This was the system of choice in the beginning and seemed to be the only and most efficient option until diesel engines came along.

Diesel locomotives

Towards the end of World War II this became the best option with lowering diesel fuel prices and an increasing demand to transport goods. Today they have not completely disappeared, but instead are used in a combination with electric engines.

Electric locomotives

This type of engine proved to be one of the most reliable sources of power to haul different types of cargo and passengers on different terrains. Most trains today use this system and it can be found on transit trains, subways, trams and even high-speed transit trains.

Combined engines

The combination of terrains has led many trains to use a combination of engines. The electrical grid is used more in urban areas, whereas the diesel engine is used in more harsh terrains in intercity transportations.

What rails they have

Common railway

You can come across these almost anywhere. These were the first rails to be used and were in use when trains spread across the world.

Electrified railway

Only when they became popular in the late 1800s, did these rails begin to be used all over.

High-speed rail

We can find examples of this rail in France, Spain and Japan. This rail differs creating a smoother ride experience and allowing for high speed travel.


Present in very expensive and high-speed rails, this system uses magnets to power the movement in the train offering less friction and thus higher speeds. It was designed by the German inventor Hermann Kemper in 1937.


Finding its way into urban settings to transport passengers in a slow train or tram, monorails are used in some cities like Mumbai.

What they are used for

Freight train

The majority of the world’s railways are used for industrial purposes. They transport anything from solid and liquid goods to a variety of goods and products. This train is basically a train that does not carry passengers.

Inter-city trains

This type of train is solely for commuting purposes and can be at level ground, elevated or subterranean. This public transportation travels a safe speeds.

Rapid transit

These trains are usually used for long distances and can reach up to 300 km/h. Their aerodynamic design and engine type offer little resistance allowing them to reach those speeds.

Short and Long distance trains

This kind of train is equipped with a series of essential amenities such as sleeping cars, dining cars and everything else a passenger might need on a long journey.

Image courtesy of Gerard Stolk at
Image courtesy of Gerard Stolk at


This slow public transportation is powered by electricity and is usually used in urban cities that have a lot of congestion.

Mine trains

Exclusively used in underground mines to transport rock and coal. They are very sturdy, small and capable of transporting these good under tough conditions.

How efficient are trains?

Now, all of these conditions will impact the efficiency of a train, but at the end of the day it has been found that trains are one of the most efficient modes of transport both for cargo and passengers. Freight trains and Passengers both made the List of Transportation Modes By Person-Miles per Gallon (PMPG) released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, coming in at 5th and 8th position respectively.

There is still room for improvement

In India, one of the countries that most depends on trains for its intercity and industrial transport, they are already underway in laying out some strategies to increase their efficiency. There is even a project launched with the Ministry of Railways and Government of India that supports efforts to increase railway energy efficiency. Through this initiative they are focusing on technical training, implementation of energy-efficient technologies, institutional capacity development, as well as a space to share knowledge of best practices. So far, they have established a Center of Excellence (COE) that will be in charge of technical training, a web portal where energy data is posted and the Technology Information Resource and Facilitation Desk (TIRFAD) in Uttar Pradesh. They have many plans for the future such as introducing new energy-saving technology and in general creating awareness among all of the key roles.

India is not alone, other countries are also hard at work investigating and researching into innovative integrated energy efficiency solutions. The European Commission for example is setting up a project that plans to develop a framework that will allow them to incorporate new concepts and integrated solutions to improve energy efficiency in railways.

So, we all know is that trains are here to stay and as things are looking they can only become more efficient and eco-friendly coming in above most transportation solutions.


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