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On Track Titans: The World's Longest Trains

On Track Titans: The World's Longest Trains
photo: Roderick Eime / Flick/The Ghan
08 / 11 / 2023

In the past, the capacity of trains was confined to the power of a single locomotive. Today, the landscape has drastically changed. Advancements in technology have led to trains being hauled by two, three, or even four locomotives, some achieving truly astonishing proportions. Let's take a closer look.

The Longest Passenger Trains

Australia, the land down under, nestled between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, boasts the longest trains on the planet. This continent has a storied tradition of utilizing lengthy trains for mass transportation, freight, and passenger travel. The record-holder is The Ghan, which commenced service in 1929 between Adelaide in South Australia and Darwin in the Northern Territory, traversing a track spanning 2,979 kilometres. This train behemoth stretches nearly 1.2 km and can pull up to 44 passenger cars. Interestingly, The Ghan still operates to this day.

Russia, the world's largest country, is home to a 32-car passenger train that measures 846 meters in length. India, too, stakes its claim with long-distance trains, typically around 600 meters long, comprising 24 carriages.

Bahnfrend / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA

Sweden, a nation accustomed to such cold winters that residents often ski to work, has its longest passenger train measuring 530 meters, equipped with more than 20 carriages and two locomotives. The country's standard large passenger trains generally consist of 17 wagons and two locomotives.

Then there’s romantic France, where the longest train spans 476 meters. This was achieved by coupling two TGV Atlantique trains.

Japan, known as the land of the rising sun, is proud of its Tokaido Shinkansen N700, a 404-meter-long train operating between Tokyo and Osaka. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, famous for its tulip displays, runs a 403-meter-long train with 15 carriages, formed by linking five smaller NS Intercity Materieel trains. Similarly, Germany's largest passenger train was created by connecting two ICE3 trains, totalling 403 meters in length.

The celebrated "Eurostar," at 394 meters, bridges Britain and France, coursing through the 50-kilometer underwater Eurotunnel during its journey.

The Longest Freight Trains

Canada's vast landscapes are traversed by some of the longest freight trains, extending up to 3,700 meters, with certain lines operating even longer trains, reaching 4,200 meters, hauling double-decker container cars.

The United States has set its own benchmarks for freight train lengths, capping them at 3,658 meters due to the limitations of air brake technology. However, a notable exception was a Union Pacific Railroad run that featured 296 container cars pulled by nine locomotives, stretching a staggering 5.5 kilometres.

Back in Australia, general freight trains typically range from 1,500 to 1,800 meters, tailored to the specific requirements of the rail network section. In Asia, India's significant freight train runs between Bangalore and Dharmavaram, spanning 1,222 meters, and operates daily on its dedicated monorail. France isn't left behind, with its freight train reaching 1,524 meters in length. Additionally, it's noteworthy that Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, and Germany operate freight trains extending 1 kilometre.

The Longest Bulk Freight Trains

Australia also claims the title for the longest bulk freight trains. BHP Billiton regularly moves iron ore with trains that are 2.4 km long, featuring 264 wagons and powered by four locomotives. The longest recorded run happened on June 21, 2001; it consisted of eight locomotives, and 682 wagons, and was conducted by a single driver, with the entire composition measuring a remarkable 7,300 meters.

Jbdodane / Flickr

In Brazil, the largest country in South America, freight trains can reach lengths of up to 3.2 km. They run on the Carajás Railway, usually carrying iron ore and cellulose. China, at the forefront of technology, operates bulk freight trains approximately 3.2 km long.

Russia's bulk freight trains are several kilometres in length; however, a record-breaking train in 1986 moved 439 coal cars, resulting in a massive 6,500-meter-long train.

Lastly, South African iron ore trains on the Sishen-Saldanha railway typically reach lengths of up to 4,100 meters. A notable run in 1989 featured a train that was 7,302 meters long, showcasing the sheer scale of these rail giants.