What Is the Longest Train Ever Recorded?
During the last century, trains have become increasingly longer, as companies around the world have benefited from their expanded capacity to transport a larger number of passengers and commodities. This significant increase in efficiency was enabled by historical technology advancements, such as more durable tracks and the usage of more than one locomotive. During these last few decades, trains have started reaching unprecedented lengths.
The longest train ever recorded in history is the BHP Iron Ore at 7.353 km (~4.57 miles). This freight train was powered by eight powerful hybrid diesel-electric locomotives, and it traveled for roughly 275 km (~171 miles).
In this article, I will take you through everything you need to know about the longest train recorded in history, along with the longest journey. Furthermore, you’ll learn about the length limitations on longer trains while getting a better understanding of why passenger trains are always shorter than their freight counterparts.
The Longest Train Ever Recorded
The longest train ever recorded is the Australian BHP Iron Ore which currently holds the Guinness World Record.
Before delving into the specifics of this vehicle, I should note that this Australian record came as no surprise, as the nation has a long history and well-deserved reputation when it comes to its impressive railway industry.
Australia, throughout the years, has built a rich history of impressively long trains. As their economic needs grew, they started developing these vehicles to facilitate massive bulk transport.
But this wave of growth in the industry wasn’t limited to cargo, as passenger trains started becoming increasingly longer as well.
This iconic train continues to operate even today, at its longest, pulling up to 44 carriages. Its feat becomes even more impressive when considering that this vehicle transports passengers, not commodities.
Before the revolutionization of the railway industry facilitated by these trains, these modes of transportation were limited in power by the usage of a single locomotive and outdated configurations of rail networks. Only when manufacturers and managers started figuring out how to use two or more locomotives in a single vehicle did longer, and more powerful models begin to appear.
The additional booster locomotive was placed in the middle of a wagon, just as it would be if you’d combine two regular single-locomotive trains together. With the power of multiple hybrid diesel-electric locomotives, the industry started opening up its perspective to benefit from a huge untapped potential.
Passenger trains are often much shorter due to several reasons that I’ll delve into in one of the following sections, but The Ghan became an exception.
Today, the train carries around 16-26 carriages on a usual route.
BHP Iron Ore
On June 21, 2001, another record was set in Australia by the legendary BHP Iron one. This piece of machinery redefined the limits of the rail industry while showcasing an amazing technology heat that would be unthinkable a few decades ago.
This vehicle is still the proud holder of the longest train in the world, at an unbelievable 7.353 km (~4.57 miles). The 275 km journey started from the Newman and Yandi mines and ended in Port Hedland in Western Australia and lasted about 10 hours and 4 minutes.
Its multiple, hybrid-powered locomotives provided the machine with impressive power and strength, without which, this achievement wouldn’t have been possible.
To put the extent of this train into perspective, think about the fact that within its length, you can fit almost 23 Eiffel Towers. As you may have guessed by now, a vehicle of this size can be extremely heavy as well, and you’d be right.
The total weight came out at more than 99,730 metric tons (~219.8 million pounds), meaning that the BHP Iron One simultaneously beat its own record for the heaviest train.
As I mentioned, the vehicle was used to transport commodities, specifically iron ore. The massive piece of machinery was able to carry 82,000 metric tons (181 million pounds) of the material. The strength to bear this amount of material was produced by eight different locomotives spread out along the rails.
This kind of innovation tested the limits of technology that exceeded all expectations and beat the previous 1991 record set in South Africa. This feat opened manufacturers up to many more possibilities regarding length and weight able to move by a single unit.
BHP Iron One affected the industry significantly, as longer trains started being used more and more commonly after its journey.
What Is the Longest Train Journey?
The Guinness World Record for the longest uninterrupted train journey is held by the Trans-Siberian railway, which runs from Moscow (Russia) to Pyongyang (North Korea). This line goes through a distance of 10,124 km (~6346 miles), which takes more than a week to cover.
The length of the journey depends on several circumstantial factors, so the travel time can take anywhere between six to eight days with no stops.
The train that operates on this railway transports goods and commodities.
Although the Trans-Siberian railway has been maintaining its record for a long time, this direct route is getting even longer as time goes by. Its trip is awe-inspiring, to say the least, as, during its timeframe, the train passes several different timezones.
The freight train that covers this record-breaking distance embarks on its journey once a week. The distance is usually covered in around eight days (7 days and 20 hours, to be exact). With that said, depending on circumstantial factors, this timeframe may look a little different in specific instances by a day or two.
Even though this rail line has been operating for more than a century, its groundbreaking record is still solidly set and hard to beat even with modern technologies, materials, and tools that we can so easily access today.
Not only does the Trans-Siberian keep expanding and improving, but, as you’ll see, the closest competitor is not even close to taking its record anytime soon. This position is held by Eastern and Oriental Express, which covers 1931 km (1200 miles).
The distance that this journey passes is more than five times shorter than that of its main competitor.
Longest Passenger Train Journey
On the other hand, the longest passenger train route also happens on the Trans-Siberian railway, with a line that starts in Moscow and stops in Vladiskov (Russia). This vehicle covers a distance of 9289 km (~5772 miles).
Those embarking on this journey need to consider that they’ll be traveling for almost six interrupted days with no available stops, so being sufficiently prepared is crucial in ensuring an enjoyable trip.
For those wanting to enjoy the constantly changing landscape with a taste of culture from whichever nation you’re passing, the trains depart every two days, so your next reservation might be closer than you think.
Before reserving a ticket, keep in mind that buying a seat on the train that takes a week-long journey won’t be cheap. Prices vary from $800 to $1600 per person, depending on the quality of your accommodation.
Even though taking the Trans-Siberian route is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime journey, it can be challenging for many people to take on this long of a trip.
Although the breathtaking landscapes can inspire even the most uncreative types, going through several time zones in a week with no significant stops can test one’s patience, to say the least. This is why it’s essential to know exactly what to expect before embarking on this journey.
With the Trans-Siberian rail line, you will cross 87 major cities, three countries, and two continents, which is more than what some can experience in a lifetime. Between all these locations, you’ll go through eight different timezones, skipping through some hours ahead in the process.
Here’s the general outline of the route you’ll take:
Moscow – St. Petersburg – Perm – Yekaterinburg – Novosibirsk – Krasnoyarsk – Irkutsk – Ulan De – Naushki – Suhe Bator – Ulan Bator – Dzamin Uud – Erlian – Zabaikalsk – Manzhouli – Harbin – Beijing – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok
The Legacy of the Trans-Siberian Railway
As you can see, the long-standing record that this railway has attained holds a level of significance so high that it has turned into one of the most iconic achievements in human history.
Its value goes far beyond the practicality and ease of movement it offers, as this railway has inspired artists, travelers, and writers for more than a century. Its future looks even more promising and grand than its past, with further expansions being considered as we speak.
The Japanese government has been one of the most adamant entities when it comes to the possible expansion of the railway, proposing the broadening of its borders with new railroads built all the way to Hokkaido. This addition serves as a mode of transportation that could assist easy and quick travel between European countries and Japan.
The completion of this project would not only expand the impact of the Trans-Siberian railway, but it would also significantly boost tourism in Japan, along with many neighboring countries.
Furthermore, this addition provides unprecedented levels of growth to the continent’s economy as a whole, as importing and exporting services and commodities would be more accessible than ever.
The Maximum Length of a Train
Given that trains are constantly increasing in length, many have started wondering whether there’s a limit to how big these vehicles can get.
Although technically, there isn’t a hard-set rule or law that directly limits the maximum length of a train, there are several factors that can make certain sizes difficult or downright impossible to attain.
Some governed regulations forbid the obstruction of grade crossing by railroads.
These laws can indirectly limit the maximum possible length of a train when it comes to sizes that wouldn’t be able to pass a grade crossing without causing an obstruction. For example, if a train consists of more than five locomotives and their subsequent hundreds of cars, you can see how a crossing could be blocked for hours by a machine this size.
This could lead to many traffic problems, ultimately resulting in a traffic jam, which is why many governments have taken steps to prevent this situation from happening.
Some even have set limits based on the time a train needs to fully cross a particular section.
If the law stated that a train shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes (like in Illinois) to completely pass an intersection, then theoretically, all trains big enough to require more time to cross wouldn’t be allowed to operate in that railroad, limiting the manufacturers’ options.
The only exception to this law would be if a circumstantial difficulty were causing the train not to be able to cross the intersection in time, as otherwise, circulation problems may quickly start arising.
On the other hand, some localities do have some laws and regulations that directly limit the maximum length of a train. While some do it in respective measurements, others can limit the number of cars that the locomotives are supposed to pull.
While these direct laws are not yet widespread, the significant increase of longer models over the last few years has created several problematic instances that have caused some officials to rethink train-length-related regulations.
This is apparently what happened in California when the unexpected passage of a 5.6 km (3.5 miles) train prompted an official to think about putting more laws in place limiting the size of vehicles, especially in such highly populated areas.
Furthermore, in March of 2021, the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee heard testimony on a similarly-constructed proposal, the approval of which would restrict certain lengths for trains in Nebraska.
Even in those locations where the authorities haven’t imposed any direct or indirect regulations on train length, a manufacturer would still be challenged by the laws of physics. At some point, the vehicle reaches a size that makes it impossible to control.
This natural limitation is imposed when there’s such immense pressure over the coupling and braking system that a conductor won’t be able to properly operate a train, especially in rougher terrains.
Railway Space Limitations
Another factor that a manager or manufacturer needs to consider before deciding on the most extensive length possible for a train is the number of tracks it will be operating on.
This is most notable in locations where most of the railways are single-tracked, where the maximum train size will be limited based on the length of the passing loop. For example, if the passing loop measures at 1 km (~0.62 miles), this will be the provided space for the train to pass through, which will inevitably limit its length under that same number.
Temperature and weather conditions can also limit a manufacturer’s possibilities regarding train length. For example, in colder or lower than freezing temperatures assembling trains beyond specific measurements is not advised.
Some claim that an average upper limit, in this case, would allow the operation of trains up to 2.74 km (~1.7 miles). Having said that, this limit is often subject to change based on professional judgment and environmental circumstances.
The feat achieved through the creation of BHP Iron ore is even more impressive when you consider all these restrictions and functional limitations that the vehicle had to overcome in order to operate properly.
With that said, even though achievements like this are monumental for the evolution of human transportation, longer and bulkier models are becoming an obstruction due to their excessive usage, especially in more populated areas.
For this reason, governments are taking measures to impose stronger length regulations on trains to better maintain vehicle circulation within their already busy streets and cross-sections.
Why Are Passenger Trains Shorter Than Freight Trains?
When researching the different lengths of passenger and freight trains, you’ll notice that the former comes out at an average of 182 m (600’), while the latter hovers around 1,500 m (5,070’).
With such a stark contrast, many might wonder why trains transporting commodities are so much longer compared to those transporting passengers, as the same efficiency principle could be applied to both.
Passenger trains are shorter than freight trains because they require more agility to be able to make more frequent stops in a smaller amount of time. The limited size is chosen based on customer demand and higher speed requirements.
Furthermore, passenger trains are required to be accommodated at several different-sized stations, which would make it impossible for an oversized train to stop at all its required terminals.
Speed is also of the essence when it comes to vehicles carrying passengers. While coal, iron, or other goods can be transported for weeks on end, people have strict timelines and physical limitations that make them require the fastest means of transport possible.
This is why the length of a passenger train shouldn’t reach a point where it severely hinders its speed. Otherwise, there would be no sustainable demand to make the vehicle profitable.
The longest train recorded in history is the BHP Iron Ore at an incredible 7.353 km (~4.57 miles). Although this achievement is groundbreaking, increasingly longer trains are starting to become a traffic obstruction in highly populated areas, which is why governments are taking measures to create some direct regulations that limit these vehicles’ size.