What Is The Most Powerful Locomotive?

Locomotives are rail transport vehicles that power trains. Trains usually have locomotives at the front, rear, or even at each end, and they are the vehicles that give a train its fantastic speed and weight-carrying power. So what’s the most powerful locomotive?

The world’s most powerful locomotive is the Shen-24, packing over 38,000 horsepower. It can carry a 1000-ton (907,185 kg) freight while sloping 1.2 percent. The beast can also move to speeds of up to 120 km/h (74.56 mi/h).

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at some of the world’s most powerful locomotives. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about locomotives and how they work. So, all aboard, and let’s get into it!

most powerful locomotive
Todd and Jack Humphrey

More About The World’s Most Powerful Locomotive

The world’s most powerful locomotive, the Shen-24, has a whopping unit power of 38,621 horsepower or 28,800 kW and generates 2,280 kN of forward propulsion. Additionally, this powerful machine can pull a 10,000-ton (9.07 million kg) train on a 1.2 percent slope and can move up to 120 km/h (74.56 mi/h).

On July 29, 2020, Shen-24 rolled off the production line and completed its test run the following month. The locomotive measures 106 meters (347.77 ft) long and has six sections with 24 axles. The locomotive is ideal for moving heavy minerals, including coal.

Shen-24 has an adaptive, innovative driving technology that automatically allows it to start, stop, and adjust its speed. This technology improves safety by reducing driver fatigue. The system’s platform can also identify problems in critical components of the locomotive, adding to its safety features.

A satellite navigation system is fitted into the locomotive for precise control through differential positioning. A traction converter also ensures its security by enhancing its hold on the rails.

What Are the Other Most Powerful Locomotives?

The other most powerful locomotives besides the Shen-24 are the 2ES10S, 4E5K, DB Class 103, Iore, China Railways HXD2, and the VL85, among others. These locomotives can generate enormous power and move heavy loads.

2ES10S (3ES10)

The 2ES10S (3ES10) is an electric locomotive designed with efficiency in mind. This locomotive has a wheel arrangement of 3xBo’Bo’ and weighs 331 tons (300,278 kg). The Russian beast has 17,701 horsepower and is a modification of the 2ES10, with a tractive force of 1,176 kN.

Ural Locomotives, a joint venture of Sinara Group and Siemens, manufactures this engine, and Russian Railways operates it.


Another Russian beast, the 4E5K, is an electric locomotive manufactured in 2014. It has a wheel arrangement of 4xBo’Bo’ (four axles and two bogies) with a tractive force of 1,356 kN. The powerful machine weighs 432 tons (391,904 kg) and has 17,594 horsepower. 

The 4E5K is a heavy tonnage locomotive designed to carry heavy freight to support the country’s economy.

DB Class 103

The DB Class 103, a German track beast, is an electric locomotive with a Co’Co’ wheel arrangement. One of the most powerful locomotives, this 126-ton (114,305 kg) engine has a tractive force of 312 kN. It also has 9,977 horsepower or 7440 kW.

Initially operated by Deutsche Bahn, the DB Class 103 was used in InterCity travel in Germany and Europe.

world's most powerful locomotive
Hugh Llewelyn


Iore is a class of 34 German electric locomotives manufactured between 2000 and 2004. They have a wheel arrangement of Co’Co’+Co’Co’ (two six-wheel bogies) and are highly energy efficient. With 1,400 kN tractive effort, you can also operate these locomotives in halves.

The 14,483 horsepower locomotive is ideal for carrying heavy loads and hauling iron ore weighing thousands of tons with utmost efficiency.

China Railways HXD2

The China Railways HXD2 is an electric locomotive with a Bo’Bo’+Bo’Bo’ wheel arrangement. 

This Chinese locomotive weighs 220 tons (199,581 kg) and has a traction force of 756 kN. With 13,410 horsepower, it’s a sibling of the China Railways HXD1 and has different variants, including the HXD2B and HXD2C.

The HXD2 was built for carrying heavy-haul cargo and can be used as three units, giving the train superb cargo-carrying capacity.

Shenhua Mining Group HXD1

The Shenhua Mining Group HXD1 is an electric locomotive with a wheel alignment of 3xBo’Bo’. This locomotive has a tractive force of 1,140 kN. With 12,900 horsepower, this locomotive is used to carry heavy-haul and cargo. 

The locomotive is capable of regenerative braking, meaning it can generate electricity as it brakes.


The VL85 is an electric manufactured between 1983 and 1994. This rail juggernaut has a wheel alignment of Bo’Bo’Bo’+Bo’Bo’Bo’ and weighs 331 short tons. The locomotive has 12,550 horsepower and a tractive force of 932 kN and is also used in carrying heavy freight.

Two hundred and seventy units were made, with production stopping in 1994. Most of these units still operate on the East-Siberian Railway and the Krasnoyarsk Railway in Russia.

Indian Locomotive Class WAG-12B

Another electric locomotive, the Indian Locomotive Class WAG-12B, was first announced in 2018 as the WAG-12. It has a wheel arrangement of Bo’Bo’+Bo’Bo’ and a tractive force of 785 kN. The locomotive boasts 12,000 horsepower and weighs 198 short tons and 177 long tons (upgradable to 220 short tons and 197 long tons).

Operated by Indian Railways, the WAG-12 is used to haul freight trains and regularly carries 6,000 tons (5.44 million kg) of cargo.

Sinara GTh1

Another Russian beast, the Sinara GTh1, is a gas turbine-electric locomotive. With 11,285 horsepower, it can carry cargo that weighs 9,000 tons (8.16 million kg). This machine weighs 397 short tons and has a ration force of 980 kN.

GTh1 is operated by Sverdlovsk Railway, a subsidiary of Russian Railways, and it runs on non-electrified sections of the company’s main line.

How Locomotives Are Powered

As we’ve seen, locomotives carry heavy loads and play a critical role in driving economies. Let’s take a look at how these convenient devices are powered.

Electric Powered

Electric locomotives get their electricity from an overhead powerline, live rail, a supercapacitor, or an inbuilt battery. Unlike other locomotives with engines, electric locomotives have traction motors that turn their wheels. Pure electric power makes them up to 90% efficient.

The traction motors convert electrical energy from the grid to mechanical energy, making the train move. When the train’s brakes are engaged, the train can also generate electricity through regenerative braking. The electricity is then stored in the inbuilt battery or capacitor when accelerating.

Electric-powered locomotives are currently the most common as they have the highest traction force and speeds.

amtrak electric
Ryan Keene

Diesel Powered

Old diesel-mechanical engines worked by transferring mechanical power from the diesel engine to the wheels, making it move. It’s low-powered, which necessitated the upgrade to diesel-electric.

Diesel-electric powered locomotives are the most common and work by burning diesel to run an electric generator. The electricity created powers the traction motors, in turn moving the train. 

Due to the increased awareness of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming, diesel-electric-powered locomotives are the second most popular.

Gas Turbine

Gas turbine-mechanical locomotives move the locomotive’s wheels through direct mechanical transmission. The most common type is the gas turbine-electric (GTEL), which drives an electric alternator. Power generated by the alternator then powers the traction motors, which move the train. 

Rising fuel costs led to gas-powered locomotives becoming less popular and were eventually decommissioned.

Steam Powered

These locomotives used coal to heat water, producing steam that would, in turn, run turbines to move the train. The train would house a lot of coal, with the locomotive containing a water tank. Coal would then be continuously added to the engine while being regulated to control the train’s speed.

Steam-powered locomotives were used in the world’s first trains in the 19th Century. Coal has half the energy content other fossil fuels have, which has made it a less popular energy source with time. Steam-powered engines have been phased out.

Strasburg steam
Roger Puta

Which Countries Have the Most Powerful Locomotives?

The countries that have the most powerful locomotives are Russia, Germany, India, and China. They’re produced by Sinara Transport Machines, Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant, Indian Railways, Siemens Mobility, and the CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co. Ltd.

China and India have made considerable progress in the locomotive industry in the recent past. India sold 402 electric locomotives in 2019 to become the world’s biggest locomotive producer. Besides making the world’s most powerful locomotive

Japan, France, Spain, Germany, and China are pioneers of high-speed rails with tracks spanning over 622 miles (1001.01 km). With a record 375 miles (603.50 km) per hour, Japan boasts of the world’s fastest bullet train, exceeding the speeds of bullet trains in China and South Korea.

Do High-Speed Trains Have Locomotives?

High-speed trains have locomotives at both ends of the train (power cars) that are synchronized. They receive power from overhead power lines through pantographs on their roofs and create a push-pull effect that moves the train’s wheels. 

The front locomotive pulls it, while the rear locomotive pushes it. 

Both locomotives need to be synchronized, and together, they achieve greater control of the train. This push-pull configuration also means that the driver can steer the train from either end. The locomotive, therefore, doesn’t have to be uncoupled from the train, giving a fast turnaround in the railway station.

Some push-pull configurations allow for a single locomotive to be placed in the middle of the train. This locomotive will then either push or pull the train in either direction.

What Are Maglev Trains?

Maglev trains are trains that levitate a small distance above the track as they move. The levitation increases the train’s overall speed as the wheels are not directly connected to the rails. Maglevs have better control as breaking an acceleration doesn’t depend on friction.

Newer trains use magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology to move them. When the train is stationary, its rubber wheels rest on the tracks. 

The wheels then begin to move and gradually increase the train’s speed. When the train reaches 93 mi/h (149.67 km/h), the magnetic force is enough to suspend the train 4 in (10.16 cm) from the ground, creating a ‘levitating’ effect.

An electrodynamic suspension system (EDS) aids the levitation process by eliminating friction between the wheels and the tracks. It makes the wheels move faster, increasing the train’s speed.  

FAQs About Locomotives

Why Is It Called a Locomotive?

“Locomotive” comes from Latin words Loco meaning “from a place,” and motus, meaning “motion.” It’s a shortened form of the locomotive engine. A locomotive, therefore, is the heart of the train that causes all of the cars to move.

How Do Locomotives and Trains Differ?

A locomotive is the part of a train that houses the engine, while a train is the remaining elongated part consisting of different cars. The train carries numerous cars with various cargo, while the locomotive is a self-propelled part of the train that drives the whole train forward. 

diesel locomotives
Jonathan Lee

What Is the Last Car of a Train Called?

The last car of a train is called the caboose. It’s most commonly a lodging space used to shelter the train’s crew throughout the journey. Cabooses are less standard today as most modern trains have a second locomotive at the back.

Do Locomotives Push or Pull?

Locomotives push and pull a train’s cars. Primarily, locomotives pull the train from the front. However, trains may have push-pull locomotives at the back as well. A simultaneous push and pull force is more efficient and can move faster than simple one-locomotive trains.

How Does a Train Move?

A train moves by burning fuel in the locomotive to generate mechanical energy that pushes the wheels forward. Electric trains use electricity to power the tractive motors on the wheels, moving the train. Due to the heaviness of the train, the wheels hold on to the track and pull the train forward.

What Is a Cowcatcher?

A cowcatcher, also known as a pilot, removes obstacles from the track at the locomotive’s front. As the cowcatcher removes any barriers, it prevents the train from having accidents, getting damaged, or even derailing.  

powerful locomotive
Todd and Jack Humphrey

What Is a Boxcar Train?

A boxcar train is an enclosed railroad train used to carry cargo. It gets its name from its box shape, which makes it able to haul most types of cargo. 

Though intended to carry freight, boxcar trains are incredibly versatile and can transport railroad workers (although not recommended) due to their excellent insulation properties.

How Big Is a Train Fuel Tank?

A train fuel tank typically has a capacity of 5000 to 6000 liters (1320.86 to 1585.03 gal), depending on the locomotive’s type and brand. Fuel tank capacity varies with different trains as they’re designed to carry different kinds of cargo.

How Far Can a Train Go on a Full Fuel Tank?

How far a train can go on a fuel tank will depend on the amount of freight being carried and the elevation. On average, a train can use a single gallon of fuel to move a ton of cargo for 490 miles (788.58 km). 

That means that the more freight the train carries over a longer distance, the more fuel a locomotive will need to complete its journey.

Do Locomotives Have Gears?

Older mechanical locomotives have gears similar to automatic transmissions in cars. Newer train models don’t have gears as the mechanical energy is converted to electricity, powering the motors. Therefore, the railroad engineer can regulate the train’s speed by adjusting the electricity going to the engines.

What Are Train Drivers Called?

A train driver is called an engine driver, engineman, railroad engineer, or locomotive driver. They’re also called locomotive handlers, train operators, or locomotive operators. 

A train driver handles the train to ensure it runs smoothly and correctly.

Do Trains Have Multiple Locomotives?

Some trains have multiple locomotives to increase their load-carrying capacity. Each locomotive is designed to pull a specific load. Having more locomotives attached to the train increases the cargo volume it can haul.

What Do Trains Typically Carry?

Trains carry bulky goods that aren’t ideal or suitable for road transport. This cargo includes coal and iron ore, shipping containers, steel plates, and cars. Trains also commonly carry foodstuffs like wheat, corn, and other grains. 

Trains also transport construction materials like cement, stones, and chemicals. Although they are less common today, trains can also carry people from one destination to the next.

powerful steam locomotive
Jeff Hampton

What Is the Lifespan of a Locomotive?

Most locomotives have a lifespan of between 25 to 30 years. With improvements in technology, trains can last up to 35 years. Proper servicing of a train is also crucial in determining its lifespan.

Why Don’t Train Wheels Slip?

Trains don’t slip because of friction caused by the massive weight of the train. The train’s wheels press against the train tracks, which increases overall grip, ensuring it moves forward. The increased grip will prevent the train from slipping as it chugs along.

Do Trains Have Traction Control Systems?

Trains have traction control systems that help prevent the train from slipping. These systems measure different dynamics, including the load and weight of the train to determine the amount of effort needed to pull the train. 

The system also uses sensors to ensure all wheels are spinning at the same frequency. 

The Takeaway

With 38,621 horsepower, the Shen-24 is the most powerful locomotive. It can pull 10,000 tons (9.07 million kg) on a 1.2 percent slope while moving at 120 km/h (74.56 mi/h).

Other powerful locomotives include the 2ES10S (3ES10), 4E5K, VL85 from Russia, and the Indian Locomotive Class WAG-12. Russia, China, India, France, and Germany produce the world’s most powerful locomotives.

Locomotives can be powered by steam, gas turbines, electricity, or diesel. High-speed trains have locomotives at both the back and front to generate enough power to move heavy loads efficiently. 


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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