Amtrak's locomotive-hauled Northeast Regional in the United States
One of JR East's commuter electric multiple units in Japan

A passenger train is a train used to transport people along a railroad line.[1][2] These trains may consist of unpowered passenger railroad cars (also known as coaches or carriages) hauled by one or more locomotives, or may be self-propelled; self propelled passenger trains are known as multiple units or railcars. Passenger trains stop at stations or depots, where passengers may board and disembark. In most cases, passenger trains operate on a fixed schedule and have priority over freight trains.

Passenger trains may be made up of a number of passenger cars hauled by one or more locomotives, or may be made up of self-propelled railcars. Car design and the general safety of passenger trains have dramatically evolved over time, making travel by rail remarkably safe. Some passenger trains, both long-distance and short-distance, use bi-level (double-decker) cars to carry more passengers per train. Passenger trains hauled by locomotives are more expensive to operate than multiple units, but have a higher passenger capacity.[3]

Many prestigious passenger train services have been bestowed a special name, some of which have become famous in literature and fiction.[citation needed]


Locomotion No. 1
Locomotion No. 1, the first locomotive to carry passengers on a public railway

The first occasion on which a railway locomotive pulled a train carrying passengers was in 1804 at Penydarren Ironworks in Wales, when 70 employees of the ironworks were transported 9 miles by an engine designed by Richard Trevithick.[4][5] The first passenger train in regular service was a horse drawn train on the Swansea and Mumbles Railway which opened in 1807.[6] In 1808, Trevithick ran a passenger-carrying exhibition train called Catch Me Who Can on a small loop of track in London.[4] The exhibition, which ran for two weeks, charged passengers for rides.[4]

The first steam train carrying passengers on a public railway was hauled by Locomotion No. 1 on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, traveling at speeds up to 15 miles per hour.[7]

Travel by passenger trains in the United States began in the 1830s and became popular in the 1850s and '60s.[8][9]

In the United States, streamliner trains, such as the City of San Francisco, were developed beginning in the 1930s to reinvigorate passenger train services.

The first electric passenger train was exhibited at the Berlin Industrial Exposition 1879.[10] The first successful commercial electric passenger train, the Gross-Lichterfelde Tramway, ran a year later in Lichterfelde.[10]

Long-distance trains

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Passenger train" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
A long-distance night train at the Oulu railway station in Oulu, Finland

Long-distance trains travel between many cities or regions of a country, and sometimes cross several countries. They often have a dining car or restaurant car to allow passengers to have a meal during the course of their journey. Trains travelling overnight may also have sleeping cars. Currently, much of travel on these distances of over 500 miles (800 km) is done by air in many countries but in others long-distance travel by rail is a popular or the only cheap way to travel long distances.

High-speed rail

The Shinkansen N700 Series Nozomi travels between Tokyo and Osaka in around two and a half hours.[11]

Main article: High-speed rail

One notable and growing long-distance train category is high-speed rail, which generally runs at speeds above 200 km/h (120 mph) and often operates on a dedicated track that is surveyed and prepared to accommodate high speeds.[12] The first successful example of a high-speed passenger rail system was Japan's Shinkansen, colloquially known as the "bullet train", which commenced operation in October 1964.[13] Other examples include Italy's LeFrecce, France's TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, literally "high speed train"), Germany's ICE (Inter-City Express), and Spain's AVE (Alta Velocidad Española).

In most cases, high-speed rail travel is time- and cost-competitive with air travel when distances do not exceed 500 to 600 km (310 to 370 mi), as airport check-in and boarding procedures can add at least two hours to the overall transit time.[14] Also, rail operating costs over these distances may be lower when the amount of jet fuel consumed by an airliner during takeoff and climbout is taken into consideration. Air travel becomes more cost-competitive as the travel distance increases because the fuel accounts for less of the overall operating cost of the airliner.

Some high-speed rail systems employ tilting technology to improve stability in curves. Examples of tilting trains are the Advanced Passenger Train (APT), the Pendolino, the N700 Series Shinkansen, Amtrak's Acela and the Spanish Talgo. Tilting is a dynamic form of superelevation, allowing both low- and high-speed traffic to use the same trackage (though not simultaneously), as well as producing a more comfortable ride for passengers.

Inter-city trains

The Electric Tilt Train, the fastest train in Australia, operates between Brisbane and Rockhampton in Queensland, a distance of 615 km.

Main article: Inter-city rail

"Inter-city" is a general term for any rail service that uses trains with limited stops to provide fast long-distance travel. Inter-city services can be divided into three major groups:

The distinction between the three types of inter-city rail service may be unclear; trains can run as InterCity services between major cities, then revert to an express (or even regional) train service to reach communities at the furthest points of the journey. This practice allows less populous communities to be served in the most cost-effective way, at the expense of a longer journey time for those wishing to travel to the terminus station.

Higher-speed rail

Main article: Higher-speed rail

Higher-speed rail services operate at top speeds that are higher than conventional inter-city trains but below high-speed rail services. These services are provided after improvements to the conventional rail infrastructure to support trains that can operate safely at higher speeds.

Short-distance trains

See also: Regional rail and Urban rail transit

Commuter trains

Mumbai's suburban trains handle 7.24 million commuters daily.[15]

Main article: Commuter rail

Many cities and their surrounding areas are served by commuter trains (also known as suburban trains), which serve commuters who live outside of the city they work in, or vice versa. More specifically, in the United States commuter rail service is defined as, "short-haul rail passenger transportation in metropolitan and suburban areas usually having reduced fare, multiple ride, and commuter tickets and morning and evening peak period operations".[16] Trains are very efficient for transporting large numbers of people at once, compared to road transport. While automobiles may be delayed by traffic congestion, trains operate on dedicated rights-of-way which allow them to bypass such congestion.[17]

With the use of bilevel cars, which are tall enough to have two levels of seating, commuter rail services can haul as many as 150 commuters per train car, and over 1,000 per train: much more than the capacity of automobiles and buses.[18][19]


Main article: Railcar

The Bombardier Talent articulated regional railcar

In British and Australian usage, a "railcar" is a self-propelled railway vehicle designed to transport passengers. The term is usually used in reference to a train consisting of a single passenger car (carriage, coach) with a driver's cab at one or both ends. Some railways, e.g. the Great Western Railway, used the term "railmotor". If the railcar is able to pull a full train, it is more likely to be called a "motor coach" or a "motor car".[20] The term "railcar" is sometimes also used as an alternative name for the small types of multiple unit that consist of more than one coach.

Rapid transit

Main article: Rapid transit

Rapid transit trains are trains that operate in urban areas on exclusive rights-of-way in that pedestrians and road vehicles may not access them.[21]

Light rail

Main article: Light rail

Light rails are electrically powered urban passenger trains that run along an exclusive rights-of-way at ground level, raised structures, tunnels, or in streets. Light rail systems generally use lighter equipment that operate at slower speeds to allow for more flexibility in integrating systems into urban environments.[22]


A tram in Paris, France

Main article: Tram

Trams (also known as streetcars in North America) are a type of passenger train that runs a tramway track on or alongside public urban streets, often including segments of right-of-way for passengers and vehicles.[23][24]

Heritage trains

A British heritage passenger train hauled by the historic Flying Scotsman

Main article: Heritage railway

Heritage trains are often operated by volunteers, often railfans, as a tourist attraction or as a museum railway.[25] Usually, the trains are formed from historic vehicles retired from national commercial operation that have retained or assumed the character, appearance, and operating practices of railways in their time. Sometimes lines that operate in isolation also provide transport facilities for local people. Much of the equipment used on these trains' systems is original or at least aims to replicate both the look and the operating practices of historic/former railways companies.[26]

Environmental impact

Main article: Environmental effects of transport

Passenger rail is one of the modes of travel with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. Rail travel emits much less carbon dioxide per mile than air travel (2–27%) or car travel (2–24%).[27]

See also


  1. ^ "Passenger train definition and meaning". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  2. ^ "Definition of PASSENGER TRAIN". Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  3. ^ Connecticut Department of Transportation (June 2005). "Final Report: New Haven Hartford Springfield Commuter Rail Implementation Study" (PDF). Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Local Heroes – Trevithick's steam locomotive demonstration of 1808, "Catch Me Who Can"". Science Blog. British Library. 6 November 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Steam train anniversary begins". BBC. 21 February 2004. Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Mumbles Train". Swansea Museum. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  7. ^ "San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum – 1800–1849 – September 27, 1825 – World's First Passenger Train". Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  8. ^ "Union Pacific Passenger Trains". Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  9. ^ "First Passenger Trains In America: History, Facts, Photos". Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  10. ^ a b "Making a New industry". Scientific American. 112 (23): 544–547. 5 June 1915. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican06051915-544. JSTOR 26022230. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  11. ^ "Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Timetable" (PDF). JR Central. Retrieved 2 April 2020.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Intercity and High-Speed". International Union of Railways (UIC). Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  13. ^ Brasor, Philip; Tsubuku, Masako (30 September 2014). "How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  14. ^ Central Japan Railway (2006). Central Japan Railway Data Book 2006. p. 16.
  15. ^ "Overview Of the existing Mumbai Suburban Railway". Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation. Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  16. ^ "Glossary and Acronyms" (PDF). Federal Railroad Administration. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  17. ^ Yates, Brock (1 August 2001). "A Commuter's Quandary: Take the Plane? The Train? The Car? Or 'Ride the Dog'?". Car and Driver. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  18. ^ Young, David (6 February 1994). "DOUBLE-DECKER TRAINS CHANGED COMMUTING". Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  19. ^ "Single-decker v double-decker trains: Barry O'Farrell's claim doubtful". ABC Online. 14 April 2014. Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  20. ^ "Light Railcars and Railbuses – Feature article". Parry People Movers. Archived from the original on 6 January 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
  21. ^ "rapid transit". Britannica. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  22. ^ "Light rail and tramways". Office of Rail and Road. Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  23. ^ "What is a tram?". Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  24. ^ "tram". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  25. ^ "Types of Passenger Rail". States for Passenger Rail Coalition. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  26. ^ "Minor and Heritage Railways". Office of Rail and Road. Archived from the original on 22 February 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  27. ^ Ritchie, Hannah. "Which form of transport has the smallest carbon footprint?". Our World in Data. Retrieved 17 June 2023.