How big is a train engine?

Train engines are much bigger than your car, and their huge size and weight means they aren’t nimble at all. That’s why you should always stop for an oncoming train. But how big is a train engine?

Sizes vary depending on the purpose of the locomotive, but generally speaking, you can stack up about 30 Toyota Camry passenger cars in the space of a typical train engine.

Train engine size varies

how big is a train engine
How big is a train engine? The EMD SD70 locomotive leading the train in this photo is about 30 times the size of my Toyota Camry but it weighs about 100 times as much.

The size of a train engine can vary, because an engine designed for moving a few cars a short distance doesn’t have to be as big as an engine designed to pull hundreds of cars halfway across the country.

You can differentiate between the two by counting the number of axles. A locomotive with four axles underneath it is designed for short runs. A locomotive with six axles is designed for the long haul, and will be correspondingly larger.

How big is a road engine?

Here are the dimensions of a couple of the more common road engines you’ll see.

An EMD SD70 made by General Motors weighs in at 394,000 pounds (197 tons). It’s 72 feet, four inches long; 13 feet, 7 inches wide; and 15 feet, 7.5 inches tall at its highest point.

The competing General Electric C44-9W (popularly known as the Dash 9) weights 400,000 pounds. It’s 73 feet, 2 inches long; 13 feet, 4 inches wide; and 15 feet, 5 inches tall.

Either of these engines is about 1/5 the length of a football field.

The largest diesel locomotive ever built, the EMD DDA40X (nicknamed the Centennial), was larger. It was 98 feet, 5 inches long; 10 feet, 4 inches wide; and 16 feet, 4 inches tall. It weighed 545,000 pounds. This engine ended production in 1971. The more recent EMD SD90MAC and GE AC6000CW, dating to the late 1990s, had 90 percent the power of a Centennial but were about 20 feet shorter and 120,000 pounds lighter.

Although much more efficient than the Nixon-era Centennial, these modern behemoths aren’t in widespread use. The slightly smaller engines are more reliable and efficient.

How big are the smaller engines?

The 8-axle version of the GE Dash 8 is 66 feet, 4 inches long; 15 feet, 4.5 inches high; and 10 feet, 1.5 inches wide. It weighs 280,000 pounds, or 140 tons.

How big is a train engine compared to your car?

Even the small engines run by the BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, or Union Pacific dwarf your car.

A Toyota Camry is 16 feet long, 6 feet wide and 4 feet, 9 inches tall. It weighs less than 2 tons.

A Chevy Suburban is 18 feet, 8 inches long; 6 feet, 9 inches wide; and 6 feet, 2 inches tall. It weighs a little under three tons.

You can stack up about 30 Camrys in the space of a typical locomotive. A Suburban’s size doesn’t divide as neatly into the size of a locomotive but you could stack up more than 16 Suburbans in the space of of a typical train engine.

A locomotive weighs much more than an automobile because an automobile has a lot of empty space inside to accommodate people. A locomotive is packed full of engines and generators. So the overall mass of a locomotive is much higher than that of a car. That’s why your car can brake so much more quickly than a train.

The size and weight of train locomotives is why we no longer power them with coal. Modern locomotives are diesel-electric hybrids, similar in concept to a hybrid automobile. Coal-powered steam engines didn’t go out of fashion due to environmental regulations; they went out of fashion because they weren’t as cost effective as newer technologies.

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