What Fuel Do Trains Use? - Locomotive Fueling | Fuel Logic

October 4, 2023

Trains have played a pivotal role in shaping the modern world by facilitating people and revolutionizing trade and transportation. So let’s delve into the history of train’s evolution and know what fuel trains use. 

what fuel do trains use

What Fuel Do Trains Use? - Everything You Need To Know About Locomotive Engine Fueling In The Railroad Industry

If we go back in history, we find that the story of trains powered by fuel is a journey that spans centuries, showcasing the remarkable evolution.

From the earliest steam locomotives of the 19th century to the diesel and electric trains that dominate modern railways, the utilization of various fuels for train engines and locomotives has shaped the course of train development. 

What Fuel Do Trains Use?

Types Of Fuel That Trains Use 

“What is train fuel, and what are its types?” is a commonly asked question. There are four main train fuel types:

  • Steam 
  • Gas 
  • Diesel
  • Electric

1. Steam

The steam engine represents a pivotal chapter in the history of trains. The first successful steam locomotive was built by George Stephenson in 1814, and it marked the beginning of the railway era. The steam-powered locomotive revolutionized the way goods and people were transported.

However, steam engines had their limitations, which eventually led to the development of more efficient and cleaner propulsion systems, such as diesel and electric engines.

Despite the decline of steam power in commercial rail operations, steam locomotives continue to capture the imagination of enthusiasts and historians. Preserved locomotives are often showcased in museums and heritage railways, offering a glimpse into the era when steam power reigned supreme on the rails.

The cost of steam engines for trains can vary widely depending on factors such as the size, complexity, and age of the engine, as well as any restorations or modifications that have been made.

Steam engines were revolutionary in their time, marking the beginning of railway transportation.Steam engines required significant amounts of coal or wood and frequent stops for refueling, making journeys slower.
Steam engines could be adapted to various flexible tasks for different types of rail operations.Operating steam engines involved risks and safety hazards
The design and mechanics of steam engines showcased remarkable engineering prowess and innovation during their heyday.Steam engines produced large amounts of smoke and pollutants.

How Does A Steam Engine Work? 

Steam engines operate by heating water to produce steam, which in turn generates mechanical power to move the train. The process involves burning coal or wood to heat water in a boiler, creating high-pressure steam. This steam is then directed into cylinders, where it pushes pistons back and forth, creating rotational motion.

fuel for trains

2. Diesel

In the 1930s, a novel engine design surfaced, with the Electro-Motive Division pioneering its use for passenger transport. This division introduced the E-Series, a range of locomotives employing diesel engines powered by diesel fuel. Initially, these diesel engines were mainly utilized for propelling passenger trains along railway tracks.

The utilization of diesel as a fuel for trains marked a significant leap forward in the evolution of train propulsion, offering improved efficiency and reduced environmental impact compared to steam engines. 

Diesel engines operate on the principle of internal combustion. They burn diesel fuel within the engine, generating high-pressure gases that drive pistons, which in turn create rotational motion to power the wheels of the locomotive. 

Diesel engines are generally more fuel-efficient than their steam counterparts. 
Diesel engines still emit pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
Diesel-powered trains are well-suited for short-distance and long-distance travel. Diesel is a fossil fuel, and its use contributes to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, raising sustainability concerns.
Diesel engines emit fewer pollutants than steam engines.Diesel engines may be less efficient at low speeds. 

How Does a Diesel-Electric Engine Work

A diesel-electric engine combines a diesel engine with an electric generator and an electric motor to provide power to a vehicle or machinery. The diesel engine drives the generator, which produces electricity. This electricity is then used to power electric motors that drive the vehicle's wheels or perform other tasks. 

fuel for train engine

3. Gas-Turbine

During the era when diesel engines were becoming popular, gas turbine power emerged as an alternative fuel for train engines. This innovation was first explored in France, where engineers developed an engine functioning akin to diesel engines but utilizing gas instead.

After successful implementation in France, this technology made its way to the United States.

Gas turbines offer a high power output relative to their weight. Gas turbines tend to be less efficient at low speeds. 
Gas turbines perform well at high speeds. Gas turbines can be less fuel-efficient compared to modern diesel engines.
Gas turbines running on natural gas produce fewer emissions compared to traditional diesel engines. Gas turbines release a significant amount of heat in their exhaust gases, which can be a concern in urban areas or in tight spaces.

How Does a Gas-Turbine Engine Work

The gas turbine used in trains is a type of internal combustion engine that converts energy from fuel into mechanical power by compressing and igniting the fuel-air mixture. 

This combustion process produces high-speed exhaust gases that are directed through a turbine, which in turn drives a compressor and sometimes an electric generator. 

The compressed air from the compressor is mixed with fuel and ignited, generating a continuous cycle of combustion and power production.

which fuel is used in train

 4. Electric

Electric trains are a type of train that operates using electricity as its power source. Unlike traditional diesel or gas-powered trains, electric trains are powered by electric motors driven by electricity supplied through overhead wires, electrified rails, or a third rail system.

In 1842, Scottish inventor Robert Davidson constructed the initial electric train, a locomotive powered by batteries. Subsequently, in 1879, German electrical engineer and industrialist Werner von Siemens unveiled the world's first electric passenger train in Berlin. 

 Electric trains produce fewer emissions and have a lower carbon footprint.The setup of the necessary electrical infrastructure can be expensive.
Electric trains tend to be quieter and more comfortable for passengers.
Electric trains can only operate where there is an electrified rail network or overhead wires.
Electric trains are generally more energy-efficient. 
Power outages or disruptions in the electrical supply can impact the operation of electric trains.

How Does An Electric Engine Work

An electric engine, also known as an electric motor, operates through the interaction between magnetic fields. When an electric current flows through a coil of wire placed within a magnetic field, it generates a force that causes the coil to rotate. 

This rotation is harnessed to produce mechanical energy, which can be used to power trains.

In the context of an electric train, the electric motor drives the wheels through a system of gears or direct mechanical linkage. 

The motor gets its power from an external source, such as overhead wires, which provide the electricity needed to generate the magnetic fields.

fuel for train locomotives

Other Important Things You Need To Know About Train and Locomotive Engines 

How Much Fuel Does A Train Use? 

The fuel consumption of a train can vary widely based on several factors, including the type of train, its weight, design, speed, route, and the efficiency of its engine. However, to provide a general idea:

  1. Diesel-Powered Trains: Diesel locomotives are commonly used in many rail systems. On average, a typical freight diesel locomotive can consume 3 to 5 gallons of diesel fuel per mile. Passenger diesel trains might have slightly lower fuel consumption.
  2. Electric Trains: Electric trains rely on electricity rather than fuel. On average, an electric train can use around 2 to 3 kWh per mile for passenger trains and potentially more for heavy freight trains.

Where Do Trains Get Fuel?

When it comes to fuel for trains and fuel for train locomotives, you definitely need a trustworthy name. Locomotives require fuel around the clock, both day and night, and often necessitate refueling across the entire country. 

Fuel Logic’s extensive network is fully equipped to deliver fuel to your locomotive whenever you need it. You can rely on the proficiency of our fuel consultants to ensure your requirements are met without any worries on your end.

Why Do Trains Use Diesel Instead Of Gasoline?

  1. Longevity and Durability: Diesel engines are designed to be more rugged and durable, making them better suited for constant heavy use.
  2. Lower Flammability: Diesel fuel is less volatile and has a higher flash point compared to gasoline, which makes it safer for storage and transportation. 
  3. Availability: In many regions, diesel fuel is more readily available than gasoline.
  4. Economic Factors: Diesel fuel often has lower taxes and costs less per gallon compared to gasoline in many parts of the world. 

What Kind Of Diesel Do Trains Use? 

Trains typically use a specific type of diesel fuel known as "diesel locomotive fuel" or "locomotive diesel." This diesel fuel is formulated to meet the specific requirements of diesel locomotive engines and the demands of the rail industry. 

When considering locomotive fuel, relying on a reputable source is important. For this, you can trust Fuel Logic. Allow Fuel Logic to enhance your operational efficiency so effortlessly! 

what fuel is used in train

Which Type Of Trains Use Diesel Fuel? 

Diesel fuel is commonly used in various types of trains, especially those that operate in areas without access to electrified tracks or where the infrastructure for electric trains is limited. For example: 

  • Freight Trains
  • Regional and Commuter Train
  • Hybrid Trains

Do Trains Still Run On Coal?

While trains historically used to run on coal, the use of coal as a primary fuel source for trains has significantly declined over the years. Most modern trains have shifted away from coal and now primarily rely on other types of fuel, such as diesel or electricity.

What Is The Most Efficient Train Fuel Type?

Electricity is generally considered the most efficient train fuel type in terms of energy conversion and environmental impact. Electric trains draw power from an external source, such as overhead wires, electrified rails, etc. 

You Have Your Answer for "What Fuel Do Trains Use" – What's Next?

For an effortless process, you can never find a better option than Fuel Logic. As the trains have evolved, so should your choices.

We comprehend the narrow timeframes you need for refueling your locomotive. Your priority is to maintain your operations without delays due to refueling. Fuel Logic options can drastically reduce the time you spend waiting.

Don’t delay. Order now!

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