How Many Kinds of Trains Are There?

Posted on October 18th, 2011, by Mike

For my nephew Jeremy, who is a “train expert”, I have a question: How many kinds of trains are there?

Well, there are at least three that I know of. That would be trains powered by steam engines, or diesels, or by electricity. I guess we could add to that trains that are towed by animals, such as horses, so that makes four kinds.

Aside from the type of locomotion, there is also the kind of track they run on. There’s the conventional pair of rails, then there are monorails, and even mag-lev track. Oh, and I just remembered cog railways, with a toothed center rail. That makes another four kinds, but since you can mix-and-match the types of locomotion with the types of track, we are now up to four TIMES four or sixteen different kinds of trains!

Some railroads are owned and run by governments, while others are privately owned. So, times two, we’re up to 32 kinds of trains.

Some trains carry only passengers, while others haul freight. Let’s make that total now 32 x 2 = 64 kinds of trains.

Most trains run on standard gauge track, with 4 feet 8.5 inches between the rails. However, there are some that run on broad gauge track with a wider spacing, and there are some that run on narrow gauge track. With that factor of 3, we are up to 64 x 3 = 192 kinds of trains!

A caboose was a common sight on trains until recently, so we can further distinguish between trains that have one versus those that do not. 192 x 2 = 384 kinds of trains.

Some trains were built to be sleek and fast-looking, with what is known as streamlining. Other trains are just plain and utilitarian, boxy looking based on whatever their function is. So now we are up to 384 x 2 = 768 kinds of trains.

Most railroads connect to other railroads so that they can carry each other’s freight cars, which is referred to as interchange. But some railroads don’t interchange at all. Let’s bump the total up to 728 x 2 = 1,536 different kinds of trains!

Finally, there are trains that are real, in that they are full-size and operate in the real world, and there are model trains, which run in a made-up world built by someone. So that means that we now have 1,536 x 2 = 3,072 different kinds of trains! I bet you didn’t think there were over three thousand unique kinds of trains in the world. Can you think of any more?

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