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Q:

How many freight cars can a train pull?

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Hoghead gave the best answer, and I can tell he is the genuine locomotive engineer! How many cars a train can pull is a poorly asked question. A "train" by official definition is an engine with or without cars with a dispatcher-issued clearance and showing a marker (usually a red flag or red light). A yard engine is not a train unless it has received a clearance and displays a marker. When I ran helper engines "light over the hill" to help another train, I had a clearance form and displayed a rear headlight to serve as my marker. There is an additional term called "string-lining". Southern Pacific had a great railroad until they were changed in corporate structure over to SPTC (Southern Pacific Transportation Company), and all of a sudden Harvard and Yale management types came to tell experienced railroad executives how to run a railroad! (ahem.) Up in the Shasta line and around Redding California, the "new management" got the bright idea of not using the helper formula: add the road ... more
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A train consists of one or more locomotives pulling a string of cars. So a train doesn't "pull cars." A train IS cars. A locomotive or locomotives pull cars. Many factors affect the answer. The maximum number where locomotives are of high horsepower and the engineering of the rail line is good is between 100 and 150 typical cars. more
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