Longest Freight Train in the USA: How Long Is It and How Does It Work?

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The freight rail industry plays a crucial role in the United States economy, ensuring the smooth transportation of goods across vast distances. These trains, also known as freight trains, are an essential part of the transportation infrastructure, carrying a wide variety of cargo from coast to coast.

The length of a freight train can vary significantly depending on various factors, including the type of cargo being transported, the terrain it traverses, and the safety regulations in place to prevent accidents.

In this article, we will delve into the topic of the longest freight train in the USA, explore its length and cargo, and examine the safety measures taken to ensure its smooth operation.

Factors Affecting Freight Train Length

Before delving into the specifics of the longest freight train in the USA, it’s essential to understand the factors that influence the length of these trains. Class I railroads, the major freight rail operators in the country, handle a significant portion of the freight transportation. The median train length varies across these railroads, with different companies having distinct strategies for optimizing their operations.

  1. Type of Cargo: The type of cargo being transported is a crucial factor in determining the train’s length. Some goods, such as bulk materials like coal or grain, can be efficiently packed in long, heavy trains. On the other hand, high-value and time-sensitive goods might require faster but shorter trains.
  2. Terrain: The topography of the region the train travels through also affects train length. In mountainous regions, longer trains may face challenges due to sharp curves and steep grades, which can increase the risk of derailments.
  3. Safety Regulations: Safety is of paramount importance in the freight rail industry. Regulatory bodies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), impose limits on train length to mitigate potential safety risks, like train stability and braking distances.

The Longest Freight Train in the USA

The longest freight train in the USA is the Union Pacific Railroad Company train, which ran from January 8-10, 2010.

Train Name Length Number of Cars Number of Locomotives Cargo Capacity
Union Pacific Railroad Company Train 18,000 feet (5.5 km) 296 container cars 9 diesel-electric Around 600 shipping containers (mostly double-stacked)
BNSF Train of 2010 12,832 feet (3.9 km) 275 container cars 8 diesel-electric Around 500 shipping containers
BHP Iron Ore Train 7,352 km (4.568 miles) 682 wagons 14 diesel-electric Around 89,000 tons of iron ore

Dimensions and Composition

The remarkable train stretched an astounding 18,000 feet, equivalent to approximately 5.5 kilometers. Comprising a staggering 296 container cars, this mammoth cargo hauler was a testament to engineering and logistics prowess.

Locomotives and Speed

To handle such an immense load, the Union Pacific train was powered by an impressive fleet of nine diesel-electric locomotives. These locomotives efficiently pulled the heavy load at a maximum speed of 112 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour), showcasing the perfect blend of power and speed.

Cargo Carried

A crucial aspect of this freight train was its cargo. The train was filled with around 600 shipping containers, many of which were stacked on top of each other, making it a double-stacked freight train. This innovative technique allowed for optimal space utilization and contributed to the train’s extraordinary capacity.

The Previous Record-Holder

Before Union Pacific’s impressive feat, another freight giant held the title of the longest train in the USA.

The BNSF Train of 2010

In the same year, 2010, the BNSF railway company operated a record-breaking freight train as well.

Dimensions and Composition

The BNSF train was a formidable contender, spanning an impressive 12,832 feet, approximately 3.9 kilometers. With 275 container cars connected, this train was a testament to engineering excellence.

Locomotives and Cargo

To haul this substantial load, the BNSF train was equipped with eight diesel-electric locomotives. These powerful engines efficiently propelled the train along its journey, carrying around 500 shipping containers in total.

The BHP Iron Ore Train: A Global Record

While the USA boasts remarkable freight trains, the title for the longest freight train in the world belongs to the BHP Iron Ore train, operated in a different part of the globe.

Dimensions and Composition

Stretching an astonishing 7.352 kilometers, equivalent to approximately 4.568 miles, this train was a true behemoth. Comprising 682 wagons, it showcased unparalleled hauling capabilities.

Locomotives and Cargo

To tackle this extraordinary load, the BHP Iron Ore train relied on an impressive lineup of 14 diesel-electric locomotives. These powerful engines pulled the train effortlessly, carrying a staggering 89,000 tons of iron ore.

Ensuring Safety of Extended Length Trains

Safety is a primary concern when operating longer freight trains. Special precautions were taken by the railroad company to ensure the safe transit of this record-breaking train.

  1. Train Design and Distribution: Longer trains require careful planning of the train’s distribution. Ensuring even weight distribution across the cars is critical for train stability and to minimize the risk of derailments.
  2. Enhanced Braking Systems: Extended length trains require improved braking systems to ensure the train can stop safely and efficiently. Advanced brake technology and distributed power systems are often employed to enhance braking capabilities.
  3. Regular Inspections and Maintenance: The railroad company diligently inspects and maintains the tracks and rolling stock to prevent accidents. Regular inspections help identify potential issues and address them proactively.

The Pros and Cons of Longer Freight Trains

Operating longer freight trains offers several advantages, but it also comes with some drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look:


  1. Increased Efficiency: Longer trains can transport larger volumes of cargo in a single trip, resulting in fewer train movements and reduced fuel consumption. This efficiency can positively impact the overall cost of transportation.
  2. Environmental Impact: By transporting more cargo per train, longer freight trains can contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions per ton of freight moved, making them a more environmentally friendly transportation option compared to other modes, like trucks.


  1. Safety Risks: Longer trains may face higher risks of derailment, especially on challenging terrains or in adverse weather conditions. Proper safety measures and regular inspections are essential to mitigate these risks.
  2. Limited Accessibility: Some rail yards and terminals might not be equipped to handle longer trains, which could limit their operational flexibility.

Freight trains are the backbone of the US economy, transporting a diverse range of goods across the nation efficiently. The longest freight train in the USA, spanning an astonishing length of 3.5 miles, showcases the industry’s commitment to pushing boundaries. Safety remains a top priority, and stringent measures are taken to ensure the smooth operation of extended length trains.

As the freight rail industry continues to evolve, striking a balance between train length, safety, and efficiency remains crucial. By keeping abreast of technological advancements and adhering to safety regulations, the freight rail industry can continue to thrive while minimizing its environmental impact.

Components of a Freight Train

A freight train is made up of several components that work together to transport goods across long distances. These components include locomotives, freight cars, and cabooses. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components.


The locomotive is the powerhouse of the freight train. It is responsible for pulling the entire train and providing the necessary power to transport heavy loads across vast distances. The locomotive is equipped with a diesel engine that drives the wheels and generates electricity to power the train’s lights and other electrical systems.

Modern locomotives are built with advanced technology that allows them to operate more efficiently and with greater precision. They also have sophisticated computer systems that monitor the train’s performance and provide real-time data to the crew.

Freight Cars

Freight cars are the cargo-carrying component of the freight train. They come in various shapes and sizes, and each type of car is designed to carry a specific type of cargo. Some of the most common types of freight cars include boxcars, flatcars, tank cars, and hopper cars.

Boxcars are enclosed and used to transport general cargo such as packaged goods, appliances, and furniture. Flatcars are open and used to carry heavy machinery, large vehicles, and other oversized items. Tank cars are used to transport liquids and gases, such as oil, chemicals, and liquefied natural gas. Hopper cars are used to transport bulk materials, such as coal, grain, and sand.

The number and type of freight cars used in a train depend on the type of cargo being transported, the distance to be covered, and the route taken.


The caboose used to be an essential component of the freight train, serving as a place for the crew to rest, eat, and sleep. However, with the advent of modern technology, the caboose is no longer needed for these purposes.

Today, the caboose is used as a monitoring and inspection car. It is equipped with advanced technology that allows the crew to monitor the train’s performance and detect any potential problems. It is also used to inspect the train and ensure that it is operating safely and efficiently.

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