Brigitte Hafner
is a communicator in the Rail Cargo Group
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RCG Inside

Railways simply explained:
double heading

Do you know what “double heading” means? Or why multiple-unit traction can take different forms? Why for example both traction units are placed at the front of a freight train and then at other times with one locomotive pushing from behind?

When forming trains, we must not only consider the freight wagons, but also the traction vehicle. For each transport route that we run freight trains on, there is a so-called “route class” that describes the track characteristics and loading of the railway lines. It indicates the maximum permissible total weight of a freight wagon.

Furthermore, there are different traction units that have different trailing loads  due to their technical equipment. The loading of the traction units, the coupling hook load limits and the maximum “banking” (pushing) load can be taken from the infrastructure schedule support tables. The topographical conditions of a country often require two, three or even four traction vehicles to convey a freight train from A to B over certain sections of track.

A double header pulling a long freight train. © ÖBB_David Payr

Running a train with two traction units can take different forms – e.g.:

  • Tandem operation – the two locomotives are connected together synchronously and controlled by one traction unit driver.
  • Pilot engine – the technical equipment of the double header requires that locomotives 1 and 2 are each controlled by a traction unit driver.
  • A second locomotive is attached as a “bank engine” to the rear of the train if the coupling hook of the pulling traction unit is not strong enough. This second locomotive acts as a pusher engine for the freight train. This use requires a traction unit driver in each locomotive.

Last year, the Rail Cargo Group operated trains equipped with reinforced couplers and buffers for the first time. These allow a fifty percent higher trailing load to be pulled. With a resulting reduction in the number of traction units required.

A long train with twin traction units winding its way through the countryside. © ÖBB_David Payr