Triebfahrzeugführer im Führerstand

Passengers or freight – the different types of train drivers

10. 07. 2023

Train drivers are true heroes on the rails. With thousands of horsepower at their command and the duty to transport many tonnes of freight or hundreds of passengers, they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. But there isn’t just one type of train driver: here we explain the differences between passenger and freight transport. 

Whether they work in passenger or freight transport, all train drivers have one thing in common: they control powerful locomotives and modern railway cars on different routes across Europe and as far away as Asia. The responsibility for getting freight or passengers to their destinations safely and on time rests on their shoulders. They guide trains weighing up to 3,000 tonnes through breathtaking landscapes. For that reason, their job not only requires technical skill, but also a high degree of concentration and the ability to react quickly. 

Swift as an arrow: train drivers in passenger transport

Train drivers who work in passenger transport control vehicles that are specifically designed to carry people. They fly along at speeds of up to 230 km/h. The trains they drive are normally fixed train compositions such as Railjets, long-distance trains such as the InterCityExpress (ICE) or international connections. They use R and Mg brakes (friction and magnetic track braking), which slow the train down with a brake weight percentage of 200. This makes for a speedy and strong braking response, allowing the driver to stop precisely at station platforms.

Strong as a rock: train drivers in freight transport

Train drivers who work in freight transport have to deal with completely different challenges. Their top speeds are normally about 100 km/h – which is no surprise, given that they are carrying loads of up to 3,800 tonnes on a train that could be up to 700 metres long.  

Sometimes a train consists of different freight cars; other times it is a block train in which all freight cars are of the same type. The freight train driver’s tasks include shunting runs, brake tests and the input of train data into various devices. They use G and P brakes (slow/fast acting brake), which results in a somewhat weaker brake weight percentage of 60 to 100. The driver controls traction, the air brake, the dynamic e-brake and the direct brake using several lever. On downhill stretches in particular (e.g. at Semmering), the dynamic e-brake does most of the work, often with the support of the air brake for heavy trains.

Common ground

Whereas one group makes sure that passengers can start their journey safely and on time, the other group has the task of keeping the wheels of industry turning by transporting freight. The differences between the two disciplines are illustrated in the specific requirements for the types of braking, braking behaviour and train composition.  

But whether they work in passenger or freight transport, train drivers are true professionals who use their expertise and experience to help rail transport to run smoothly. Every single person at ÖBB Group is worth their weight in gold.