View Full Version : 6 locomotives?

Gregory Wallace
08-12-2003, 10:32 PM
Ok, another (stupid) rookie question... but it's one that I've always wondered about.

Today I was driving across the I-55 Mississippi River bridge between Memphis and Arkansas. There is a RR bridge beside it, and on that was a train crossing east-to-west that had 6 locomotives.

Granted, it was a fairly long train, but does it really take 6 locomotives to pull a train? When I see something like that -- 3,4,5 or more engines leading a train -- are all of them pulling? Or are some of the engines "deadheading", for lack of a better word? And why?

Thanks in advance for any answers,
CL360 (http://www.cyclechaos.com/wiki/Honda_CL360)

08-13-2003, 01:34 AM
Hello again!

It sometimes takes a lot of power to move a train over grades(river valleys). A train may even have power for grades that are anticipated much further down the line than is visible, saving the time it takes to stop, add on locomotives,test brakes,etc. A railroad may even anticipate a locomotive shortage ahead of time and move those locomotives to where they are needed in the first available train. Locomotives break, too! A hot(priority) train may sometimes have extra power just to take breakdowns into account or the train may be transfering locomotives that need immidiate attention. A lot of reasons for what you are witness to, that can be answered in many ways, and probably only raises more questions! If I'm not mistaken those locomotives are the property of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR. If so, please reply. Thank You!

Gregory Wallace
08-13-2003, 02:23 PM
If I'm not mistaken those locomotives are the property of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR. If so, please reply. Thank You!

You're correct...BNSF has a pretty large terminal facility here and this morning's paper says they're going to be expanding it five-fold. So I see a lot of those locomotives. Nice colors.

Also, Canadian National RR is anchoring some kind of super-terminal here, so their presence in Memphis will soon increase, along with whomever else signs on to using that terminal
BN125 (http://www.cyclechaos.com/wiki/Kawasaki_BN125)

Chris Starnes
08-13-2003, 02:51 PM
Some trains will shuffle extra power between terminals - that may be the reason why you saw those extra engines on that train.

Due to tonnage ratings and such, most railroads (and lines in specific) have a max. number of power axles that can be online (working) at one time. Generally, you will not find more than 4 locos online per train (maybe 5 at the most). Anymore than that will put so much pressure on the drawbars/couplers that it could cause them to break.


08-19-2003, 10:09 PM
I remember three years ago in Gallitzin, PA I saw an eastbound train with 6 locomotives on the point, C40-9W, C36-7, SD60, SD40-2, C40-9W, GP38-2, and two SD40-2's on the rear. I recall all of the units being online and running but it sure seemed like it needed all that power because it was only making about 9 mph. or so up the hill.

09-07-2003, 06:41 AM
The most I've seen was 11. But only the first 4 or 5 were online. Also it was mostly older power. This was south of Knoxville, TN heading for Chattanooga. So I assume that they were heading for the shops at Chatanooga. Also every now and again I'll see movements of just locos usually 4-6.

07-12-2005, 03:17 AM
Does it really take six locomotives to pull a train? It all depends on the terrain and what locomotives are being used. I'm familiar with the bridge your talking about and I've never seen six at the headend so that would be a little unusual. I've always seen like two up front and a remote (DP) unit pushing headed back west with a empty coal train. But its like everybody said above, they could be shipping units were they need to go or they are broke down. I've personally seen, outside of Helena MT, loaded grain trains pull outside of town with five SD-40-2s on the point, stop, and they put in five more SD-40-2s in the middle and four more at the tail end pushing. And let me tell you boys and girls, when all three of them boys drop the hammer on 42 thousand horsepower.......it makes you proud to be a railfan. And about thirty minutes later nine locomotives come back and they sit there until the next train comes up. Montana Rail Link in the 90's used to pull a 80 car mixed freight between Bozeman and Billings with seven or eight locomotives. But we are talking about GP-9s and SD-9s and SD-35s. Low horsepower units and one's going to blow up, one's going to have a supercharger go out, and one will shut down because it's low of oil. I think NS has the record for the longest train pulled in the country, four miles of cars, with about 12 or 14 units I think. It all depends is what my point is. No class 1 is going to put eight SD-80s up front on a train in the mountains because of draw bar breakage and stringlining. So what you saw was either the need for power or some units being transported were they need to go, either way the RR knows what it is doing...........

07-12-2005, 10:24 AM
I believe sometimes railroads transfer locomotives from yard to yard on trains instead of running them light. A lot of times the freights around here will have a switcher as the last unit in a three or four unit set. I know Conrail required a certain amount of locomotives in each yard so they put lots of units on a train or they ran a light engine move frequently.

07-12-2005, 10:33 AM
Here is a picture of a KMNOA 11 on the UP's Chester Sub with eleven units. The first 8 engines were cut off at Dupo and took an MASYCX 12 north to Chicago later that night. Several of those engines were just being ferried to Chicago. Those 8 were originally supposed to run light to Chicago, but they changed plans at the last minute. The KMNOA 11 ran west to Oakland with the 9th, 10th, and 11th units.


07-12-2005, 10:41 AM
i think that not all the units in any huge train run in the same time all the time(just in special cases).
like wat guilford said running up the hill or want to make more speed for clearing the line or any thing in the complex operations in the railroads.
also u can let that one of these 6locos is broken down and the company send it with this train to be fixed in another area and to be fueled in another area too.

07-16-2005, 03:41 AM
On the BNSF Chilli sub here, we regularly get 8-10 locos heading short intermodal trains. We also get light power moves. Somewhere I have a B&W picture of 10 or 12 locos just powering through on their own.

Joe the Photog
07-23-2005, 01:02 AM

Funny that when I saw the title of this thread, I thought back to the time when I saw ten units on the same train. It was my first time in the Memphis area and it was crossing the river at the same spot you saw this rain. Mind you, I thought of all this before I actually opened the thread.

But that's beside the point and probably is only fascinating to me because I just took two Benadryl, LOL.

My hunch on multiple locos on this line is that they're heading somewhere for inspection or repairs, possibly Kansas City, but that is just a hunch. I was I had been a better photog back in 99 because the coolest thing I saw was a total of ten SD70MACs on BNSF, six H2s and four execs, on an empty coal train of all things!!! (Sitting in the siding, and no boubt seven if not eight were DIT.)

Not the same thing, but the coolest thing of all might be the seven end cab lash ups on the Lancaster and Chester that are fairly common. Or on line and pulling grain such as


pulling "Union style" in this shot.

Joe H.

07-23-2005, 01:41 AM
A few months ago I was seeing a lot of unusual trains. 3-5 units pulling maybe 20 cars, and up to 10 units pulling 40-60 cars. It seemed to be a week of power moving. I sat and scratched my head seeing all of these short trains being pulled by several locos. I seriously doubted the power was needed for the particular trains, I just figured the locos were being moved to where they were needed.

When I pass by the rail yard, I usualy see 8 or so locos hanging around, and other days, there is a loco traffic jam!

07-23-2005, 02:12 AM
Here is some more discussion about locomotive assignments:


07-23-2005, 11:29 AM
where they all under power ?

07-24-2005, 12:01 AM
where they all under power ?

It was hard to tell from where I was viewing (about 250 yards). Since you asked, I recall that it didn't seem like they were all powered. It would sure be a waste to consume that much fuel on a light train.

07-25-2005, 07:43 PM
With fuel prices as high as they are now, I bet only 2-3 were running under power ... :wink: