In general, the average speed of both freight and passenger trains have been on the decline since 1934. The reasons for this decline are both as long and varied as the trains themselves, but could possibly revolve around the emphasis that is placed on over-the-road transportation as opposed to high-speed freight railroads in North America. The rail network hasn’t been invested in as much as other commuter options, so upgrades haven’t been made at the same rate. Faster trains are possible, but the rail lines and railroad companies haven’t made that a priority. So what is the top speed of a train nowadays? Are there speed restrictions? How fast do high-speed trains really go? This article will tell you all about the high-speed rail and American railroads.

Maximum Speed

Locomotive engines for freight are designed to shut off automatically when they reach 910 RPMs (approximately 70-75 mph). However, freight trains seldom reach that level of operation because of track conditions or speed limits set by the Federal Railroad Administration. Most trains move slower or higher speeds depending on the track level. For instance track 1 classification has a limit of 10 mph while level 4 tracks can support speeds up to 60 mph. This is to avoid derailment, especially of intermodal trains at grade crossings. Signal systems and track speeds are meant to keep train sets and passengers safe during rail transport. Dispatchers are in charge of ensuring the safety of rail cars and Amtrak trains doing both passenger service and freight service.

Average Freight Train Speed

For the first decade of the 21st century, freight train speed has varied between 20 and 23 mph. The low was reached in 2006, when rail speeds averaged only 20 miles an hour. The figure has increased slightly since 2006 due to a weaker economy that has resulted in shorter lines of cars on the mainline, especially in the Northeast corridor, in Chicago and New York.

Efficiency Still Improving

The movement of goods across the country by freight trains could play an expanding role in a greener economy. This concept of freight rail is underscored by the fact that over the past several decades the rail freight industry has been able to increase the tonnage shipped without adding to fuel consumption during long-distance. All of this has occurred while the average speed of freight trains has remained steady, as has the passenger rail system.