There is lots to learn about trains and railways. Here are some of the best train facts for kids. If you already know some, just skip to the section that you are most interested in.
Simple train facts for kids
A train is typically made up of an engine (also called a locomotive) and carriages or trucks.
Trains are used to move passengers or cargo along railway tracks.
Trains are mostly powered by electricity or diesel now.
Trains can be built to suit their environment (so trains in mountains are different to those crossing flat ground).
They can also be changed to suit pulling heavy or light loads.
History of trains and railways
The very first trains were pulled by ropes, horses or gravity.
The first tracks were made of wood, but metal was used early on as engines were so heavy.
Trains were first used to pull cargo but quickly were used for people.
Steam engines were developed through the 19th century (that’s the 1800s).
Diesel and electric locomotives were developed through the 20th century (the 1900s).
Magnetic levitation (where magnets lift a train just off a track and propel it along) is the most recent technology used.
The first passenger trains had three classes. First class had lots of windows and were well furnished; second class were more simply decorated; while third class was not decorated and sometimes didn’t even have a roof.
Trains changes how people lived in many countries. They helped people go on holiday more easily; let them live outside cities and travel in for work; and move fresh food, construction material and other goods around more quickly and easily.
General train facts
Some trains have an engine (locomotive) at the front and another at the back.
Cargo trains typically have an engine (locomotive) at the front and possibly a back engine.
Passenger trains often have carriages that help push the train forward (known as multiple units).
A train that has just one rail is call a monorail.
Funicular railways have two cars joined by cables. As one goes down, it helps pull the other one up.
Some high speed rail services can reach speeds over 300 kilometres per hour (186 miles per hour).
The word ‘train’ comes from the Old French trahiner, from the Latin trahere ‘pull, draw’.
Some trains tilt to help them go around corners quickly but still safely and comfortably for passengers.
Trains can have double-decker carriages so they can carry more passengers.
Some passenger trains have fold up seats so more people can fit in standing up during busy times.
The invention and success of aeroplanes, cars, lorries and buses means that trains are no longer the main way of transporting people and cargo.
High speed trains typically make less air pollution than aeroplanes for the same distance.
This post continues below. You may also like to read about the three train fact books I recommend here.
Steam train facts
Inventor James Watt created an engine in 1775 that used steam to turn a wheel.
Steam engines often have a tender, a special truck right behind the locomotive to carry its coal.
Steam engines have three types of wheels. The smallest wheels at the front are called leading wheels and these help to guide the train. The largest wheels are called driving wheels and make the engine move. The wheels at the back are called trailing wheels and they help carry the weight of the firebox and driver’s cab.
Richard Trevithick built the first steam engine in 1804 but it broke the track because it was too heavy.
Richard Trevithick’s then built a second engine called Catch Me Who Can. As it was lighter, it ran well.
George Stephenson built a steam engine called Locomotion and used it to pull trucks of coal on England’s first proper railway in 1825. George Stephenson is well known for building an engine called Rocket.
The Flying Scotsman became the first engine (locomotive) to be recorded travelling faster than 100 miles per hour in 1934.
Mallard became the fastest steam engine (locomotive) when it went 125.88 miles per hour in 1938.
British steam trains used to be built and sold abroad, but slowly other countries learned to build their own.
Steam engines make a choo-choo sound because it is releasing excess steam.
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Diesel train facts
Diesel trains started replacing steam trains in the 1930s because they were cheaper and faster, although the first didn’t come to England until the 1960s.
The world’s longest ever freight train was pulled by 16 diesel engines and had 660 trucks.
Electric train facts
Electric engines started replacing steam ones in the 1880s, partly because their smoke covered buildings near city railways with soot.
High-speed electric trains started covering long distances from the 1950s.
Electricity for electric trains comes from a special rail running alongside the railway tracks or from overhead cables.
Shinkansen, one of the most famous bullet trains, first ran in Japan in 1964. It ran on a new high speed track between Osaka and Tokyo. These bullet trains could run at 130 miles per hour.
TGV trains, with an average speed of close to 170 miles per hour, started running between Paris and Lyon in 1982.
The Channel Tunnel, which carries passengers and freight between England and France, was built in 1994.
Underground railway facts
The London Underground was opened in 1863, with steam engines running on the Metropolitan line for 4 miles. It was the world’s first underground railway.
Eventually electric trains replaced steam ones because they were too dirty and smelly.
Underground trains remain incredibly important in busy cities because cars and buses get stuck in traffic.
Some cities have urban railways that run above the ground or on the ground, but all make frequent station stops.
UK railways facts
About 3.5 million passengers travel by train every day in the UK.
The longest railway tunnel in Britain is the Severn Tunnel which is 4.5 miles (7km) long.
The longest train station in England is more than 600 metres long.
The longest UK train station name is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Anglesey. The shortest have three letters such as Ash, Ely and Rye.
Seven of every ten journeys by rail in the UK start or finish in London.
The busiest station in the UK is London Waterloo.
There are 40,000 bridges and tunnels, 9,000 level crossings and 9,941 miles (16,000 km) of railway tracks in Great Britain’s rail network.
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