Is it possible to use three locomotives to run a longer train?

Diesellok Baureihe 261 mit Güterzug unterwegs - Windräder prägen das Landschaftsbild

The answer is yes. The Distributed Power System (DPS) is an initiative that could make this possible. Developed jointly by DB Cargo, Bombardier Transportation and Faiveley Transportation, the DPS could revolutionise rail freight transport. It allows the use of three locomotives to run a single train, and in the long-term, such a development could lead to the use of 1,500 metre-long trains.

In DPS’ three locomotive concept, one is leading from the train’s head, controlling the other two remotely. The idea might sound similar to the traditional double-heading technique, but it is not. The project has been developing since 2017 as part of the Shift2Rail initiative; however, some tests that took place earlier this year bring it closer to realisation.

How it works

In contrast to double-heading that uses two locomotives to provide better traction for a single train, DPS brings three different trains together. Specifically, three shorter trains can link to each other, forming a long train. Respectively, they can move as one platoon on their common railway route. How is this possible? By using three different locomotives.

The locomotives are positioned on the head, middle and end of the long train. Since their operation is synchronised and controlled by the leading locomotive, they are suitable for moving longer and heavier trains. In the future, train lengths could reach 1,500 metres due to this innovation. Understandably, rail freight capacities will be completely different if the project moves from theory to practice. Of course, more capacities mean better competition conditions and less congested freight routes.

Successful testing

After almost three years of developments and preparations, DPS started taking flesh and bones in February 2021. The first tests proved to be quite successful. Over seven days, the DPS train covered 2,000 kilometres in different landscapes and all relevant driving and braking conditions. The only problem that it faced was minor and related to radio interruptions.

During the testing, the train carried mixed wagon types and different load levels without facing any issues. This means that the project is suitable not only for single-wagon loads but also for block trains and combined transport.

Testing such an innovation during the European Year of Rail could indicate its importance, especially since the DPS project seems safe and capable of undertaking the task of moving longer trains on European tracks. However, is European infrastructure ready to take the next step and open up the way for longer trains, or will this project remain just a good idea?

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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