Top and tail

Last updated
In a top-and-tailed train, only the front locomotive is used; any other engines run "dead-in-train". Top-and-tail-train.svg
In a top-and-tailed train, only the front locomotive is used; any other engines run "dead-in-train".

A top-and-tail railway train has locomotives at both ends, for ease of changing direction, especially where the terminal station has no run-round loop. This is a British term. It is normal for only the leading locomotive to power the train when in top-and-tail mode. [1]

It is properly distinct from a push-pull train, which has a locomotive at one end and a control cab at the other end.

Trains going up zig zags of the Khyber Pass are top-and-tailed, although Pakistan Railways calls this by a different term.

In Japan, the term "push-pull" is confusingly used to describe trains top-and-tailed with a locomotive at either end. (True push-pull operation with a locomotive at one end is not seen on Japanese mainline railways.[ citation needed ])


In New South Wales the XPT is a train with a light weight locomotive at either end. It is based on the British HST. The locomotive at the front operates at full traction power, while the locomotive at the rear operates at half power, the other half powering lighting and air conditioning, etc. This power arrangement is needed to cater with steep 1 in 40 (2,5%, or 25) and 1 in 33 (3%, or 30‰) gradients.

Occasionally a short XPT train operates with only one engine and fewer carriages, in which case the whole train must be turned on a triangle such as at Dubbo. [2]

Top and tail operation is also used for ballast trains which have to move up and down a line undergoing track maintenance. It is safer to drive these trains from the front when operating in "reverse".

Related Research Articles

Locomotive Self-propelled railway vehicle

A locomotive or engine is a rail transport vehicle that provides the motive power for a train. If a locomotive is capable of carrying a payload, it is usually rather referred to as a multiple unit, motor coach, railcar or power car; the use of these self-propelled vehicles is increasingly common for passenger trains, but rare for freight.

Train A series of rail vehicles, including a locomotive, for transporting cargo and/or passengers

A train is a form of rail transport consisting of a series of connected vehicles that generally run along a railroad track to transport passengers or cargo. The word "train" comes from the Old French trahiner, derived from the Latin trahere meaning "to pull" or "to draw".

Multiple unit Self-propelled train

A multiple-unit train or simply multiple unit (MU) is a self-propelled train composed of one or more carriages joined together, which when coupled to another multiple unit can be controlled by a single driver, with multiple-unit train control.

Distributed power

In rail transport, distributed power (DP) is a generic term referring to the physical distribution—at intermediate points throughout the length of a train—of separate motive power groups. Such 'groups' may be single units or multiple consists, and are remotely controlled from the leading locomotive. The practice allows locomotives to be placed anywhere within the length of a train when standard multiple-unit (MU) operation is impossible or impractical. DP can be achieved by wireless or wired (trainlined) means. Wired systems now provided by various suppliers use the cabling already extant throughout an ECP train.

Brake van

Brake van and guard's van are terms used mainly in the UK, Australia and India for a railway vehicle equipped with a hand brake which can be applied by the guard. The equivalent North American term is caboose, but a British brake van and a caboose are very different in appearance, because the former usually has only four wheels, while the latter usually has bogies. German railways employed Brakeman's cabins combined into other cars.

Multiple-unit train control, sometimes abbreviated to multiple-unit or MU, is a method of simultaneously controlling all the traction equipment in a train from a single location—whether it is a multiple unit comprising a number of self-powered passenger cars or a set of locomotives—with only a control signal transmitted to each unit. This contrasts with arrangements where electric motors in different units are connected directly to the power supply switched by a single control mechanism, thus requiring the full traction power to be transmitted through the train.

Glossary of rail transport terms Wikipedia glossary

Rail terminology is a form of technical terminology. The difference between the American term railroad and the international term railway is the most significant difference in rail terminology. There are also others, due to the parallel development of rail transport systems in different parts of the world.

InterCity (British Rail)

InterCity was introduced by British Rail in 1966 as a brand-name for its long-haul express passenger services.

Driving Van Trailer

A Driving Van Trailer (DVT) is a purpose-built control car railway vehicle that allows the driver to operate with a locomotive in push-pull formation from the opposite end of a train. Trains operating with a DVT consequently do not need the locomotive to be moved around to the other end of the train at terminal stations. Unlike many other control cars, DVTs resemble locomotives and thus when the train is operating in push mode, it does not appear to be travelling backwards. The vehicles do not have any passenger accommodation due to health and safety rules in place at the time of building that prohibited passengers in the leading carriages of trains that run faster than 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). Historically, it was believed that a train would be unstable at high speeds unless pulled from the front but extensive testing, and the experience of high speed trains with central power cars such as the British Rail APT and the Eurostar, have altered this view.

Driving Brake Standard Open

A Driving Brake Standard Open (DBSO) is a type of railway carriage, converted to operate as a control car. Fourteen such vehicles, numbered 9701 to 9714, were converted from Mark 2F Brake Standard Open carriages. Modifications included adding a driving cab and TDM equipment to allow a locomotive to be driven remotely. Using a system known as push–pull, the driver in the DBSO can drive the locomotive, even though it is at the rear of the train.

Push–pull is a configuration for locomotive-hauled trains, allowing them to be driven from either end of the train, whether having a locomotive at each end or not.

Power car

In rail transport, the expression power car may refer to either of two distinct types of rail vehicle:

Glossary of United Kingdom railway terms Wikipedia glossary

This page contains a list of jargon used to varying degrees by railfans, trainspotters, and railway employees in the United Kingdom, including nicknames for various locomotives and multiple units. Although not exhaustive, many of the entries in this list appear from time to time in specialist, rail-related publications. There may be significant regional variation in usage.

Polmont rail accident

The Polmont rail accident, also known as the Polmont rail disaster, occurred on 30 July 1984 to the west of Polmont, near Falkirk, in Scotland. A westbound push-pull express train travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow struck a cow, which had gained access to the track through a damaged fence from a field near Polmont railway station. The collision caused all six carriages and the locomotive of the train to derail, killing 13 people and injuring 61 others. The accident led to a debate about the safety of push-pull trains on British Rail.

British Rail Class 126

The British Rail Class 126 diesel multiple unit was built by BR Swindon Works in 1959/60 to work services from Glasgow to Ayrshire and comprised 22 3-car sets based on the earlier Swindon-built trainsets that had been introduced in 1955 to work the Edinburgh Waverley - Glasgow Queen St services. These vehicles formed the first Inter City service to be operated by diesel units in Great Britain. The introduction of these early diesel multiple units originated in a British Transport Commission report of 1952 that suggested the trial use of diesel railcars. BR's Swindon Works were chosen to design and build express units for the ex-North British Railway Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street route.

Long hood

The long hood of a hood unit-style diesel locomotive is, as the name implies, the longer of the two hoods on a locomotive, particularly American-type freight locomotives and Indonesian locomotives.


A headshunt is a short length of track provided to release locomotives at terminal platforms, or to allow shunting to take place clear of main lines.

Control car Unpowered railway or tramway car with a drivers cab

A control car, cab car, control trailer, or driving trailer is a generic term for a non-powered railroad (US) or railway (UIC) vehicle that can control operation of a train at the end, opposite to the position of the locomotive. They can be used with diesel or electric motive power, allowing push-pull operation without the use of an additional locomotive. They can also be used with a power car or a railcar. In a few cases control cars were used with steam locomotives, especially in Germany and France.

New South Wales XPT

The New South Wales XPT is the main long-distance passenger train operated by NSW TrainLink on regional railway services in New South Wales, Australia from Sydney to Dubbo, Grafton and Casino as well as interstate destinations, Brisbane, and Melbourne. The XPT is based on the British Rail designed High Speed Train and entered service in April 1982.

CIÉ 2600 Class

The Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) 2600 Class were Associated Equipment Company (AEC)–engined diesel multiple units that operated InterCity and suburban services on the CIÉ system between 1952 and 1975. Many were later converted for push–pull operation with diesel locomotives, finally being withdrawn when displaced by the electric Dublin Area Rapid Transit service in the mid-1980s.


  1. Vamos, Samantha R. (Aug 18, 2015). Alphabet Trains (Children's book). Charlesbridge Publishing. ISBN   9781607348573 . Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  2. "ARTC" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-12-30.