Obviously the optimum train length will change depending on what trains are available, the cargo types, and maybe even how hilly the land is. But what train lengths should a beginner pick for some common scenarios if he/she doesn't want to do lots of math to calculate the best size?

The ideal answer would address common scenarios such as:

  • A passenger line with early train technology.
  • A freight line with early train technology.
  • What changes when you get to electric trains and beyond?

As well as intuitive ways to extend those rules of thumb to different scenarios and general guidelines about train length to consider when building a large rail network.

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    You likely already know this, and it's not a real answer in and of itself - but you should never have a train longer than the smallest station that it stops at because of the huge load/unload time penalty it incurs.
    – JonK
    Aug 25, 2014 at 9:42
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    It also matters which acceleration model you're using in the game options. Are you using Original or Realistic?
    – JonK
    Aug 25, 2014 at 9:58
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    Something else to consider is how large your curves are - longer trains need longer curves so they don't get hit with a speed cap. This isn't such a problem in the early game as the cap is higher than the maximum speed, but definitely in the later game it can be problematic. Consider also any junctions you have where trains can block other trains - a longer train will take a longer time to clear the junction and could easily cause congestion.
    – KingJ
    Aug 25, 2014 at 10:35
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    I agree that it needs to be included in one - but on it's own it doesn't constitute enough for a complete answer, which is why I added it as a comment for now :)
    – JonK
    Aug 25, 2014 at 17:00
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    I've not played in a couple of years, but my rule of thumb was to start the game with a network of trains no longer than 4 tiles, with signal spacing to match (5 tiles, to account for 1 tile overlap). This would expand to several sparse networks across the map. Once money/tech was not as much of a problem, I would introduce long-haul 8 tile (or longer depending on map layout) trains to connect feeder stations (sometimes converted from original n sources -> 1 consumer ) to distant consumers. Aug 28, 2014 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


My rule of thumb for initial sizing of trains is that a train should carry between two and three months of cargo. The idea is that since the engine is the most expensive part of a train and doesn't generate any revenue itself, you want it pulling as much as possible. A two-to-three-month load time ensures you get at least two loads delivered a year, and (should) eliminate chance of the train having a negative profit for the year, which reduces your company performance rating. This sizing is subject to the following constraints:

  • A train must never be longer than any of the stations it stops at. Loading or unloading an oversized train has a huge speed penalty.
  • A fully-loaded train should get up to its maximum speed in a reasonable amount of time (typically, about 10%-20% of the way into its journey).
  • A fully-loaded train should never drop below top speed for more than a brief period (though this usually follows from the previous point).

Note that I haven't given any actual numbers for length for particular engines. This is because it depends strongly on the situation: for example, if a train runs downhill from producing industry to consuming industry, I can get away with an "undersized" engine for the length of train, since it's got gravity assisting it.

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