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Are Train Tracks Electrified?

The world and its daily practices are constantly evolving to become more environmentally friendly in the hopes of a greener and better future for the planet.

Therefore, the next natural step in the locomotive transport industry is to convert trains from using diesel as a fuel to being electrically powered, which will decrease the carbon footprint that the industry has on the environment.

Only a third of the world’s train tracks are electrified. Electrified tracks are known as the “third rail” and give power to electric trains by conducting electricity through the tracks, powered by various substations on the route. Electric trains can also be powered by overhead electrical lines.

Although all electrically powered trains use one of these methods to function, not all train tracks across the world are electrified, and nearly 60 percent of the railroad industry uses locomotives with diesel-powered engines.

The Electrification Of Train Tracks

Electric trains are powered using one of two methods. These methods include using overhead electrical lines above the railway tracks or electrified train tracks to power the trains. 

They are powered by 750 volts of electricity supplied by numerous substations along the side of the railway.

These electrified tracks have a constant supply of power that is never turned off, so even when there are no trains in sight on the railway, the tracks are still live with electricity passing through them.

Overhead electrical lines, however, have much more voltage passing through them and are significantly more dangerous than electrified tracks, carrying up to 25 000 volts through them.

How Widespread Is The Use Of Electrified Train Tracks?

Electric train tracks are used by many countries worldwide, and the percentage of railroads being electrified across the globe is constantly increasing, with more than a third of the world’s railways being powered by electricity.

Many countries have made significant efforts to switch to electrified train tracks to increase energy efficiency and this will only increase in the future.

The U.S. only has less than 1 percent of its railway tracks electrified due to having less funding available for the development of the railroad industry in the country as a result of being owned privately.

Other countries whose railroads are government-owned, however, have a much more significant portion of their tracks electrified.

In Western Europe, more than 57 percent of the railroad tracks have been electrified, with North America’s railroads only having 1 percent of their tracks electrified.

The percentage of railroad tracks that have been electrified in Asia over the recent years has also increased dramatically, having over 34 percent of their tracks electrified by 2013 and more than 55% electrified by 2020.

Countries such as India and China have some of the largest populations and railway systems across the globe. They are at the forefront of railway electrification progress, with India having over 80 percent and China having over 71 percent of their tracks electrified.

Some countries, such as Switzerland and Armenia, are the first and only countries to have successfully electrified their entire railroad systems and can be used as a prime example to show what benefits track electrification can truly have for society.

Advantages Of Electrified Train Tracks

The electrification of train tracks is the future of the locomotive transport industry. Apart from being better for the environment, there are other advantages to using electric trains instead of locomotives powered by diesel engines. 

One of the reasons that an electric train is more efficient is that it utilizes about 95 percent of the energy produced from the electricity it supplies for the wheels. In contrast, a diesel-powered locomotive only utilizes up to 35 percent of its power for the wheels. 

Using electric railways also saves on fossil fuels as they do not need to use diesel as a fuel source to power locomotives, which lowers the carbon footprint and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the industry produces.

Although the initial development cost of electric railways is significantly more than employing the use of diesel-powered locomotives, maintaining electric trains and railways is much cheaper than maintenance for diesel locomotives.

The Reason Why Not All Train Tracks Are Electrified

The railways were the leading transport industry for most of the 20th century. In the early to mid part of the 20th century, the industry saw one of its most evolutionary changes by employing diesel and electric-powered locomotives instead of steam-powered ones.

While many countries opted for using electric locomotives, most of them decided to transition to diesel-powered locomotives instead.

This is because the upfront costs of diesel locomotives are far less than that of electric trains, even though electric trains cost significantly less to maintain than diesel-powered locomotives.

Industrialized countries that did opt to employ the use of electric locomotives as opposed to diesel-powered locomotives were able to do so because the railroads in those countries were owned by the governments.

As a result, governments can invest a larger sum of money into developing their railroads than those countries whose railroads were owned by the private sector.

The railroads in the U.S. are owned and regulated by the private sector and therefore have less access to large sources of funding for developing the railroads.

Consequently, the U.S. only has less than 1 percent of its railway tracks electrified, as the railroad owners opted to employ diesel locomotives to cut down on initial costs.

There are, however, projects underway that work towards the electrification of more railway tracks in the U.S. to allow for sustainable development and further evolution of the railroad transport industry.


Most of the world’s railways use diesel locomotives instead of electric trains due to lower upfront costs and lack of funding for developing electric infrastructure.

However, railway systems are evolving to be more power efficient and environmentally friendly, with the world having over 30 percent of its railways electrified so far.

Countries such as Switzerland and Armenia have fully electrified their railroad systems.

Others with the largest percentages of their train tracks electrified include India and China, with more than 70 percent of their railways electrified, with more on the way. However, the U.S. only has less than 1 percent of its railway tracks electrified due to a lack of funding.