Why Are Locomotives Left Idling?

You may notice railway locomotives idling for long periods of time. Why are they left like this? Isn’t it wasteful?

Locomotives are complex, expensive machines and the railways want to ensure the locomotive is kept in peak operating condition. It takes a lot to start and stop a locomotive and it may make more sense to have it idle than to start and stop it frequently.

Also, locomotives use water to cool the engine, and they have oil systems to keep it lubricated. The water and oil cannot freeze, so in cold weather the locomotive must run to keep them warm enough to avoid freezing. There are systems like SmartStart by ZTR to periodically start and stop locomotives to reduce idling time.

Locomotives may also be keeping the air pressure charged on the air brakes in a train. This requires a compressor in the locomotive to run, so the locomotive’s engine has to be running to run the compressor.

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