The Locomotive Engine Quiz

By: Dave Davis
The Locomotive Engine Quiz
Image: Unsplash by Akshay Nanavati

About This Quiz

They can be used to move freight in bulk or passengers in style, but the story of modern trains is almost as old as the United States itself. As the pioneers moved west, the journey was often dangerous to the point of being deadly. When the trains followed them, however, the passage became much easier and allowed common people from the East Coast to find their fortunes — and have supplies delivered once they got there!

At the front of the train is a beast of a machine: the locomotive. Driven first by steam, and then by diesel fuel, electricity and other means, the locomotive is the prime mover for this type of transportation. Of course, you know a locomotive by sight, but how much do you really know about this workhorse of transportation? 

Although the "iron horse's" use as a primary mode of passenger transportation may have passed, trains still provide a valuable means of moving products and supplies from place to place both in the United States and around the world. Rail transport is one of the most inexpensive ways to move goods from place to place. And, when you consider subways and other commuter lines, trains still provide a valuable means of personal transportation.

This quiz will test your knowledge of locomotive technology, history and the way these massive machines are used to make a difference in our day-to-day lives. While we can't let you play with the whistle, we still think you'll have a lot of fun choo-choo-choosing the correct answers! All aboard! This train is about to leave the station ...

01_locomotive_horsepower Which of these measurements originated with locomotives?
Torque
Watts
Ohms
Horsepower
The term "horsepower" comes from Scottish inventor James Watt, who helped develop what would become the steam locomotive engine in the 1760s. Needing a measurement that would convey how powerful the engine could be, he came up with a unit of power that a single horse working in a mill could generate. We still use the term "horsepower" today.

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02_locomotive wheels Why do locomotives and train cars ride on steel wheels?
They are more robust.
They work better in all temperatures.
They reduce resistance.
Steel wheels are better for trains than rubber tires (or other substances) because they generate less rolling friction. The steel wheels don't deform and more energy from the locomotive can be put to use moving the freight instead of having to overcome friction. The drawback is that they don't provide a lot of traction.
Tradition

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03_Amtrak One of the most famous commuter railroads, how much horsepower does a typical Amtrak locomotive produce?
1,000 to 2,000 horsepower
6,000 to 7,000 horsepower
Used primarily between large cities in the northeast, although its trains run all across the United States, the electric locomotives generally used by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation — better known as Amtrak — can produce between 6,000 to 7,000 horsepower. This is a tough figure because Amtrak uses a variety of different locomotives, but it's a good average.
9,000 to 10,000 horsepower
More than 15,000 horsepower

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04_sandbox What substance do locomotives use to increase traction between the wheels and the rails?
Sand
Since steel wheels on steel tracks don't have a lot of traction — something needed for slowing and stopping — locomotives employ a system of compressed air to spray sand between the wheels and the rails to increase their grip. The system is automatic and is used when the wheels slip or the engineer needs to make an emergency stop.
Adhesive
WD-40
Rubber pellets

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05_bullet train What is the current top speed of a "bullet train"?
250 mph
375 mph
The trains of the Shinkansen network of high-speed railway lines in Japan — known in English at the "bullet train" — are breathtakingly fast. The maglev L0 Series line set a world record on April 21, 2015 by hitting 375 mph on the Yamanashi test track.
175 mph
450 mph

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06_Atomic reactors_train Dr. Lyle Borst studied the feasibility of running locomotives on what type of fuel/power source in the 1950s?
Solar cells
Wind turbines
Geothermal heat
Atomic reactors
In the 1950s, Dr. Lyle Borst of the University of Utah was funded by U.S. railroads to study the feasibility of running locomotives using atomic reactors to heat steam to run the engine. The conclusion was not promising; the reactor would need a 200-ton chamber with five-foot-thick steel walls to produce the 6,000 hp needed to run a train.

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07_electric locomotive In what year was the first electric locomotive built?
1837
The first electric locomotive, powered by galvanic cells, was built in 1837 by Scottish chemist Robert Davidson. He went on in 1841 to build a seven-ton locomotive that could haul six tons for 1.5 miles. It was destroyed soon after its testing by railway workers who feared for their jobs.
1899
1953
2005

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08_Diesel locomotive What fuel source do most modern locomotives use?
Steam
Nuclear
Diesel fuel
Most modern locomotives use diesel fuel to power their engines. Diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines and that efficiency is important when moving heavy objects over long distances.
Gasoline

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09_steam locomotive A steam locomotive is an example of what type of engine?
Internal combustion engine
Caterpillar drive engine
Heat exchange engine
External combustion engine
With an external combustion engine, the fuel burns outside the engine. In the case of a steam locomotive, steam is created in the boiler and pressurized to move the engine's pistons inside their cylinders. With an internal combustion engine, the fuel is ignited inside the piston to generate force.

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10_locomotive speed What is the top speed limit of a locomotive in the United States?
60 mph
100 mph
160 mph
Train speed limits are set by the type of track they run upon. There are nine classes of track quality (although there are currently no tracks rated as in Class 9). The top speed for Class 8 is 160 miles per hour.
220 mph

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11_steam locomotive Surrey England In which country was the steam locomotive first put to work?
United States
England
In 1804, Richard Trevithick, a British mining engineer and inventor, built a steam engine that was designed to transport ironworks. Trevithick not only contributed to the transportation industry but to the industrial revolution!
Canada
China

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12_locomotive light What is a "light" engine?
A smaller engine used for moving cars around the trainyard
An engine using light crude oil to operate
A hybrid locomotive running on electricity
A locomotive running without a train behind it
Although railroads try to minimize their occurrence because they're not earning money, sometimes a locomotive needs to be moved around either to get to where it can be put to use or when it has to be moved for maintenance purposes. A locomotive without a train is known as a "light" engine.

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13_locomotive china Mongolia Which of these countries still uses steam trains regularly for transporting freight?
China
Although they ruled the railways for a century, steam-driven locomotives used for transporting freight are now rarely used. Northern regions of China, however, still make use of this technology. Steam-driven trains are used elsewhere, however, for tourist attractions and nostalgic recreational use.
United States
Canada
All the above

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14_locomotive engines front middle True or false: Locomotives are always located at the front of the train.
True — they are designed to pull, not push.
True — technology, however, is being tested to allow engines to push
False — Engines can be placed on the front or back of the train (although it must be one or the other)
False — they can be at the front, back and the middle of the train.
Depending on the load of the train, engines can be put in the front AND the back of the train to help with steep grades or other issues. Engines can also be put in the middle of a train, which is helpful if a train is going to split and go to two different destinations during the journey.

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15_Cowcatcher What is the triangular device on the front of old steam locomotives called?
Ironwork
D.P.D.
Cowcatcher
The cowcatcher, sometimes called a pilot, on the front of older steam locomotives was designed to scoop and throw obstructions away from the track to give the train a smoother journey and avoid a derailment. From the name, you can guess what one obstruction might be.
Hobo persuader

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16_animals pull Before steam locomotives, what method was used to propel early trains?
Ropes
Animals
Gravity
All the above
Rail transport dates all the way back to Greece in the 6th century BC, where people and animals pulled trains set in limestone grooves. Other methods in the intervening years, such as the use of rope and gravity, were used in conjunction with animal labor. The introduction of powered engines gave trains new life and functionality, and saved a lot of backbreaking work!

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17_diesel locomotive Why can a modern diesel locomotive move as quickly backward as forward?
The structure of the motor
In a modern diesel-electric locomotive, the diesel-powered engine doesn't actually move the wheels; they are operated by the electric motor that is powered by the diesel engine. Electric motors can be designed to spin as quickly in one direction or the other, and this adds versatility to the locomotive's operation.
The transmission system
A quirk of the chemical structure of diesel fuel
It can't actually go as fast backward as forward.

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18_train wheels What does the Whyte notation describe when it comes to steam locomotives?
Power classification
Fuel type
Wheel arrangement
Different locomotives have different arrangements of wheels — how many wheels, where the power is distributed, etc. For steam engines, the Whyte notation is used in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. The AAR wheel arrangement classification is used for diesel and electric trains in North America, while in Europe they use the UIC classification.
Company affiliation

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19_diesel engine What type of diesel engine is used in locomotives?
One-stroke
Two-stroke
Although two-stroke engines are generally thought of being used in garden equipment and other small-engine uses, it turns out that huge diesel engines are the best fit for locomotives, large ships and electric-generating facilities. This is because two-stroke engines can produce power up to twice as fast as their four-stroke cousins. Always use the right tool for the job!
Three-stroke
Four-stroke

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20_electric locomotives Where do electric locomotives generally get their power?
Batteries
Solar power cells
Electrified third rails or overhead wires
Electric locomotives have been in general use since the late 1800s, and are often used in mass transit vehicles and subways. Their power is supplied by a third rail alongside the track or by an overhead wire, called a catenary.
Wind turbines

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21_padded_cells_london What was the location of the world's first subway powered by electric locomotives?
New York
London
The world's first subway system to make use of electric locomotives opened in London in 1890. The locomotive pulled carriages with small opaque windows that were nicknamed "Padded Cells."
Glasgow
Madrid

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22_Locomotive and tender With classic steam engines, what is the car directly behind the locomotive called?
Tender
The tender, located directly behind the locomotive, carries the fuel and water needed for the combustion process that generates the steam used to power the engine.
Fuel box
Sub-engine
Caboose

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23_l'Orient-Express Where does the famous Orient Express currently run?
New Delhi, India to Geneva, Switzerland
Kathmandu, Nepal to Paris, France
Paris, France to Istanbul, Turkey
Strasbourg, France to Vienna, Austria
Although it has gone to many far-flung destinations since it first was run on June 5, 1883, the current incarnation of the Orient Express travels from Strasbourg to Vienna. The train ran from Paris to Istanbul until 1977. If you'd like to experience that area of the world by train, however, you can still do it; you'll just have to take multiple train lines.

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24_Amtrak California Zephyr Which of these is Amtrak's longest route, available to passengers daily?
The North Coast Limited
The Royal Blue
The California Limited
The California Zephyr
The California Zephyr is a train route operated by Amtrak that runs 2,438 miles between Union Station in Chicago and Emeryville Station in Emeryville, California, with stops along the way. Amtrak trains make the run daily, and carry more than 400,000 passengers a year.

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25_Maglev trains Maglev trains have which advantage over standard trains?
They lack friction.
They are quieter.
They are faster.
All the above.
Maglev — or magnetic levitation — trains use magnets to both float above the track and to rocket toward their destination. Because the train doesn't make physical contact with the track, there is no friction (or moving parts at all). The ride, therefore, is quieter, smoother and much faster than a conventional train can achieve.

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26_locamotive cargo Approximately how much of the world's cargo travels by rail each year?
About 20%
About 30%
About 40%
A massive amount of cargo is carried by rail across the world — approximately 40%, and that number is rising — because rail transport is less expensive than other forms of hauling for a number of reasons. Trains, by weight, are more fuel efficient than trucks, for example.
About 50%

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27_banking train What is meant by the term "banking" engine?
It's a locomotive used for temporarily pushing a train.
A banking engine is used when a train needs a short-term boost in power, such as when it needs to go up a sharp incline or if a particularly heavy train needs some extra "oomph" to get underway.
It's an engine within the locomotive that is only used when extra power is needed.
It's a locomotive design that has proven especially effective.
It's a term that describes the handling of a locomotive around a sharp curve in the track.

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28_diesel electric locomotive Most diesel locomotives in use today are ...
Diesel-hydraulic
Diesel-electric
The vast majority of diesel locomotives in use today are actually diesel-electric, where the diesel engine powers either an AC alternator-rectifier or a DC generator that, in turn, powers the wheels.
Gas turbine
Diesel-gasoline

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29_locomotive long What is the world's record for the longest train ever operated as a single unit?
About 4.5 miles
On June 21, 2001, a train going between Newman and Port Headland in Western Australia (about 170 miles) was connected that spanned 4.57 miles and consisted of 682 loaded iron ore cars. The train, which used eight locomotives arranged at various places in the line, weighed 99,734 tons, making it the heaviest train ever operated, as well.
About 3.7 miles
About 2.8 miles
About 1.9 miles

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30_Hogwarts Express True or false: The "Hogwarts Express" train seen in the "Harry Potter" films is a real rail line.
False — it's a computer-generated effect.
False — it was a set built in the Scottish countryside.
True — It's in use daily.
The "Hogwarts Express" is actually part of the West Highland Line that connects the ports of Mallaig and Oban in the Scottish Highlands to Glasgow and is operated by the U.K.'s National Rail. The most iconic shot from the films is the train when it is on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The line is regularly voted as one of the most scenic railway lines in the world.
True — It was built for the films but now is open to the public.

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31_Winterthur–Romanshorn railroad in Switzerland When was the first commercial locomotive powered by diesel operated?
1892
1912
The first diesel-powered locomotive was operated on the Winterthur–Romanshorn railroad in Switzerland in the summer of 1912. The technology, however, wasn't quite mature enough and the undertaking wasn't a commercial success. The outbreak of World War I further hampered development.
1930
1947

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32_Cow and Calf at Riverside Yard Although they have fallen out of favor, what does "cow-calf" mean when it comes to locomotives?
It's the meeting of two trains of different lengths.
It's a type of switching mechanism.
It's the practice of an experienced engineer teaching a new engineer.
It's a type of locomotive arrangement.
In a "cow-calf" set up, a locomotive with a driving cab (the "cow) is coupled with one or two locomotives without a cab (the "calves"). This type of arrangement was generally found in the 1930s through the 1950s and was used to build trains or help trains up steeper grades.

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33_Chimney The tube that vents smoke on a steam engine is usually called a ...
Top hat
Relief valve
Chimney
The chimney is one of the most iconic parts of a classic steam locomotive, with great clouds of exhaust billowing as the train reaches full speed.
Stove

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34_stoking the boiler In classic locomotive slang, who or what was the "diamond cracker"?
The person in charge of stoking the boiler
The diamond cracker on a train was another name for the fireman, whose job it was to tend the fire in the boiler by shoveling coal (raw diamonds, if you will) into the boiler's firebox. Firemen also went by the names "smoke agents," "soda jerkers," "bell ringers" and other colorful names.
The owner of the railway
The ticket taker on passenger runs
A particularly difficult stretch of track

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35_Engineer "Runners," "grunts," "positive blocks" and "Casey Jones" were all names for what in locomotive circles?
Cabbies
Engineers
Like any profession, railroad workers quickly generated their own jargon to describe the equipment and the roles they dealt with every day. There were plenty of handles for engineers, including "mileage hogs" for engineers who were paid by the mile and "highball artists" for those who liked to run their trains fast.
Conductors
Railroad yard supervisors

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