How do Trains Turn Around? How About AmTrak?

Trains are known to come and go, most of the trains are assigned to a specific railroad corridor, especially the passenger trains like AmTrak or local subway/metro ones.

Whenever the train reaches the destination they have to turn around, so how do they do that?

How do trains turn around?

There are few ways of turning a train around, however you need to understand that in most scenarios it is the locomotive that has to be turned, not the whole train, with some notable exceptions.

A train consists of locomotives and cars, read more about a train/locomotive consist.
Some freight trains have 6 to 8 locomotives and hundreds of cars, the passenger trains have one, maxim two engines (locomotives) and 6 to16 cars.

As mentioned above, there are few ways of turning around a train, it mostly depends on the type of train, location, yard or sometimes even the time of the year.

Let’s start with the first way of turning a train around.

Turn wye
Turning a train around using a wye track.

This is one of the most commonly used ways of turning a train. Large railroads like AmTrak, use a wye to turn its train, and they do that by turning the whole train not just the locomotive.

Think of it as you would turn a car around, you drive forward to a complete stop, back up steering left to a complete stop, drive forward steering right, now you are turned.

Why does AmTrak turn the whole train around, not just the locomotive?

If they wouldn’t wye the whole train, the chairs would face backwards. That would be quite uncomfortable for the passengers, right?

What is a wye track?

A wye track is a triangular intersection of three railroad tracks, like the “Y” glyph.
Using successive junctions of the wye, the train direction can be reversed easily. Check out the picture above to understand better how a wye works.

Turning a train around using a reversing loop, also known as balloon loop.

This solution allows a train to reverse direction without having to stop, which makes it a great option for both passenger and freight trains. This way of turning around the train is more used for streetcars or trams, especially in Europe.

A reversing loop takes way more space than a wye track, that’s one reason wye tracks are more used, especially in an urban area.

how does train turn around
Turning a train around using the bi-directional feature.

Some trains are bi-directional, meaning that the engineer has to move to the other end of the train, simply by walking there. Most of the commuter trains are bi-directional, with flippable chairs for the passengers.

Turning a train around using a turntable.

A turntable is another way to turn around a locomotive. As you noticed, I said the locomotive, not the train, the reason is that the turntable is relatively small, up to 120 feet.

Where a locomotive has around 70-75 feet.

The locomotive drives onto the railway turntable, which is then rotated wherever is desired, if a turnaround is needed, that means 180 degrees.

Turning a train around using a star.

This is the latest and the rarest method of turning a locomotive, the star track arrangement looks like a wye with an extra two legs of track.