Control car (rail)

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A control car is a generic term for a non-powered railroad vehicle that allows operation of a train from the end opposite to the position of the locomotive. They can be used with diesel or electric motive power, allowing push-pull operation without the use of an additional locomotive.

Trains operating with a locomotive on one end and a control car on the other do not require the locomotive to run around to the opposite end of the train when reversing direction at a terminus.

Generally, the driver controls the train through a Time-Division Multiplexer (TDM) connection. In addition to the driver's compartment, which has all the controls and gauges necessary for remotely operating the train's locomotive, control cars all have a horn, whistle, bell, or plow (as appropriate), and most importantly, all of the lights that would normally be on a locomotive. Control cars can carry passengers, baggage, mail, or a combination thereof.

Railroad vehicles that function as control cars go by several different names throughout the world, as below.

North America

A Cab car is a special sort of passenger car used in push-pull operations. Most of the cab car is indistinguishable from a regular passenger car, but a full driver's compartment is built into one or both ends of the car.

Cab cars come in a variety of forms. They can be very similar to regular railcars, to the point of including a passageway between cars so that they could be used in the middle of a passenger train like a regular car if necessary. Some commuter rail agencies in the United States routinely use cab cars in place of regular passenger carriages on trains.

During the mid- 1990s, as push-pull operations became more common in the United States, cab-cars came under some criticism and scrutiny for providing less protection to engine crews during grade crossing accidents. This has been addressed in two ways: providing additional reinforcing in cab cars, and the development of Cab-Baggage or Cabbages by Amtrak. Cabbages are essentially F40 locomotives with the engine and motors removed and a large door cut into the side; drivers are thus afforded the protection of a cab unit while additional space is created for baggage transportation.

United Kingdom

Driving Brake Standard Open

A Driving Brake Standard Open or DBSO is type of control car in use in Britain. These were previously specially converted passenger cars. It is expected that the last DBSOs will be withdrawn from mainline service in mid- 2006.

Driving Van Trailer

A Driving Van Trailer or DVT is a more modern type of control car in use in Britain. These are purpose-built models that have space for baggage and contain a guard's office. The DVT was developed from the DBSO and originally designed to be used with British Rail Mark 3 and Mk 4 coaches. DVTs are in service in the UK with GNER (Mk 4), Virgin Trains and 'one' Anglia (both Mk 3). Iarnrod Eireann in Ireland has its own design of DVT, classified Mk 4 and built by CAF.

Continental Europe

The German term Steuerwagen translates as Control car. Another commonly-used translation is Driving trailer. There are many examples of this type of vehicle in operation in Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere in Europe.


The first German attempts to use control cars and remote control-equipped steam locomotives were before the Second World War by the Deutsche Reichsbahn (DRG). The driver's control instructions were transmitted by a Chadburn-type machine telegraph (similar to engine order telegraphs on ships) from the control car to the locomotive, where the order had to be acknowledged and implemented by the automatic firebox controllers immediately. This indirect control was judged as unpractical and not sufficiently safe because although the driver controlled the brake directly, the danger existed in emergencies the locomotive would continue supplying "push" power for some time and possibly derail the train.

Attempts to use electric locomotives (beginning with a converted E 04 class model) were more promising, since the engine driver could control the locomotive directly. The test program could not be finished by the Second World War, despite good successes. Only after the war would control car operations become generally accepted, albeit slowly, when locomotives and cars with the necessary equipment were available.

The length of train consists in push-pull operations was originally limited to 10 cars for reasons of guidance dynamics. A speed limit of 120 km/h was also imposed, which was raised in 1980 to 140 km/h. This was not an operational hindrance, since push-pull trains were generally first used in commuter trains, which were rarely longer than six cars.

Only since the middle 1990s have long-distance trains, which can consist of up to 14 cars and travel at speeds up to 200 km/h, been operated with control cars. A special circumstance is the ICE 2, which may operate with the control car in the lead at up to 250 km/h on the recently built high-speed lines.


Swiss control cars operate in many different configurations. There are several models currently in service on S-Bahn networks as well as regional, InterRegio, and InterCity services. These are operated by the federal railway system ( SBB) as well as various private railroads throughout the country (including narrow gauge lines) and into France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Italy.

Among the models used are the Bt (second class), BDt (second class + baggage), ABt (first + second class), and Dt (baggage). The Bt model also exists as a double-deck version for the IC 2000 trainset and Re 450.

As of 2006, locomotives used in Switzerland with these control cars include the Re 420 and its derivatives (including the Re 430), the Re 440, Re 450, Re 460, Re 465, RBe 540, and RBDe 560 and its derivatives. The BLS operates several of its locomotives with control cars, including the Ae 415, Re 420, Re 425, Re 465, ABDe 535, and RBDe 565.

The Zentralbahn narrow gauge locomotives in operation with control cars include the Hge 101, De 110, and Deh 120.

The Rhaetian Railway (RhB) and Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) also use several different control car models with their locomotive fleets.


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