How do electric rail cars work?

I’m interested in trains, especially electric rail cars. I think they’re cool, but I’m wondering where the energy to power them comes from. How do electric rail cars work?

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Answer provided by
Emily Jansen
Answered on Jun 10, 2022
Great question! Electric rail cars use an outside source of electricity to power them and make them go, usually from an overhead cable or an electrified third rail. They work similarly to an electric car, in that they work off electricity.
The most significant difference is that an electric car contains a battery to power the engine, while the electric rail car is entirely dependent on an outside source of power, and contains no engine.
It may sound strange that the electric rail car has no engine, but it actually has traction motors connected to the wheels.
The locomotive draws power from the external source (either an overhead line it’s connected to by an antenna jutting from the car, or a rail beneath it connected in a similar fashion), modifying the current as necessary before passing it to the motors which then turn the wheels.
So, if an electric rail car was taken away from that overhead power or third rail, it would be just a large metal container. This is why jumping across a subway track is so dangerous.
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