Tractive Force


As used in mechanical engineering, the term tractive force can either refer to the total traction a vehicle exerts on a surface, or the amount of the total traction that is parallel to the direction of motion.

In railway engineering, the term tractive effort is often used synonymously with tractive force to describe the pulling or pushing capability of a locomotive. In automotive engineering, the terms are distinctive: tractive effort is generally higher than tractive force by the amount of rolling resistance present, and both terms are higher than the amount of drawbar pull by the total resistance present (including air resistance and grade). The published tractive force value for any vehicle may be theoretical—that is, calculated from known or implied mechanical properties—or obtained via testing under controlled conditions. The discussion herein covers the term’s usage in mechanical applications in which the final stage of the power transmission system is one or more wheels in frictional contact with a roadway or railroad track.

Defining tractive effort

The term tractive effort is often qualified as starting tractive effort, continuous tractive effort and maximum tractive effort. These terms apply to different operating conditions, but are related by common mechanical factors:

- input torque to the driving wheels – the wheel diameter – coefficient of friction (μ) between the driving wheels and supporting surface and – the weight applied to the driving wheels (m).

The product of μ and m is the factor of adhesion, which determines the maximum torque that can be applied before the onset of wheelspin or wheelslip.

Starting tractive effort: Starting tractive effort is the tractive force that can be generated at a standstill. This figure is important on railways because it determines the maximum train weight that a locomotive can set into motion.
Maximum tractive effort: Maximum tractive effort is defined as the highest tractive force that can be generated under any condition that is not injurious to the vehicle or machine. In most cases, maximum tractive effort is developed at low speed and may be the same as the starting tractive effort.
Continuous tractive effort: Continuous tractive effort is the tractive force that can be maintained indefinitely, as distinct from the higher tractive effort that can be maintained for a limited period of time before the power transmission system overheats. Due to the relationship between power (P), velocity (v) and force (F), described as :

P = vF or P/v = F

tractive effort inversely varies with speed at any given level of available power. Continuous tractive effort is often shown in graph form at a range of speeds as part of a tractive effort curve.

Vehicles having a hydrodynamic coupling, hydrodynamic torque multiplier or electric motor as part of the power transmission system may also have a maximum continuous tractive effort rating, which is the highest tractive force that can be produced for a short period of time without causing component harm. The period of time for which the maximum continuous tractive effort may be safely generated is usually limited by thermal considerations. such as temperature rise in a traction motor.

Related formulas


Fttractive force (N)
μttraction - or friction - coefficient between the wheel and the surface (dimensionless)
mmass on the wheel (kg)
gStandard gravity