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Railroad Fun Facts

Association of American Railroads. Trade association that represents the common interests of the railroad industry in the United States.

The American Railway Association (ARA) was an early railroad industry trade group representing railroads in the United States. The organization had its genesis in meetings of general managers and ranking railroad operating officials known as Time Table Conventions. The first "convention" was held on October 1, 1872, at Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1875, the group changed its name to the General Time Convention; and, in October 1892, changed its name to the American Railway Association. In January 1919, ten separate groups of operating officers were brought into the association and carried on their activities as divisions, sections, and committees of the larger group. On October 12, 1934, the ARA ceased to exist, having joined with several other railroad industry trade groups to merge into the Association of American Railroads.

A goal of the American Railway Association in the early 1920s was to design an all-steel box car that could be recognized as a standard by all the railroads. Although the original design presented in 1923 resulted in the production of more than 60,000 cars, it wasn't until a new design was presented in 1932 that the member railroads gave their approval.

After extensively testing five prototypes in 1933, more than 14,500 cars were produced for 23 railroads throughout the decade. This design soon evolved into the 1937, Modified 1937, and Postwar American Association of Railroads (AAR) box cars. Although not the most popular design produced, numerically speaking, the 1932 ARA Standard Box Car is considered one of the most important designs in railroad rolling stock history.

A foundation which anchors and supports lateral pressure or thrust, such as the weight-bearing piers at the ends of a bridge which hold back solid ground.
AC (Alternating Current)
Electric current which repeatedly alternates (Cycles) from positive to negative a specified number of times per second (usually 60 in the U.S.). Toy train transformers typically operate on, and output, AC current to run the trains. See also, DC.
A local train which makes all stops along its intended route.
American Locomotive Company. Manufacturer of steam and diesel-electric locomotives.
A clear track, usually in a yard.
A unit of measure for determining the strength of electrical flow in a circuit. Most often abbreviated as Amps. The higher the amperage, the greater the flow, or volume, of current passing through the circuit. Technically, the amount of current produced by the force of one volt acting through one ohm of resistance.
An overlapping deck between a locomotive cab and its tender; hinged cover above the locomotive and tender connection.
Railroad wheel axle.
A spark created by the passage of electric current across a gap; also a curve.
Articulated Locomotive
A steam-powered locomotive with two separate sets of wheels and cylinderseach of which pivots on separate frames. Certain types of electrically-powered locomotives may also be articulated.
Ash Cat
Slang term for locomotive fireman.
Ash Pan
A tray-like device located under a steam locomotive's firebox which holds the ashes that remain after coal has been burned. Ashes are removed from the ash pan at an ash pit, usually located in a service yard.
Ash Pit
A pit, customarily located below track level in a locomotive servicing area, which is intended for receiving residue coal ash and cinders from a steam locomotive's fire box.
One of the several possible lighted positions or indications of a signal light.
Automatic Block Signal
A trackside signal activated by the movement of trains over/past a detecting device.
Automatic Coupler
Couplers which couple and uncouple automatically through the use of uncoupling ramps, and permanent or electro-magnets; permits remote operation of couplers instead of manual coupler operation.
Auxiliary Tender
A second tender attached to the primary tender of a locomotive; permits longer runs by reducing fuel and water stops.
Slang term for a passenger train brakeman.
Bad Order Car or Bad Order Track
A railway car which is being taken out of service for repair. Also, the yard track assigned to storage of such cars.
Slang term for a locomotive fireman.
Cinders, crushed rock, or gravel placed on the roadbed to hold track ties in place and to promote uniform drainage.
Ballast Tamper
A track installation and maintenance machine used to tamp down the rock ballast used to hold the ties in position on the roadbed.
Balloon Stack
A widely-flared steam locomotive smokestack designed to prevent sparks from escaping; commonly used on 19th Century locomotives.
Balloon Track
Technical term for a reverse loop.
Bascule Bridge
A counter-balanced lift bridge, generally used where relatively low-lying railroad tracks pass over narrow waterway channels which must be used by waterborne traffic.
Belpaire Firebox
A square-topped firebox typically used on Pennsylvania and Great Northern Railroad locomotives.
Belt Line
A connecting rail line between two or more other railroads; so-called because it often encircles a city like a belt.
"Bend the rails"
To re-align or re-set the movable rails on a turnout.
One section of a model railroad trestle set. On real railroads, the evenly-spaced vertical sections of a trestle.
Big Boy
Common name for the largest steam locomotive: a 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific.
Big Hole
A quick stop.
Big Hook
Slang term for a heavy-duty derrick or crane railcar, often called a wrecking crane.
Big O
Slang term for a conductor.
Big Shot
Slang term for a yardmaster.
Big Wheel
A rotary snowplow; equipped with blades that turn in a wheel-like manner.
A printed form which describes freight, the charges incurred in shipping, and the freight's point of origin and destination.
A short, single-truck (4-wheel) trolley car designed for use in congested urban areas where tight track curves are required.
To drain the air from the brake system of a railcar or string of cars.
Blind Drivers
Driving wheels without flanges which permit locomotives to negotiate sharper curves than the wheel arrangement would normally allow; widely used on narrow gauge locomotives.
Blind Siding
A railroad siding without telephone or telegraph connections to the dispatcher; no order can be received by a train on such a siding.
In prototype railroading, a section of track through which rail traffic is controlled as a unit. In model railroading, commonly the designation for a length of track with an independently controlled power supply, constructed so two or more trains may operate independently on, for example, a simple oval of track.
Block Signals
A signal or series of signals, usually automatic, which control a block.
A fixed signal.
A short, four-wheel caboose.
Bobtail Haul
Early slang expression indicating that a locomotive was pulling only a few cars and a bobber caboose; a short train.
Bogie Truck
A four-wheel pilot truck on a steam locomotive. (Also used for some "Road-Railer" units.)
That portion of a steam locomotive, usually round, where the steam is generated.
The crosswise member of the frame of a railroad car at the truck (body bolster) or the crosswise piece at the center of a truck (truck bolster).
Boom Car
The car next in line to the wrecking crane or derrick, used to support the crane boom in transit.
Slang term for an experienced railroad worker who moves from railroad to railroad in search of (usually) temporary employment.
In prototype railroading, a small secondary steam engine which assists and increases starting power. Some trailing trucks and tender wheels featured boosters which automatically cut off after a certain speed had been reached.
Slang term for conductor.
Box Cab
Electric or diesel locomotive with a cab shaped like a box.
A member of a freight or passenger train crew. His duties are to assist the conductor in any way necessary.
Branch Line
Secondary line of a railroad.
Brass Hat
Slang term for conductor; also for President or boss of a rail line. In model railroading, an advanced modeler.
Brass Buttons
Slang term for a freight conductor.
Brass Collar
Slang term for a railroad official.
In model railroading, demerits given to members of model railroad clubs for various infractions of operating rules; a form of good-natured punishment for making a mistake.
Buggy (also Crummy, Cabin, and Hack)
Common terms for caboose.
Buggy Track
A caboose holding or storage track.
Slang term for a railroad police officer.
A device for stopping railroad cars at the end of a spur track.
A bin, usually elevated above track level, used for storing and dispensing coal.
A type of two-truck, 8-wheel trolley car used primarily in urban areas.
The section of the locomotive that contains the controls and where the engineer and fireman customarily ride.
Cab Control
A system for switching control of a series of blocks on a model railroad so that two or more throttles are capable of controlling operation in those blocks, depending on which locomotive is to use the blocks at any given time.
A type of steam locomotive (most commonly used by the Southern Pacific) built so the cab portion is at the front for added visibility and safety from smoke and fumes in tunnels and snowsheds.
Car for the brakeman and other crew; office for the conductor at the rear of a freight train.
Caboose Hop
When one or more cabooses are moved from one point to another, usually for freight service positioning, it's called a Caboose Hop.
Cab Signals
Lights on a control panel in fornt of the engineer which indicate the condition of the track ahead of his train.
Caboose-Way Car
A caboose with a section for tools and equipment for track work, or a caboose with a section for hauling freight.
Call Board
Bulletin board where crew assignments are posted.
A steam locomotive with the cab set astride the boiler. The fireman on this type of locomotive rides under a hood at the rear. Also called a "Mother Hubbard."
A noise-emitting torpedo placed on the track for signaling purposes. The cap is activated when locomotive wheels pass over it.
Car Barn
Storage house for trolley and interurban cars.
Slang term for brakeman.
Car Knocker
A car inspector; so-called because these individuals tap the wheels of cars to test for soundness.
Carry a flag
To run late or off-schedule.
Carry the mail
To travel at high speed; walk or run swiftly.
Car Toad
Slang term for a railroad car repairer.
Car Whacker
Slang term for a railroad car cleaner.

A system of overhead wires used to transmit electrical current to trains, trams, and trolleys. These overhead lines are known variously as:

  • Overhead Contact System (OCS) - Continental Europe
  • OverHead Line Equipment (OLE or OHLE) - Great Britain
  • Overhead Wiring (OHW) - Australia
  • Catenary - United States and Canada

Overhead line is designed on the principle of one or more overhead wires situated over tracks. They are connection to electrical feeder stations at regular intervals. The feeder stations are usually supplied from a high-voltage electrical grid. (See Pantograph)

Cinder Pit
Same as "Ash Pit."
Circuit Breaker
A device which interrupts an electrical circuit if a short or overload occurs.
Groups into which trains are divided--usually from two to four, depending on the railroad.
Class 1 Railroad
In the United States, a railroad with operating revenue in excess of $5 million per year.
Classification Lamps
Lights (or flags) mounted on the front of a locomotive to indicate the status of the train. White lamps (or flags) indicate an "Extra," while green indicates all sections but the final one of multi-section trains.
Classification Yard
A freight yard (or yards) where complete trains are made-up or broken-up by shifting cars with a switcher locomotive, or by means of a hump.
Clean the clock
To stop suddenly.
Clear Board
A signal indication which authorizes a train to proceed.
Clerestory Roof
Raised center portion along the length of a roof of certain passenger cars featuring "clerestory windows" along the sides to allow natural light into the car.
A type of geared steam locomotive used primarily by logging railroads. The locomotive's twin cylinders drive a crankshaft aligned parallel with the axles; power is transmitted to the trucks through an arrangement of bevel gears and a driveshaft; rods couple the axles on each truck.
Clinker Boy
Slang term for a locomotive fireman.
Clown Wagon
Coaling Station
A structure for storing coal and transferring it into locomotive tenders.
In model railroading, a tightly wound "spool" of thin wire which is a component of electrical devices such as solenoids and electromagnets.
Cold Joint
In electrical work, a soldered connection in which the materials being joined were insufficiently heated to melt the solder and cause it to flow and bond.
Common Ground
In model railroading, the use of a single wire to complete a circuit for numerous track sections or accessories. Eliminates the need for a large number of "ground" wires, one for each accessory or track.
The rotating part of an electric motor which contacts stationary carbon brushes to complete the electrical circuit.
The senior crew member on a freight or passenger train responsible for the safe, prompt movement of the train; for the care of its cargo and equipment; and for the actions and safety of the crew. The conductor is the ranking crew member in charge of train movements and operation. Also, in model railroading and electricity, the term for any material (usually metal) that allows electrical current to flow through it.
The full set of cars which make up a train, usually used in reference to a freight train.
In model railroading, a switch-like device that fits beneath a section of toy train track, and is activated by the weight of a train passing over it.
Continuous Rail
Rails which have been welded together to form a very long single rail, thereby eliminating rail joints which are the weakest part of the track. Also known as Welded Rail or Ribbonrail.
Control Rail
In model railroading, any rail fitted with auxiliary electrical connections that allow it to perform special electrical functions, such as the two extra rails in Lionel remote-control track sections. Also, Insulated Control Rail: wherein one of the outer, or running, rails of a section of three-rail toy train track is isolated electrically and then connected by wire to an accessory. When the metal wheels of a passing train contact this rail, an electric circuit is completed which causes the accessory to operate.
Electrical device for changing Direct Current (DC) into Alternating Current (AC).
Cornfield Meet
A head-on collision of two trains.
In the context of a steam locomotive, the solid weights on the drive wheels which offset the weight of the engine's crank pins and drive rods.
A device at the ends of a car or locomotive used to connect that car to other cars or locomotives.
Covered Wagon
A diesel unit with a full-width (streamlined-appearing) cab, as opposed to a "Hood Unit."
Cow and Calf
A double diesel engine unit consisting of a regular switch engine and a matching cab-less booster unit which are semi-permanently coupled together--often by a drawbar as is used to couple tenders to steam locomotives. Used mainly for heavy transfer work and yard hump service. The Calf unit itself is also sometimes referred to as a "Mule" unit.
Early term for a locomotive's pilot. A pointed device used on the front of a locomotive to shove livestock off the track. Now used to prevent any object from going under the locomotive's wheels.
A gondola car.
Pin or screw attached to the driving wheels which holds side rods in place, while still allowing them to turn.
Crossing at Grade (also Grade Crossing)
An intersection between a road or highway and railroad tracks on the same level.
An intersection between two tracks on the same level.
Combination of track and switches which enable trains to cross from one parallel track to another.
See "buggy."
CTC (Centralized Traffic Control)
Train dispatching conducted at one location for several or all of a railroad's designated operating divisions.
A passageway under tracks for the drainage of water.
A small cabin atop the caboose where the brakeman can scan ahead over the roofs of freight cars in a train.
The movement or flow of electricity.
Cushion Rider
Slang term for a passenger conductor.
(1) A number of cars, coupled together, or (2) an excavated section through a hill so the tracks can remain as level as possible.
In electricity, the alternation of the direction of current flow, generally expressed as cycles per second. In the U.S., most household current alternates at 60 cycles per second. Also known as "hertz."
DC (Direct Current)
Electric current which flows in only one direction. Model railroad power packs for two-rail trains typically input AC (household) current, and convert (rectify) it for output as low-voltage DC current to run the trains.
Dead Man's Control
Automatic control which an engineer must hold in an "on" position against a spring. If the engineer dies or becomes somehow disabled, the Dead Man's Control is automatically released and stops the train.
(1) An empty car, or (2) a passenger (or off-duty crew member) riding free on a pass; or (3) a locomotive traveling without cars.
Departure Yard
An arrangement of yard tracks from which cars are forwarded.
A station for passengers and freight; term usually applied to a rather small facility in a town or village.
A device placed over the rail to prevent a car from rolling out of a siding (for example) and onto the main line.
Slang term for train dispatcher.
Diamond Pusher
Slang term for locomotive fireman.
Diamond Stack
A diamond-shaped smoke stack, usually associated with 19th Century locomotives. See also, "Balloon Stack."
Slang term for yardmaster.
Any small, undersized locomotive.
An employee who coordinates all train movements in his assigned area (usually one division). He is authorized to issue specific orders to keep trains moving.
That portion of a railroad managed by a superintendent.
Used on steam locomotive tenders, it is a small enclosure usually located atop the back of the tender, which provides shelter for the brakeman. Also, a slang term for caboose.
A round protrusion atop the boiler of a steam locomotive; it houses the steam controls or sand.
A rail motor car.
The process of moving a very heavy train up a hill by splitting it in half and moving one-half at a time.
A train pulled by two locomotives, each with its own crew.
Double Stack (or Stacks)
Intermodal service characterized by shipping containers that are stacked two-high on railcars.
Draft Gear
Mechanism that connects the coupler to the frame of the car. In model railroading, the coupler mounting box is often so-named.
A slow freight.
The bar that connects (couples) a steam engine to its tender.
To switch cars in a yard. Also, the switch engine itself.
Driving Gear
The arrangement of rods and cranks that are used to transfer piston energy to the driving wheels.
Driving Wheels
The powered wheels of a locomotive.
Drovers' Caboose
A long, eight-wheel caboose which contains a small passenger compartment for hauling and bedding down cattleman who are aboard to care for their cattle en route.
To switch.
An identification emblem attached to the last car on a railroad's most prestigious, named passenger trains.
Dual Gauge
A mixed track gauge, often seen at interchange points between standard gauge and narrow gauge railroads.
Dynamic Brake
(1) A system on a diesel locomotive which converts its traction motors into electric generators--the resulting resistance provides a braking action to help slow a train, especially when going down a grade. (2) The protrusion on some engines which is often called the dynamic brake is really only a cooling mechanism for the heat produced by the excess energy being generated.
Eagle Eye
Slang term for locomotive engineer.
An electrically-activated mechanical reversing device on some model locomotives, especially those made prior to 1990. Most recent model locomotives are equipped with solid-state electronic reversing units.
Eccentric Crank
A large, forged casting attached to the main drive wheels of a steam engine which allows a rod to rotate in an elliptical path, thereby opening and closing the cylinder slide valves.
A device made of a core of iron or steel wrapped in a wire coil, which attracts other ferrous metals when current is passed through the wire.
Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. Manufacturer of diesel-electric and electric-outline locomotives.
Common term applied to mean "locomotive," but properly only the cylinders and their drivers.
A building in which locomotives are serviced. See also, "Roundhouse."
Engine Yard
A yard area in which engines are stored and serviced.
The crew member responsible for the physical operation of a freight or passenger train and for monitoring the locomotive's running condition.
End-of-train device. A box-like apparatus equipped with a flashing warning beacon, and often train status detectors, which is mounted on the end of the last car in a freight train. On most contemporary railroads, an ETD replaces the caboose.
A train not shown or authorized on published schedules; operates on train orders.
Facing Switch
A turnout (switch) situated with the points facing traffic.
In model railroading, a power connection from the transformer or power pack to the track, and then on to another portion of the trackwork. Also a short branch road feeding traffic to a main line.
The combustion chamber on a steam locomotive for generating heat which is used to convert water into steam in the engine's boiler.
The crew member whose job it is to keep the fire and steam up in a steam locomotive, and who is responsible for the operating condition of power units on diesel and electric engines.
Fish Plate
A bar which joins the ends of rails.
Fixed Voltage Post
In model railroading, a terminal post on a transformer or power pack which is permanently configured to provide a set amount of voltage at all times. Generally used to power accessories and lamps.
(1) To protect the rear of the train by having a brakeman walk back with a flag or lantern while it is halted; or (2) to have any person not part of the train crew to cause the train to stop by waving hands, hat, etc.
A protruding lip on a grinder or wheel; the inside edge of a railroad car wheel which guides the wheel and keeps the wheelset on the track.
Flexible Track or Flex-Track
In model railroading, long (about 3 feet) straight sections of track manufactured so one or more of the rails slide somewhat freely through the spikes or tieplates, thereby allowing the track section to be curved into a customized configuration.
A written train order.
Fairbanks-Morse. Manufacturer of diesel-electric locomotives, especially opposed-piston types.
Foreign Car
A car belonging to a railroad (or shipper thereon) other than the one it is presently on.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is an agency in the United States Department of Transportation. It was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Its purpose is to promulgate and enforce rail safety regulations, administer railroad assistance programs, conduct research and development in support of improved railroad safety and national rail transportation policy, provide for the rehabilitation of Northeast Corridor rail passenger service, and consolidate government support of rail transportation activities.
Slang term for refrigerator car; also known as a "reefer."
The portion of a turnout which is grooved for the wheel flanges; so-named for its resemblance to a frog.
Gandy Dancer
Member of a track section gang--so-called because the movements and chants of early track-laying crews resembled orchestrated dancing.
G Scale
Model railroading in a scale of 1:22.5; often erroneously applied to other scales in large scale model railroading such as 1:20.3, 1:24, 1:29, and 1:32--all of which also operate on #1 gauge (45mm track). See also "Large Scale."
The space between the locomotive and the tender through which the crew enters and leaves.
Self-propelled car powered by a gasoline engine driving a generator which supplies electric current to motors on the axles; commonly used for branchline passenger service in the 1920s and 1930s.
Gauge (track)
The distance measured between the inside edges of the running rails.
Gauge (wire)
In electricity, a measure of the thickness of electrical wire, generally expressed as a number. The higher the number, the thinner the wire; e.g., 18 gauge is finer than 14 gauge.
Slang for a series of Electro-Motive Division (General Motors) road switchers designated as GP-7, GP-9, etc. (GP stands for General Purpose).
Glad Hand
The metal coupling on the end of an air hose.
"Goofy Gauge"
Contemporary slang term for the variety of large scale trains that all operate on #1 Gauge (G Gauge) track. Applied by modelers because a lack of industry standards has resulted in trains of various proportions--some representing Narrow Gauge equipment and others representing Standard Gauge equipment--all being made to operate on the same model railroad track gauge.
A small locomotive, generally a small yard engine.
Grab Irons
Handholds on the sides, ends, or roofs of railroad cars.
The degree of inclined elevation of the track's surface over a given distance, usually expressed as a percentage.
Green Eye
Clear signal to proceed.
One of the two poles of a battery, transformer, or power pack which, in conjunction with the "hot" wire from the other pole, completes an electrical circuit.
Ground Hog
Slang term for switchman.
See "Buggy."
Slang term for telegraph operator.
Hay Burner
A worn-out locomotive.
Head-end Cars
Express, mail, and baggage cars, usually run at the front of a passenger train consist behind the locomotives.
Type of geared steam locomotive used by logging railroads. It has two cylinders arranged in a "V" connected to a driveshaft which, in turn, is connected to the trucks. See also, "Climax" and "Shay."
The second or added locomotive on a double-header; or a locomotive cut-in to the consist or pushing on the end to assist the train up a grade.
Trademark on locomotives and freight cars.
See "Cycles."
To run at speed, or a sign to go ahead; so-called from old railroad ball signals which were hoisted on a pole.
High Iron
Main track on which travel is permitted only by schedule or orders; so-called because the rail used on this track is generally heavier than that used for sidings or yards.
Hi-Rail or Hi-Railer
Term commonly applied to toy train operators who prefer prototypical operations and a realistic operating environment on their model railroad--often including scale-proportioned and detailed locomotives, rolling stock and accessories--even though the track itself may have three rails or an unrealistically high profile.
HO Scale
Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:87. Pronounced as "aich-oh." Roughly half the size of O Scale, or Half-O. The most popular model railroading scale in use today.
Slang term for a locomotive; yard switchers are often referred to as "yard hogs."
Slang term for locomotive engineer.
Home Cars
Freight cars owned by the railroad which they are operating on.
Home Signal
The signal protecting the immediate block.
Hood Unit
A road switcher, so-called because of the construction of the locomotive, with the machinery covered by a hood rather than a full-width cab.
A loop-type device used to pass orders up to a moving train.
The measuring unit of power; technically, the power necessary to continuously raise 550 pounds one foot in one second.
An engine yard worker who performs a variety of tasks including moving locomotives about the yard or into and out of the servicing area.
An overheated journal or bearing on a freight car wheel, caused by a lack of lubrication.
Hot Wire
A wire connected to one of the two primary poles of a battery, transformer, or power pack which provides power to an electrical device (in conjunction with the Ground). A model train transformer may have several "Hot" poles--each providing a different voltage.
Hotel Power
The electrical power supplied to cars in a passenger train to run climate-control equipment, lighting, kitchens, and the like. The power is usually produced by AC generators or inverters run by the engine's motive-power diesels, or by separate motors in the engines. It may also be provided by a separate generator car at the head end of a passenger train consist.
An elevated section of track from which free-wheeling freight cars can be coasted by gravity for classification in the yards below.
A type of boxcar that is taller than a standard boxcar, and therefore has a higher cubic capacity.
In electricity, the process of creating an electrical field or electrical current in a body that is in proximity to, but not connected with, the generating force; the principal behind voltage reduction in a toy train transformer.
Insulating Track Pin
In model railroading, a small track-connecting pin made of a non-conductive material which substitutes for the metal pin(s) normally used to connect two track sections. Prevents the flow of electricity from one section to the next section.
Insulated Track Section
In model railroading, a modified section of toy train track in which one of the outside running rails is insulated from the metal track ties by fiber strips or some other non-conductive material, and which is further insulated from adjacent rails by insulating track pins; commonly used to operate accessories.
Junction of two railroads where cars may be transferred from one line to the other.
Mechanical or electrical system of signaling that assures that only one train at a time is permitted to move through a junction.
An inter-mixing of non-rail transportation equipment such as highway truck trailers and overseas shipping containers on railcars--often called "Piggyback" service.
A streetcar/trolley-style car used for passenger service (sometimes including light freight and mail service, and often in multiple units) between cities and towns, as opposed to local streetcar service. The term applied to such transportation systems and service in general.
Railroader's term meaning a train is in a siding to meet or pass another train.
A section hand.
Johnson Bar
The manual reversing lever on a steam locomotive (usually an older locomotive).
The load-bearing part of a railroad car axle. The weight of the axle is carried by the journal bearing, enclosed in the journal box.
Kar Trak
A system used to keep track of all railroad equipment, employing reflective identification labels on all rolling stock, trackside scanners, and computers.
A locomotive.
King Pin
Slang term for conductor. Also Kingpin--the pivot on which a truck swivels (also known as a Center Pin).
A term used to denote the making of a model railroad structure, car, etc., from parts of two or more ready-to-assemble kits.
Knuckle Coupler
Couplers on the ends of railroad cars and locomotives (standard in the U.S.) which, when viewed from above, resemble two hands with the fingers bent to grip one another.
Ladder Track
A track connecting a number of parallel sidings or stubs in a yard or terminal.
Lionel Collectors Club of America. A national organization dedicated to the collecting of Lionel Trains. For membership information, write to: P.O. Box 479, LaSalle, IL 61301.
Less-than-carload lot. Any shipment of freight too small to fill an entire car.
Large Scale
Term commonly used to designate all model railroading scales in the nominal proportions of 1:24, 1:29, and 1:32 which operate on #1 Gauge (45mm) track. Also, the trade name applied to a line of such model train products produced by Lionel Trains. Term encompasses many of the largest of the commercially-available model railroading scales, exclusive of G Scale (1:22.5) which carries its own scale designation. See also, "G Scale."
In model railroading, the term applied to an arrangement of tracks on a table or platform; also commonly applied to the complete assembly of tracks, accessories, and scenery. See also, "Pike."
Lead Track
Trackage connecting a yard with the mainline.
A moss-like plant which, when dried, preserved with glycerine, and dyed, is commonly used as a scenic decoration to simulate foliage, brush and undergrowth on model railroad layouts.
A device used to connect wiring to tracks, especially on a three-rail model railroad. Allows the operator to directly connect wires from the transformer to the outside (ground) rail and inside (power) rail.
Lionel Operating Train Society. A national organization for operators of Lionel Trains. For membership information, write to: Suite 1990, 7 W. 7th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.
Low Iron
Yard or siding tracks; anything not a part of the mainline.
Lionel Railroaders Club. Organization of Lionel Electric Train enthusiasts sponsored by Lionel, LLC, manufacturer of Lionel Trains. For membership information, write to: P.O. Box 748, New Baltimore, MI 48047.
LRV (Light Rail Vehicle)
Term used to categorically identify railway equipment and systems such as trolleys and rapid transit cars--either electrically-powered or self-propelled.
Lump Oil
Main Line (Main Iron, Main Stream, etc.)
Through trackage; governed by rules and restricted to travel only by scheduled trains or trains operating with train orders.
Main Pin
Slang term for a railroad official.
Maintenance-of-Way Equipment
Machinery and rolling stock used to keep track and roadbed in good operating condition.
An articulated steam locomotive named for the designer. The term is generally applied to any articulated steam locomotive.
A listing or invoice-of-charge for a particular shipment of goods or materiel.
Lamps displayed on the rear of a train to indicate that the complete train has passed, or to serve as a warning to following trains.
Milk Train
A slow train.
Modular Layout/Modular Railroading
A type of model railroad layout in which the layout itself is comprised of portable modules constructed to specifications that permit each module to be joined to others, thereby creating a large layout limited only by space and number of modules available.
Mother Hubbard
A locomotive with the cab straddling the boiler like a saddle. See also "Camelback."
Empty freight cars.
MU (Multiple Unit)
Cars or locomotives which contain their own power, but which can be controlled from the foremost car or locomotive; commonly used on commuter trains and diesel locomotives.
Slang term for brakeman.
Muzzle Loader
Any hand-fired steam locomotive.
N Scale
Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:160. The second most popular (after HO Scale) of the model railroad scales in use today.
Narrow Gauge
Term designating railroad track having a rail spacing (gauge) of less than the North American standard of 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches--typically mining, industrial, and scenic railways which most commonly have rail spacing of either 3 feet or 2 feet. In model railroading, narrow gauge is designated by the modeling scale, followed by an "n" (narrow gauge), and then the modeled track gauge--for example, On3 or HOn2.
Slang term for brakeman.
National Model Railroad Association. A national organization dedicated to the advancement of model railroading in all scales. The organization instrumental in the establishment of standards for model railroading. For membership information, write to: 4121 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga, TN 37421.
Front end of a locomotive.
National Railway Historical Society. Organization dedicated to the perpetuation of prototype railroad history. For information, write to: 1 Rich Court, HoHoKus, NJ 07423.
Number Grabber
A car checker.
Nut Splitter
Slang term for a machinist.
O Scale/O Gauge
Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:48 (nominally, 1/4 inch = 1 foot); includes O scale, O gauge, O27 gauge, and On3 and On2 scale model trains and equipment. The standard track gauge for O/O27 measures 1-1/4 inches between the running rails.
When a railroad's equipment that is normally limited to operation in home territory--locomotives and business cars, for example--is operated over the trackage of another railroad.
In electricity, the fundamental unit of electrical resistance. It is a measurement which describes the resistance of a circuit to the flow of electricity passing through it. A greater number of Ohms indicates a higher resistance, or impediment, to current flow.
Railroading term for running on time.
Open-top or Oil Can
Slang term for a tank car.
Open-top or Open-Grid Layout
A type of layout design which uses a wooden frame with joists, thereby allowing the roadbed to rise and fall beneath the top level of the frame by means of cross members and strips of wood called stringers.
O27 Gauge
Toy train track which has the same distance between the outside running rails as O Gauge (1-1/4 inches), but is lighter in weight, has a lower profile, and measures only 27 inches over the diameter of a full circle. Also, the term applied to O27 trains, which generally are shorter or somewhat smaller than their true O Gauge counterparts--made so to negotiate the smaller-radius curves.
Means "entered on the sheet." Often used as a verb to report that a train has passed the tower.
A semaphore signal.

The collapsible contraptions on the top of electrically powered locomotives that maintain contact with overhead wire and transfer electrical power from the wire to a lcomotive's traction units. Pantographs are commonly seen atop most European and U.S. East Coast electric locomotives. Amtrak's high-speed electrically powered Acela Express, which runs between Washington and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, uses pantographs. (See Catenary)

As early as 1927, the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railroad used electrially powered locomotives to haul Montana ore from Butte mines to the smelter in Anaconda.

The Milwaukee Road (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) first used electrically powered locomotives in Montana as early as 1915. Electrification began in 1914 between Harlowton, Montana, and Avery, Idaho. The Maiwaukee Road's first electric train ran in 1915 between Three Forks, Montana, and Deer Lodge, Montana. The system used was 3,000 volt DC overhead line. Milwaukee Road electric locomotive today sit on static display at Deer Lodge and at Harlowton. (See our Related Links page and the Ron V. Nixon Historical Rail Photo Archives at the Museum of the Rockies website.)

Incidentally, the word pantograph is not a railroad original. In the engineering profession, a pantograph is an apparatus used for scale drawings. It has two arms linked triangularly to operate in a manner based on parallelograms. With use of a pantograph, a line drawn by one arm duplicates a longer or shorter line drawn by a pen fixed to the other arm. The pantograph is reported to have been invented in 1603 by a physicist named Christoph Scheiner. You can "wow 'em" at the next train club Holiday Party with all this; however, you might soon find yourself standing alone at the buffet.

Parallel Circuit
In electricity, a single electrical circuit serving several electrical devices (such as lamps), each of which is connected directly to both poles of the power source. All devices in the circuit will receive the full amount of electrical voltage available from the two poles. (See also Series Circuit).
Passing Siding
A siding intended specifically for passing complete trains in the same or opposite direction.
Abbreviation for "President's Conference Committee" streamlined-style streetcars and interurbans produced from the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s.
See "Way Freight."
Phase or Phasing
In model railroading, the connection of two or more transformers in such a way that the continuous movement of alternating current (AC) in all of the transformers from positive to negative is identical. Two transformers that are "Out of Phase" can be corrected by rotating the wall plug of only one of them 180-degrees.
Pickup Roller
A device mounted on the underside of a toy train car or locomotive which contacts the third (center) rail to supply electrical power to the motor(s) or lamp(s).
A support for the center section of a bridge.
The movement of truck trailers on flat cars. See also, "Intermodal."
A model railroad layout.
Correct nomenclature for the guard structure at the front of a steam locomotive; often called a "cowcatcher."
Pilot Truck
(Also lead or leading truck). The truck located in front of a steam locomotive's drive wheels which, in addition to providing support, helps guide the engine into curves and turnouts. See also "Pony Truck."
A small, local passenger train.
In electricity, the condition of either positive or negative magnetic or electrical attraction which cause current to flow.
In electricity, each of the two opposing parts of a battery or other power source which exhibit attraction for each other, thus inducing a flow of electric current.
Moving cars on an adjoining track by using a long wooden spar placed in a socket on the car's end beam and a socket on the locomotive's pilot beam.
Pony Truck
A two-wheel pilot truck on a steam locomotive.
Pop Car
Motor car used by section gangs.
Power Pack
In model railroading, normally a train control device configured to convert household AC current to low-voltage DC current which is used for the operation of most model trains that run on two-rail track.
Primary Coil
The lighter wire winding in the core of a toy train transformer that connects directly to the household electrical supply by means of a wall plug. See also, Secondary.
The real, life-size object on which a scale model is based.
A sleeping or parlor car operated by the Pullman Company; also commonly applied to any car of that same type.
It has only to do with trains if used literarily. It is a poem of four lines.
Slang term for a model railroader.
An individual who enjoys riding, watching, photographing, and reading about trains.
Slang term for a freight train.
RCS (Remote Control Section)
A special type of Lionel track used for uncoupling and unloading cars through activation of an electromagnet by remote control; replaced by the designation "UCS."
RDC (Rail Diesel Car)
A lightweight, self-powered commuter and/or mail-carrying car often operated in multiple units; manufactured by the Budd Company.
In electricity, a device used to transform alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). May be used with an AC-type transformer to power equipment which requires DC current. See also, Power Pack.
Red Ball
Fast freight train.
Red Eye or Red Board
A "stop" signal.
Slang for a refrigerator car.
Reefer Block
Freight train consisting of refrigerator cars.
In electricity, an electrically-powered switch which, in turn, effects a change (activates other switches) in some other electrical circuit or circuits.
In electricity, a device which impedes current flow, thereby reducing the voltage passing through a circuit; resistance is measured in ohms.
Restricted Track
A track section where train speeds are reduced by orders, often temporarily.
A device used for decreasing speed; often used in hump yards to control the rate at which cars roll down the hump and into the classification tracks.
In electricity, a device for adjusting the amount of resistance in an electrical circuit, thereby varying the amount of voltage produced in that circuit.
The track, roadbed, and property alongside which is owned by the railroad.
Slang term for yardmaster.
Rip Track
Track in a yard where equipment is stored while awaiting repairs, or where minor car repairs are performed.
Road Railer
A specially designed over-the-road truck trailer having a set of steel railcar-style wheels which can be lowered for running on train tracks or designed to rest on a two-axle bogie similar to a freight car truck. The front end of the trailer is supported by being hitched to the back of the one in front--literally making a train of truck trailers.
The surface upon which track is laid. This surface is usually raised above ground level by rocks topped with wooden or concrete ties, upon which the tracks are laid and then ballasted.
Road Engine
Locomotive used regularly for mainline passenger or freight service.
Rolling Stock
Non-powered freight and passenger cars which are pulled by a locomotive.
A circular (usually) structure meant to house locomotives during servicing. The roundhouse customarily faced a turntable which was used to direct a locomotive onto and off of one of the roundhouse tracks.
Railway Post Office car. Once a common addition to passenger trains.
A railroad switching maneuver in which the locomotive uncouples from its train, pulls ahead, backs past on an adjacent track, and moves forward to couple onto the rear of the train. Also, the track where such movements take place.
Running Board
The narrow walkway alongside the boiler of a steam engine.
Running Rails
The two outside rails of track upon which support the wheels of a locomotive or train car.
S Scale
Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:64. Popularized by A. C. Gilbert's American Flyer electric trains in the 1940s through the 1960s. Today, American Flyer trains continue to be produced on a limited basis by Lionel, LLC.
Sand Dome
A dome-shaped receptacle on top of a steam locomotive's boiler; filled with sand for distribution to the rails as needed to provide greater traction for the engine's drive wheels.
A maneuver in which two trains can meet and pass at a siding which is too short to hold the complete length of either train.
The ratio in size between a model and its prototype, expressed as a fraction or a proportion (for example1/48 or 1:48 for O Scale).
That portion of a timetable that lists the class, direction, number, and movement of regular trains.
Slang term for the application of scenery materials of various types to a model railroad layout.
In model railroading, the act of constructing scenery, buildings, rolling stock, or locomotives from raw materials by hand, rather than from a ready-to-assemble kit.
Secondary Coil
In electricity, the heavier wire winding within the core of a transformer that produces reduced voltage and which connects directly (in model railroading) to the track and accessories. See also, Primary.
Second Section
A train--usually passenger--run with the same number or name as a preceding train on the same day.
Section Hand
Track worker.
Sectional Track
In model railroading, pieces of track in any scale or gauge manufactured to specific geometric proportions, which can then be joined together in straight lines, curves, and circles.
Sectional Layout
A type of model railroad layout made up of various smaller sections that are joined together to form the larger layout; designed this way so the layout can be disassembled and/or moved without destroying any major components.
A trackside signal which uses a movable arm to convey track occupancy information to the train crew.
Series Circuit
In electricity, an electrical circuit serving several devices (such as lamps) wherein the current passes from one pole of the power source through each device in succession before reaching the other pole. In this type of circuit, each lamp receives only a portion of the total voltage available at the source. For example, if there are two lamps, each receives half the power; if there are three lamps, each receives one-third the power; etc. See also, Parallel.
Service Track
Track on which engines take on coal, water, and sand, as necessary.
Slang term for a caboose.
A gear-driven steam locomotive used extensively in logging and mining operations. It has three cylinders mounted vertically on the right side of the boiler driving a crankshaft geared to all axles--sometimes including the tender's axles, when present.
Temporary track laid around an obstruction while the primary track is under repair or being replaced.
Short Line
A small railroad, generally Class II (revenues less than $5 million per year).
To switch cars.
To "shift" or "drill" cars to another path.
Side Bay or Bay Window Caboose
A caboose with bay windows in the sides instead of a cupola on the roof.
A section of track accessed off the mainline by means of a turnout. A dead-end siding connected to the mainline by a turnout at one end only is called a "spur." A siding connected by turnouts at both ends is called a "Passing Siding."
Slang term for a call boy.
Slip Switch
A piece of trackwork that combines a crossing and four turnouts to permit trains to move from one track to the other or to stay on the same track.
A motive unit with no diesel engines of its own; draws power for its traction motors from an attached regular diesel engine--a combination used primarily for heavy freight yard work.
Smoke Box
Cylindrical section at the head end of the boiler, beneath the stack.
a chimney on a car or building.
Structure built over the track in mountainous areas to protect the track from snow and avalanches.
Spacer Car
Empty cars (most commonly gondolas) placed at both ends of a car carrying an extra-heavy load for the purpose of distributing the train's weight over bridge spans.
The wooden rod used in polling operations.
A nail-like device with a large, offset head that is driven into ties to anchor rail in place and to maintain proper track alignment.
Articulated intermodal car sets with separate load-bearing units resting on common trucks and having a body consisting solely of a steel center beam with hitches and truck trailer wheel supports.
Placing cars in a desired location; shifting.
A divergent track (siding) having only one point of entry; a branch line over which irregular service is offered.
Standard Gauge
In model railroading, toy trains larger than O gauge that operate on track measuring 2-1/8 inches between the running rails. Standard Gauge products were introduced by the Lionel Corporation in 1906 and were commonly produced by Lionel and others up until the start of World War II. In prototype railroading in the U.S. (and in some other countries), track measuring 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches between the inside edges of the running rails.
Station, Way
A small station with a passing siding only.
Steam Chest
Box containing the valve mechanism for the cylinders of a steam locomotive.
A trainman.
An automatic firing device which feeds fuel to the engine. Slang term for a fireman.
A short diverging track (siding) ending in a bumper. A stub has a turnout only at one end.
the slight raising of the outer rail on a curve; banking.
Switcher (also Shifter)
An engine primarily used to move and position cars on different tracks, such as in a yard.
Tallow Pot
Slang term for locomotive fireman.
Straight track.
Tank Engine
Steam locomotive that carries its fuel and water supplies in tanks hung over or placed alongside the boiler, or on a frame extension (bunker) at the rear, instead of in a tender.
Train Collector's Association. National organization dedicated to the advancement of the collecting and operating of toy trains of all eras. For membership information, write to: P.O. Box 248, Strasburg, PA 17579.
Tea Kettle
Slang term for an old locomotive, especially a leaky steam locomotive.
A curtain-like signal consisting of lengths of chain or free-swinging rods suspended over the tracks to warn workers on the top of moving cars of an approaching low clearance such as a bridge or a tunnel entrance.
The car immediately behind a steam locomotive which is used to store the water and fuel (wood, coal, or oil) needed for the locomotive's operation.
Principal point of origination or termination of trains for one or more railroads; generally located in or near major cities. Includes any station structure, turnouts, towers, associated buildings, and other equipment.
Third Rail
The center rail on Lionel-type toy train track. On prototype electric, subway, and even some scale model railroads, a third rail for electric current pickup may be located outside one of the running rails.
The entrance tracks to a terminal or yard.
The speed control on a locomotive. In model railroading, a rheostat generally functions as the throttle by controlling the voltage which reaches the track.
A supporting cross piece--usually of wood or concrete on prototype railroads--that holds the rails of railroad track the proper distance apart (Gauge) and in proper alignment.
Tie Plate
The steel shoes in which the rails sit when they are spiked to wooden ties.
A printed schedule of regular train movements.
Tinplate sheets which have been decorated by a printing process known as lithography. A process commonly used in the construction of toy trains in the period before World War II.
Stamped-steel (usually) surfaces which have been coated with a layer of tin to prevent rust and corrosion. Most toy train track is tinplated, and this term has, by extension, commonly been used to refer to all toy trains and their operators ("Tinplaters").
Toe Boards
Running boards on the roof of a railroad car.
Trailer-on-flatcar. (Intermodal service.)
One ton of freight transported one mile.
Track Clips
Devices used to attach two ties of adjoining track sections together in a toy train layout. These are used to fasten track sections together in temporary layouts.
Track Pin
In model railroading, a short metal electrically-conductive rod that is inserted into the ends of toy train track to connect adjacent sections.
In the context of rail transportation and associated modeling, a term generally used to connote electric trolley, streetcar, and interurban lines and equipment.
Tractive Effort
The force which a locomotive can pull under controlled conditions.
Trailing Switch
A turnout or switch whose points face away from oncoming traffic.
Trailing Truck
A two- or four-wheeled truck located behind a steam locomotive's driver wheels which helps support the rear of the engine.
Train Order
A written order on a form which gives directions for train movements that are not on the schedule. Train orders are usually issued by the dispatcher.
An employee who coordinates the work of the yardmaster and the roundhouse foreman; he reports directly to the superintendent.
Train Set (also Trainset)
In real railroading, the term applied to a passenger train consist--often including the engine(s)--which customarily is not broken up except for special work on a component. In model railroading, a set of equipment usually consisting, at minimum, of a locomotive, cars, track, and transformer of power pack.
Transfer Table
A laterally-moving geared set of rails used to move a locomotive or cars from one track to another. Typically used in engine service facilities which have a rectangular engine house or shops rather than a roundhouse.
A device for changing ( transforming) high-voltage Alternating Current (AC) into low-voltage AC.
Transition Curve
A section of track with a gradually diminishing radius between the straight track and the circular portion of the curve.
A wooden bridge-like structure usually having all supporting members below the railway tracks.
Truss Bridge
Railroad bridges of various designs principally supported by a structure comprised of rigid steel beams.
TT Scale
Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:120. Early competitor to HO scale and still being manufactured in limited numbers, but no longer considered a major force in scale model railroading.
Toy Train Operating Society. National organization dedicated to promoting the collecting and operating of toy trains of all types. For membership information, write to: 25 W. Walnut St., Pasadena, CA 91103.
T.T.U.X. (also T.T.A.X.)
Nomenclature used to identify "Trailer Train" intermodal cars specially designed for transport of shipping containers and/or truck trailers by rail. The acronym, TTX, is sometimes used in reference to rail intermodal service, facilities, and operations in general.
Name commonly given to a streetcar which receives its power from overhead electric lines. Also, the name of the pole-like device used to collect and transfer electricity from the overhead lines into the streetcar itself.
The wheels, axles, and related assemblies on railroad rolling stock.
Turbine Locomotive
One with power supplied by a steam turbine.
Generally regarded as the correct nomenclature for a track switch--a device configured with movable rails which allow a train to enter an alternate route.
A large, pivoted circular apparatus which rotates in a pit and is used to turn locomotives around, or to position them for movement to a different track.
Uncoupling Track
Special section of track in tinplate railroading used to activate couplers by means of a brief electromagnetic charge sent from the transformer.
Unit Train
A consist of freight cars, usually dedicated to a single commodity and/or origin and destination, which customarily is not broken-up except for special maintenance work on a component. (For passenger trains, see "Train Set.")
United States Railroad Administration. The United States Railroad Administration (USRA) was the name of the nationalized railroad system of the United States between 1917 and 1920. It was possibly the largest American experiment with nationalization, and was undertaken against a background of war emergency. Subsequently, most commonly associated with the design of a variety of standardized steam locomotives produced during and after that period.
Vanderbilt Tender
A steam locomotive tender with a distinctive, rounded, tank-style compartment behind a squared-off front portion.
Variable Voltage Post
In model railroading, the terminal post on a transformer that is connected internally to a rheostat and which provides different amounts of voltage output according to the positioning of a movable control handle.
A passenger train (wooden passenger coaches used to be given a glossy coat of varnish).
The enclosed area at the end of a passenger car where the side doors are located. Also, a closed cab on steam locomotives to protect the engineer and fireman from inclement weather.
A unit of electrical measurement which determines the level of force or pressure behind an electrical current. The greater the voltage, the more powerful the current. Specifically, it is the amount of pressure that will cause one ampere of current to flow through one ohm of resistance.
A "stop" signal. Also, track ballast washed away by water action.
Water Bottle
Slang term for a water-filled tank car placed directly behind a steam locomotive's tender as an extra source of water for the locomotive's boiler in the event that water is scarce along a given stretch of track.
Water Column
A standpipe adjacent to the track and connected to a water supply for filling steam locomotive tenders.
The unit of electrical energy expended in powering a device. This term is used to illustrate the top power capacity of an electrical device such as a transformer or light bulb.
Freight car handling order identifying the shipper, receiver, routing, and contents of the car.
Way Car
A freight car carrying local shipments.
Way Freight
A freight train making all local stops for which shipments are carried.
Intermodal cars having a full depressed pocket between the wheels to hold shipping containers--primarily designed for double-stack service.
Whyte Classification System
The numbering system used to describe various types of steam engines by their wheel arrangement. The system uses three numbers: one for the number of wheels on the pilot; one for the number of drive wheels; and one for the number of wheels on the trailing truck. For example: 2-6-4 indicates two pilot wheels; six drive wheels; and four trailing-truck wheels.
runaway locomotive.
Wire Tapper
A telegraph operator.
Worm Gear
A gear with slightly slanted teeth which are designed to meash with a "worm." In model railroading, the worm gear is usually mounted on the driving axle.
Wye (sometimes given as "Y")
A track system comprised of three switches and three long legs of track which enables an entire train to turn around as a unit.
The wife of Socrates. She was reported to have been a cunning woman.
Yard Geese
Workers in a yard; switchmen.
Yard Goat
A switching locomotive.
Railroad employee in charge of yard operations.
Yellow Eye
"Proceed with caution" signal.
A German sweetened bread baked first as a loaf and then cut into slices and toasted. We do not know whether it has ever been served in an American railroad dining car; however, we needed at least one Z-word for Railroad Fun Facts.