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Home RR Terms

Here are a few Railroad Terms for reference. Some of these date back to the early 1900's.

Have a term that's not listed let us know and we'll add it to the list!

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z


  • AAR – “Association of American Railroads”, This trade group establishes safety and equipment standards.
  • Abandon – When a railroad ceases operation over a route with no intention of resuming service.
  • ABS – A plastic used in Model Railroading which is harder than Styrene.
  • Abutment –A foundation designed to hold back the pressure of solid ground, such as an end pier of a bridge.
  • ACC – Alphacyanoacrylate, Super glue, also called “CA”.
  • Accommodation – A local train which makes all stops.
  • Adhesion – The frictional grip of the wheel to rail; Maintenance of contact between the wheel s and the rail.
  • Adhesive Weight – The total of the driving-wheel axle loads.
  • Air-brake – A braking system in which compressed air is used as the operating medium.
  • Airbrush – A miniature paint sprayer that that is used by artists and model builders to give a controlled application of paint.
  • Air Test– The act of operating the brake valve to determine that the air brake system was operating correctly and could stop the train if necessary.
  • Alley – A clear track, usually in a yard.
  • Alternating Current (AC) – Standard 110 Volt house hold current, or low voltage current used in model railroading, usually around 18 Volts; An electric current that reverses its direction of flow at regular intervals. Each move from zero to maximum strength and back to zero is known as a cycle.
  • Ammeter – Meter used to measure current strength; How many amperes are being used by a motor or other electrical equipment.
  • Ampere or Amp – Unit used to measure electrical current strength.
  • Approach Signal –A signal that governs the approach to another signal.
  • Apron – Overlapping deck between the cab and a tender; Hinged covering above locomotive and tender connection.
  • Arbor – Wheel axle
  • Arc – Spark created by passage of current across a gap; also a curve.
  • Arch – A shallow, semicircular configuration, usually constructed of firebrick or similar material, in a steam locomotive firebox below the tubes. It is intended to promote more efficient fuel consumption and reduce the amount of smoke while protecting the flue tubes.
  • Armature – The wire-wound rotating part of a motor.
  • Armed– When a 2-way EOT is in communication with the HOT allowing it to dump the train from the rear.
  • Arrival Track – The track which passenger trains arrive at a terminal; or freight trains arrive in or near a yard.
  • Articulated Locomotive – Any locomotive featuring two or more sets of wheels and cylinders mounted on separate or hinged frames. Permits large locomotives to snake around curves more easily.
  • Ash Cat – A locomotive foreman.
  • Ash Pan – A tray under a steam locomotives firebox which accumulates ashes until an ash pit is reached.
  • Aspect – One of the lighted positions of a signal light.
  • ASTRAC - Automatic Simultaneous Train Control (General Electric)
  • ATC – (Automatic Train Control) – A term covering systems designed to assist the engineer and provide against mishandling or misinterpretation of signals. These systems range from simple cab warning systems to fully automatic control.
  • Automatic Block Signal – Signal activated by train entering a block.
  • Automatic Coupler – Couplers which will couple and uncouple automatically through the use of uncoupling ramps, permanent or electro-magnets; permits remote operation as opposed to manual hand methods.
  • Auxiliary Reservoir– A reservoir located on each rail car that stores air supplied by the locomotive.
  • Auxiliary Tender – A second tender; enables an engine to maintain longer runs and reduces intermediate water stops.
  • Axle Box – A metal casing that houses the axle bearing. Attached to the frame, the axle box transmits the weight of car to the axle.




  • Baby Lifter- Passenger Brakeman
  • Bakehead- Locomotive Fireman
  • Backdrop – Background scenery usually on a wall behind the layout that can be painted, a printed background or a large photograph.
  • Back Saw – A saw with a reinforcing bar on the top edge. In model railroading they are usually fine tooth saws called “Razor or Snap saws.”
  • Bad Order - A tag which has been placed on a defective car by a railroad inspector.
  • Bad Order Track – A track on which cars are set to wait for repairs.
  • Baggage Car – American term for luggage wagon.
  • Baggage Smasher – A baggage handler.
  • Bakehead– Fireman (because his head was near the door of firebox when shoveling coal)
  • Ballast – Usually gravel, cinders, or crushed rock placed between ties and around track and roadbed to help prevent the track from moving, spread load, provide bearing for ties and track, and to drain water and help control weed growth.
  • Balloon Stack – Smokestack found on most old time wood burners. Many had large kite or diamond-shaped housings. The shape was used to help prevent sparks from escaping.
  • Balloon Track or Balloon – Technical term for a reverse loop.
  • Balsa – A Lightweight wood sometimes used in model railroading, however better suited for model airplanes because of its light weight.
  • Banking – Assisting the working of a train, usually when ascending a grade, by attaching one or more locomotives to the rear of the train.
  • Bascule Bridge – A general term for a counter-balanced lift bridge.
  • Baseboard – The baseboard is the structure carrying the model railway.
  • Basswood – A light weight wood used in model railroading due to its strength and smooth grain structure. Northeastern lumber and others manufacture scale lumber in Basswood.
  • Battleship-Large Feight Locomotive
  • Bay Platform – A bay platform (or bay road) is a short terminal platform let into a longer one, normally for terminating branch or local trains.
  • Beat'er on the back- Make fast time
  • Bellows American – Term for corridor connections: flexible connection or corridor providing access from the end of one car to another.
  • Belpaire Firebox – Square topped fireboxes typical of a Pennsylvania and Great Northern Locomotives.
  • Belt Line – A connecting railroad between two or more railroads, so-called because it encircles a city like a belt.
  • Bend the rails-Turn a switch
  • Benchwork – A frame which is the foundation of a model railroad layout. L girder and open grid (sometimes called butt-joint) are two popular types.
  • Bend the Rails – Turn the switch in the track; change position of turnout.
  • Big Boy – Popular name for largest team locomotive, the 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific.
  • Big Hole- Quick Stop
  • Big Hook – A wrecking crane.
  • Big O- Conductor
  • BIg Shot- Yardmaster
  • Big Wheel – A rotary snowplow.
  • Bill of Lading – A form describing freight, its charges and destination in detail.
  • Black Snake- Long coal drag or train.
  • Bleed – To drain the air from the brake system of a car or cars.
  • Blind Drivers – Drivers without flanges which permit locomotives to take shaper curves than wheel arrangement would usually allow; widely used in narrow gauge.
  • Blind Siding – A siding without telephone or telegraph connections to the dispatcher; no order can be received on it.
  • Block- The trackage between two signals; in model railroading, isolated electrical circuits. Section of track under one control and accommodating only one train at a time
  • Block Head- Hand signal or verbal communication of doing something wrong.
  • Block Signal – Indicates whether block is occupied or not.
  • Blow Smoke- To Boast
  • Blue Flag– A blue flag or signal that is placed on a car or locomotive when workers are around or under it. When a car or locomotive is blue-flagged, then it must not be coupled to or moved in any manner. The only person allowed to remove a blue flag is the person who put it there in the first place.
  • Board – A fixed signal or marker.
  • Bobber – A short four-wheeled caboose.
  • Bob Tail Haul – An early slang expression indicating that a loco was only pulling a few cars and a bobber caboose; a short train.
  • Body Shell – Basic body section of vehicle without internal fittings.
  • Bogie – The European term for truck (see truck).
  • Bogie (American Truck) – Independent short wheel base truck with four or six wheels, capable of pivoting about the center at which it is attached to the under frame of long cars.
  • Boiler – The part of a locomotive where steam is generated, Consisting essentially of a fire box surrounded by a water space in which the combustion of fuel takes place, and barrel containing the flue tubes surrounded by water.
  • Bolster – Transverse floating beam member of bogie suspension system supporting the weight of vehicle body.
  • Boom Car – The car next to the wrecking crane or derrick on which the crane boom is resting while traveling.Boomer – A person who works for the railroad but changes jobs frequently. also called a drifter.
  • Boss- Conductor
  • Booster – In prototype, a small secondary stream engine which assists and increases starting power. Some trailing trucks and tender wheels feature boosters which cut off automatically after a certain speed had been reached.
  • Box Cab – Electric or diesel loco with a cab shaped like a box.
  • Box Car – American term for covered van or freight vehicle.
  • Boxcar – A rectangular, fully enclosed freight car.
  • Brains- Conductor, Dispatcher, Foreman
  • Brakeman – A member of a freight or passenger train crew. His duties are to assist the conductor in any way.
  • Brake Beam –A cross-piece in the foundation brake gear for a pair of wheels to which the leverage delivers its force to be transmitted through the attached brake head and brake shoes to the tread of the wheels.
  • Brake Cylinder– A cast metal cylinder with a piston that is forced outward by compressed air in applying the brakes and returned by a release spring in releasing the brakes.
  • Brake Pipe– Commonly called a train line, it is the pipe, hose, connections, angle cocks, cut-out cocks, fittings, etc., connecting the locomotive and all cars from one end of the train to the other for the passage of air to charge and control the brakes.
  • Brake Rigging– A term commonly used instead of foundation brake gear.
  • Brakes, Automatic– Automatic brakes are the brake controls in the locomotive that regulate the pressure of the brake pipe and apply or release the brakes for the entire train including the locomotives
  • Brakes, Independent– Independent brakes are the brake controls in the locomotive that apply the brakes on the locomotives only. The air hose marked ACT or BR CYL enables the lead unit to control the trailing units brakes
  • Branch – A track turning off the trunk line.
  • Branch-line – Minor line acting as a feeder to main trunk lines.
  • Brass Hat – Top railroad executive; A V.I.P; President or boss of the line.
  • Brass Buttons- Freight Conductor
  • Brass Collar- Railroad Official
  • Brownies – Demerits issued by the superintendent for an infraction of the rules; a certain number means suspension and a greater number may mean dismissal.
  • Bridge traffic- (Also called Bridge route or overhead route.) Freight which is delivered by one railroad to a second railroad for delivery to a third railroad.
  • Bug – A Telegraph key.
  • Buggy – Caboose
  • Buggy Track – Caboose track.
  • Bullhead– A condition where both drawbar knuckles are closed, making the coupling impossible without opening one knuckle (amer. slang).
  • Bump – To exercise seniority in replacing a man in his position.
  • Bumper or Bumping Post – Device that stops cars at end of a stub track.
  • Bungalow – A small building usually situated near the rail that is used to house Electrical and signaling equipment. Itoften contains a battery backup and may be heated.
  • Bunker – A bin, usually elevated, for storing coal.




  • CA – Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on wood, metal and styrene plastic.
  • Cab – The section of the locomotive in which the controls are located and where the engineer and fireman rides.
  • Cab Control – A means of operating and controlling one or more trains singly or simultaneously . (trains operating independent of one another.)
  • Cab Forward – Articulated type steam engine, popular on Southern Pacific RR. Engines were reversed; cylinders toward the back, cab and smoke stack at front.
  • Caboose – A car, usually placed at the end of a freight train, in which the conductor has an office and living quarters. With increasing use of computer controls, cabooses are being replaced with ETD (End of Train Device)
  • Caboose Way Car – A caboose with a section for freight.
  • Caboose Valve–A rotary valve type of device providing means for making a controlled rate of brake pipe reduction for making a service or emergency application from the caboose.
  • Cab Signals – Lights on a control panel in front of operator which indicate condition of track ahead of locomotive
  • Class 1 Railroad–A freight railway company that meets certain minimum size criteria. Classification Yard-where trains are disconnected and reassembled based on their destination.
  • Call Boys, Caller – A boy, or man, whose duty is to summon the crews.
  • Calliope- Locomotive
  • Camelback – A steam locomotive with the cab astride the boiler, the fireman riding under a hood at the rear; also called a “Mother Hubbard.”
  • Cant – Amount by which one rail of a curved track is raised above the other. Cant is ‘positive’ when the outer rail is higher than the inner rail and ‘negative’ when the inner rail is higher than the outer.
  • Cap – A torpedo put on the tracks for signaling purposes.
  • Car – An American term for carriage or wagon.
  • Car Barn – Storage house for trolley and interurban cars.
  • Car Catcher- Brakeman
  • Carry a Flag- To run late or off schedule
  • Carry the Mail- Travel at high speed; walk or run swiftly
  • Car Knocker – A car inspector, so-called from the men who tap the wheels to test for soundness.
  • Car Toad-Car Repairer
  • Car Whacker- Car Cleaner
  • Catenary – Supporting cable for the conductor wire of an overhead electrification system.
  • Chassis – Framework or underbody of a locomotive, or cars.
  • Chisel- To Switch Cars
  • Cinder Dick– Railroad detective (slang)
  • Cinder Pit – As ash pit.
  • Circuit – The path of an electrical current.
  • Circuit Breaker – A switch or fuse that automatically opens the circuit in the event of a current overload.
  • CLC– Complete Locomotive Control, retrofitted adhesion system manufactured by Woodward Governor Company.
  • Class – Groups into which trains are divided, from two to four, depending on the railroad.
  • Class 1 Railroad – A railroad line with annual revenues in excess of a figure set by the Interstate Commerce Commission, adjusted annually for inflation.
  • Classification Lights– Two electric lantern type lights, mounted high on front of locomotive, with lenses that could be switched from off, to white – for an extra train or to green – indicating a train running as all but the last section of a schedule. Flag holders permitted the use of white and green flags for daylite use, in like manner.
  • Classification Yard – A freight yard where trains are broken up and made up by shifting cars with a switcher locomotive or by a hump.
  • Clear Board – A go-ahead signal.
  • Clear Signal – Fixes signal displaying a green, or proceed without restriction..
  • Clean the Clock-Stop Suddenly
  • Clerestory Roof – Typical of certain passenger cars featuring raised center sections and “clerestory windows” along the sides.
  • Clinker Boy- Fireman
  • Clown Wagon- Caboose
  • Coal Bunker – Storage bin directly behind cab or in the tender.
  • Coaling Station – A place where locomotives stop to take on a load of coal. The tender is positioned under the chute of coaling tower which supplies the coal by gravity feed.
  • COFC - Container on flat car.
  • Cog Railroad – A railroad that can climb steep grades by using a toothed cog wheel between the driving wheels of the locomotive that meshes with the teeth of a rack rail that is mounted to the cross ties between the other rails. Also called Rack Railroad.
  • Color Light Signal– A fixed signal in which the indications are given by the color of a light only.
  • Color-Position Light Signal– A fixed signal in which the indications are given by color and position of two or more lights.
  • Command Control – A way of controlling trains independently of each other by sending electronic messages through the rails. Each locomotive has a decoder or receiver which only responds to its own discrete address.
  • Common Carrier – A railroad or other carrier that carries any passengers or freight and not just contract passengers or freight from one customer.
  • Compound Engine – A steam engine in which the exhausted steam is directed into a second set of cylinders.
  • Conductor – A crew member on a freight or passenger train in charge of the train at all stops or while the train is at terminals or stations.
  • Consist –The cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. Locomotive consist is a group of engines put together to pull a train.
  • Consolidation– a type of steam engine produced by Baldwin with a specific wheel arrangement designated as 2-8-0 indicating that it had a single leading axle with 2 wheels followed by four driving axles with a total of 8 wheels, and no wheels in the rear of the engine.
  • Container on Flat Car (COFC) – A freight system in which a container is carried on a flat car.
  • Converter – A devise for converting electric power from alternating current to direct current or vice versa.
  • Corn Field Meet – Slang for head-on collision.
  • Coupler – The device used to connect and disconnect locomotives and cars.
  • Cowcatcher – An early term for the pointed device used on the front of the locomotive to remove deer, cows and buffalo off the track.
  • Crack the Black Diamonds- Build the fire up in firebox
  • Craftsman Kits – These kits are detailed building kits for experienced modelers. They usually include detailed drawings, strip wood, plastic and metal castings, along with other details.
  • Craddle- Gondola
  • Crankpin – Pin or screw attached to driving wheels hold side rods in place yet permits them to turn.
  • Crew – The men and women who run a train.
  • Cribbing – A framework of wooden timbers, steel, or concrete that acts as a retaining wall for loose rock, or dirt.
  • Crossing – An intersection between two tracks on the same level.
  • Crossing, Grade – An intersection between a highway and railroad tracks on the same level.
  • Crossover – Two turnouts and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.
  • Crown Sheet– The iron sheet at the top of the firebox, and which was in direct contact with the heat from the firebox. It was connected to the outside shell of the boiler by “Stay Bolts” as were the “side Sheets” which comprised the sides of the firebox.
  • Crummy – Slang for caboose; also called a doghouse.
  • Culvert – A passage way under tracks for drainage of water.
  • Cupola – Small cabin atop the caboose.
  • Current – Rate of flow of electricity within an electrical circuit.
  • Curve – Classified as: 1. Simple – one radius throughout. 2. Compound – two or more simple curves of similar radius. 3. Reverse – A compound curve of opposite directions.
  • Cushion Rider- Passenger conductor
  • Cut – A number of cars, coupled together; or an excavated section through a hill allowing the tracks to remain level.
  • Cycle Braking– A rapid sequence of automatic brake applications and releases. This does not allow enough time for the reservoirs on the cars to recharge and exhausts the air pressure available to apply the brakes.
  • Cylinder Cocks– Drain valves, operated from engine cab, to allow condensate to drain from cylinders when locomotive had been idle for a period of time.




  • Dark Territory –A series of rail miles ungoverned by signals and unable to transmit or receive radio or cellular phone signals.
  • Date Nail– A small nail used by railroads from late 1800′s to present used to mark the year a tie was placed in roadbed. Nails are distinctive in that each has the last two digits of placement year stamped in head. Usually found within six inches of tie end, but some are located mid tie to allow easier inspection. Rarer nails value in 100′s of dollar range to collectors
  • Dead-end – Short section running line terminating at buffer stops.
  • Deadhead – An empty car; a passenger riding on a pass; a locomotive traveling without cars.
  • Dead Man’s Control – Automatic control which an engineer must hold in “on” position against a spring; if he dies or is hurt, it is automatically released and stops the train.
  • Deck – American term for cab floor or footplate.
  • Departure Yard – An arrangement of yard tracks from which cars are forwarded.
  • Derail – To leave the rails. Also a fixture that is placed on a siding or spur line to prevent cars from rolling onto the mainline.
  • Derating – Modifications made to a locomotive which allows only a portion of the available horsepower to be used. This usually will result in cost savings in fuel and maintenance.
  • Diagram – Display in schematic form of track-work and signals controlled by a signal box. The display could provide illuminated indications of signal and point operation, train positions, and descriptions.
  • Diamond Pusher- Fireman
  • Diamond Stack – A tall smokestack with a spark arrestor on top, was widely used on old wood-burning locomotives. It had a diamond shaped top.
  • Diecast - A casting process used to manufacture some products for model railroading, where molten metal is forced into the mold under pressure.
  • Diesel – Compression ignition, internal combustion engine.
  • Digital Command Control (DCC) – An operating system that uses coded electronic signals to control model trains. With DCC, multiple trains can be run independently on the same track.
  • Dinky – Any small, undersized locomotive
  • Dinger- Yardmaster.
  • Diorama – Small highly detailed scene. A proof of concept model. A display model. Sometimes built to learn new modeling techniques in a short period of time.
  • Direct Current (DC) – Electrical current which flows only in one direction.
  • Direct Drive – A system of power transmission in which there is a direct connection between the engine or motor and the driving wheels.
  • Dispatcher – A railroad employee who coordinates all train movements, usually within one division; he may issue specific orders to keep traffic moving.
  • Distant Signal – Signal in British practice which provides a warning to approaching trains of the state of stop signals ahead.
  • Distributed Power Trains– Trains that have a remotely controlled locomotive embedded within the train. This allows for higher tonnage trains as the drawbar tensions are lower than an equivalent train with head-end power only.
  • Division – That portion of a railroad managed by a superintendent.
  • Doddle Bug- Rail Motor Car
  • Dome – A round protrusion on the boiler of a locomotive that houses the steam controls or sand.
  • Dog bone – Model railroad arrangement consisting of two reversing loops connected together. Also known as” Dumb Bell”.
  • Dog House- Caboose or Tender Cabin
  • Double – To take a train up a hill one half at a time.
  • Double-header – A train pulled by two locomotives.
  • Double heading – Using two locomotives at the head of the train.
  • Double Stack – A special train where containers are stacked two high.
  • Double Track – A two track railroad.
  • Down grade – American term for a down-hill grade.
  • DPDT – Double pole, Double Throw. This is a special switch which is used on model railroads to allow you to change the polarity of the current for reverse loops, or complex block control.
  • Drag-Slow Freight
  • Draft Gear – The pocket or box where the coupler is mounted on model railroad equipment.
  • Drawbar – The bar that connects the locomotive and its tender.
  • Drawbar Horsepower– The total horsepower of a locomotive less the amount of horsepower that it takes to move the locomotive itself, the balance being available to pull the load.
  • Drill – To switch cars in a yard.
  • Drive – Transmission of power.
  • Driver-Leg
  • Driving Gear – The group of rods and cranks which transfer the piston energy to the driving wheels.
  • Driving Wheels –The large wheels of a steam locomotive connected by rods; And the motorized wheels on electric or diesel locomotives.
  • Drop side – Type of European wagon where the vertical side is hinged horizontally and can be lowered to facilitate loading and unloading.
  • Drop– Switch a car behind the engine onto an adjacent track when the engine can’t run around the car. Requires two trainmen, one to pull the pin on the car to be dropped and the other to throw the switch after the engine has passed to let the car run onto the parallel track.
  • Dual Control Switch– A power-operated switch, also equipped for hand operation.
  • Drovers’ Caboose – A long eight-wheeled caboose containing a small passenger compartment for hauling and bedding down cattlemen who are aboard to care for their cattle enroute.
  • Drum- To Switch
  • Dry Brush – A modeling technique where a paint brush is used to accent highlights of a model. This is accomplished by using a light color paint and first removing most of the paint on a paper towel. You then drag the brush across the models surface leaving small amounts of paint on the highlights.
  • Dual Gauge – Track able to accommodate trains of two different wheel gauges. Usually achieved by the laying of a third length of rail, one being common to both gauges. Very common in Europe, and in model railroading in the U.S. such as HO and HON3.
  • Duckunder – An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the bench work to gain access to another part of the layout.
  • Dumb Bell – Model layout arrangement consisting of two reversing loops connected together. Also known as” Dog Bone”.
  • Dummy– A small auxiliary signal used to control unusual movements such as a set back into a yard from a main line. Implies a complete stop and wait for a manual operation from the panel. Usually ground mounted lens: two whites for proceed and red/white for stop. Also known as dolly or dwarf.
  • Dump the air –Emergency application of the air brakes causing a train to stop abruptly, usually causing damage to the merchandise being carried or to the train equipment, itself
  • Dwarf Signal– Two or three lens signal used to control a move over a switch in a yard.
  • Dynamic Braking – A system that uses a locomotives traction motors as a generator which acts as an additional braking system.




  • E-Unit – A reversing device on model locomotives.
  • Earth – Electrical connection to complete a circuit; Also called Ground.
  • Elephant Ears – Metal side plates used on some large steam locomotives to lift the smoke above the train at speed.
  • Embankment – Ridge of earth or rock to raise the natural ground level.
  • Emergency Application – An application resulting from an emergency rate of brake pipe reduction which causes the brakes to apply quickly and with maximum braking force for the shortest practical stopping distance.
  • End-to-End – Model layout consisting of a length of track with a terminal at each end. Point-to-Point.
  • Engine – Commonly referred to as the locomotive; is actually the cylinders and their drivers.
  • Engineer – A crew member who controls the locomotive; he is in charge of the train while it is moving.
  • Engine Yard – The yard in which engines are stored and serviced.
  • Epoxy – A two part adhesive consisting of the resin and the hardener. A good choice for securing nonporous surfaces such as metal, glass, and some plastics.
  • EOT– End Of Train unit (see also Caboose). An EOT transmits brake pipe pressure to the lead unit (head end locomotive), while a two way EOT is also capable of receiving a transmission from the lead unit to open the brake pipe and put the train into emergency stop (clarified by Bob Murphy).
  • Exhaust Pipe – A vertical pipe attached to the cylinder casing of a steam locomotive inside the smoke box in line with the smoke stack. It carries away the exhausted steam and the combustion products from the cylinders, producing a partial vacuum on the smoke box and draft on the fire.
  • Extra – A train not shown on schedules; it operates on train orders.
  • Facing Switch – A turnout or switch with the points facing traffic.




  • Feed Back – The result when separate circuits are so wired that some of the current from one circuit bleeds into the other circuit.
  • Feeder – Power connection from the power pack to track and elsewhere on model railroad; Also a short branch road feeding traffic to a mainline.
  • Fiddle Yard – A modeling term for a set of sidings where trains are terminated and stored. Also used as a staging yard where a modeler adds or removes equipment from a layout by hand.
  • Fill – Earth or rock is used to make a level roadbed across a valley or depression.
  • Firebox – The section of a steam locomotive boiler in which fuel is burned.
  • Fireman – Crew member whose job it is to keep the fire and steam up in a locomotive; on a diesel he services the motor.
  • First Generation Diesels – The first diesels locomotives to replace steam locomotives.
  • Fishplates – Pieces of metal for joining rail together. Fitted on either side of the web of adjacent rails and held together by fish plates and rail webs.
  • Flag – To protect the rear of the train by having a brakeman walk back with a flag while it is stopped; any person not on the crew stop the train by waving hands, hat, etc.
  • Flange –The thin or projecting rim on a wheel which fits down below the rail and keeps the wheel on the track.
  • Flash – A thin material that has oozed from the mold during the molding process and remains attached to the finished casting.
  • Flatcar – A freight car with only a flat deck and no side rails or walls.
  • Flextrack – Flexible sections of track used on a layout. In “HO” it usually comes in straight, three-foot long sections which can be bent as needed. Larger Flex Track such as large scale “G” need to be bent with a rail bender before it is assembled. Other kinds of track are sectional (rigid pieces of straight and curved track that come with train sets) and hand laid (built with handmade ties, rail, and spikes).
  • Flying Shunt– A method to roll a car into a stub track when the train is approaching from the opposite side of the switch to the stub track.
  • The train is stopped several yards from the switch. The engine and the car to be dropped is uncoupled from the main part of the train, and the brake reservoir on the car to be dropped is emptied. Brakeman #1 rides the car to be dropped, and brakeman #2 operates the switch.
  • The engine is accelerated, just prior to reaching the switch the engineer slacks the throttle, brakeman #1 pulls the uncoupling handle, then the engine speeds up, pulling away from the rolling car. Once the engine passes the switch, brakeman #2 throws the switch allowing the rolling car to go in the stub track.
  • Once the car is by the switch brakeman #1 applies the hand brake to stop the car. The engine now can be backed up and then used to spot the car.
  • Although this action was considered to be unsafe, it was occasionally done.
  • Flying Switch– Same procedure as flying shunt except called a different name.
  • Footplate – Deck, Cab floor, operating platform of steam locomotive.
  • Force – See traction effort.
  • Foreign Car – One that belongs to some other railroad other than the one it runs on. Forestalling Lever A lever next to the engineer’s position on locomotives used by railroads with Intermittent Inductive Train Control. This control system would cause an automatic brake application if an engineer violated a restrictive signal, and the system required that the engineer operate the lever (ie. forestall) when passing each signal to prevent air brake automatic application which would stop the train. The IITS system included a magnetic shoe signal pickup mechanism, which was placed on the first tender axle on steam locomotives and on the lead axle on diesel locomotives, and wayside inductors in each signal block.
  • Frame – The foundation of chassis on which a locomotive is constructed.
  • Freezer – A refrigerator car; also referred to as a “reefer”.
  • Free-lance – Modeling that does not closely follow a prototype railroad; Also called “scratch building”.
  • Freight Yard – A group of tracks used for storage of freight cars.
  • Frequency –The number of times per second an alternating current reverses its direction.
  • Frog – The portion of a switch which is grooved for the wheel flanges; named for its resemblance to a frog; Also a type of rail crossing allowing two sets of running rails to cross each other at grade level at an angle of less than 90 degrees.
  • Front End– A term used to describe the smokebox end of a steam locomotive, including the exhaust stack, netting, etc.
  • Full Service Application – Corresponds to a handle position for the automatic brake handle. In this position the brake pipe should be at 62 PSI (down from a 90 PSI release charge pressure). When an application is made on the automatic brakes, the equalizing reservoir pressure drops in proportion to the handle movement. The self lapping valve (Automatic Brake Valve) then vents brake pipe pressure at a service rate until the equalizing reservoir and brake pipe pressures are equal. This pressure is measured on the locomotive only. It may be less further back on the train due to leakage. A minimum reduction is a 6 PSI drop to 84 PSI. After a minimum reduction is made, the automatic brake valve handle is linear down to zero. If the locomotive has a direction on the reverser handle, or the independent brakes are released, below 45 PSI BPP an emergency will occur and a valve will blow the brake pipe to zero in a hurry (corrected by Bob Murphy).
  • Fusee– A warning device consisting of a cardboard tube filled with a combustible mixture of chemicals that burns brightly when ignited and remains burning for varying lengths of time. Fusees are ignited and dropped on the right of way to indicate to a following train the presence of stopped or slow-moving equipment ahead.




  • Gap – A space between the rails to insulate one rail from the other. Used to prevent a short in a reverse loop, or to divide the layout into separate blocks or circuits for multiple train operation.
  • Gandy Dancer – Member of a section gang.
  • Gangway – The space between the locomotive and the tender through which the crew enters and leaves.
  • Garden – Freight yard.
  • Garden Railroad – A form of model railroading which is usually done outdoors. First started in Europe and now one of the fastest growing segments of model railroading world wide. Most Garden Railroads are built on “One Gauge” track which is 45mm. between the rails . This segment of the hobby has become known as “Large Scale Railroading” because of the many scales involved. Some of the scales are: 1;32, 1;29, 1;22.5, 120.1, and others.
  • Gas Turbine – A rotary internal combustion engine driven by expanding gases exerting force against vanes or similar structures mounted on a common shaft.
  • Gate – Switch.Gauge – The distance between the inside edges of the rail heads. Most real railroads in North America and Europe are built to a standard gauge of 4’- 8 1/2″ .
  • Gauge Cocks Valves on the boilerhead – usually three in number – to let the crew know the depth of water over the “crown sheet” in event of a broken water glass, which gave a visible indication of water depth. and as a means to check the accuracy of the water glass indication.
  • Geep – Nickname for early General motors Diesel Locomotives.
  • Generator – A device that changes mechanical energy to electrical energy.
  • Glory – String of empty freight cars.
  • Goat – Slang expression for a locomotive, usually a small yard switcher.
  • Gondola – A long, open, flat, car with short sides for hauling items like lumber, steel and scrap.
  • Goods – European term for general freight.
  • Governor – Device for maintaining a constant engine crankshaft speed over long periods during which the load on the engine may vary.
  • Grab Iron – The handhold on the side of cars.
  • Grade – Gradient slope to the horizontal, as a percentage, of rise or fall.
  • Grade Crossing – Where a street or highway crosses the railroad. Also where two tracks cross each other.
  • Gravity – Shunting American gravity or hump yard car sorting or train marshalling undertaken without the aid of a shunting locomotive or switcher.
  • Gravity Yard – A yard where gravity assists in the spotting and classifying of cars whereby they move along under their own momentum. Also called a Hump Yard.
  • Greaser– A section of curved track that has flange lubricators.
  • Grease the Pin- Oil and engine
  • Green Eye – Clear signal.
  • Grip– Trainman’s suitcase.
  • Ground Hog- Switchman
  • Ground Through – A mechanical device (usually done manually) which will change the position of a turnout, and simultaneously change the position of the signal mounted on top of the ground through.
  • Gypsum – Calcium sulfate used to make molding plaster, Hydrocal, and Plaster of Paris. These products are commonly used in model railroad scenery projects.




  • Hack – A caboose.
  • Halt – Stopping place, without normal station facilities, for local train services.
  • Ham- Telegraph Operator
  • Hand Brake– A manually operated brake used to hold rail cars from moving.
  • Hand Shoes- Gloves
  • Hand Signals– Before the advent of radios, signals were given by hand or lantern There were innumerable ways to communicate direction, destination, speed, or stop. Most railroads had their own set of distinct signals’ signal given with the hand in a vertical zipper operating motion upon the chest usually designated a mainline movement. Five fingers exposed on the hand, or a small circle with a lantern at night indicated track five, both hands with all fingers held up, or a
  • small double circle, track ten etc. There were signals to fit almost any condition and learning to read them was sometimes an art in itself.
  • Hardshell – A scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster and laying them over a light support structure.
  • Haul, Short– The act of routing freight such that the haul takes maximum advantage of the originating railroad, at the disadvantage of another railroad which had to be used to carry the freight part of the way to its destination. The railroad which suffered the disadvantage was said to be “short hauled.”
  • Hay Burner-Worn-out Locomotive
  • Head End– The front of the train. Use of this term is declining with the demise of the caboose.
  • Head-End Cars – Any freight car which is coupled to the front of a passenger train.
  • Headshunt – A headshunt, or shunting neck, is a track running parallel with the main line, facing the yards. It is arranged so that shunting can take place without interfering with the main line.
  • Headway – the time interval between trains running in the same line.
  • Head End Power –A generate “hotel load” power to the passenger train, including train heating and air conditioning. A head end power system may use either the locomotive’s prime mover, or it may use a separate HEP engine generator set installed at the #2 end of the locomotive.
  • Headway– Time interval between two following trains.
  • Helper –Any locomotive added to assist a train up a grade.
  • Hi-Cube –An oversized boxcar usually used to haul auto parts.
  • Helix – A climbing or descending curve which turns around an axis like a corkscrew. Used on multilevel layouts to allow trains to go from one level to another in a relatively small space.
  • Helper – The second or added locomotive on a double-header.
  • HEP – (Head End Power) Electricity from the locomotives Generator which is used by another locomotive, or passenger cars for heating ,cooling, and lights.
  • Herald – Trademark or logo on locomotives and freight cars
  • Highball – To speed; a sign to go ahead; derived from old railroad ball signals.
  • High Iron – Main line; track on which travel is only by schedule or order.
  • Hog – Slang for a locomotive, yard switchers also called yard hogs.
  • Hogger- Sland for engineer
  • Homasote – A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed.
  • Home Cars – Freight cars owned by the railroad.
  • Home Signal – The signal protecting the immediate block.
  • Hook & Drag- Term used by yard crews to get the job done quickly.
  • Hoop – A crane loop used to pass orders up to a moving train; the fireman puts his arm through the large hoop.
  • Hopper car – An open-top car for hauling items that don’t need protection from the weather like coal and gravel. Empties through doors in funnel-like bins in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs; They carry grain and other items that need protection from weather.
  • Horse – Power a unit of power equal to 75kg meters per sec, 33,000 ft per lb per min, or 746 watts.
  • Horsebox – car for the conveyance of horses.
  • Horsepower – The measuring unit of power; the power necessary to continuously raise 550 pounds one foot in one second.
  • Hospital Train – A train consisting of damaged or wrecked rail cars being transported to a repair point on their wheels. Some cars have no operating brakes or intact train line. Many times a long flexible hose is used to transmit brake pipe pressure around cars with damaged train lines. Such a train must have a car on the rear with an operating brake controlled via the hose. “Hospital Trains” are also restricted to speed as well.
  • Hostler – A roundhouse worker who cares for and moves the locomotives after each trip.
  • Hot-box – An overheated journal or bearing on a freight car wheel resulting from breakdown of lubricating film between bearing and journal.
  • Hot Shot – A fast through freight.
  • Hump – An elevated section of track down which freight cars can be coasted for classification in the yards below.
  • Hump Yard – Marshalling yard with artificial mound or hump over which cars are propelled and gravitate to correct siding and position in the yard.
  • Hydrocal – A US Gypsum product used in model railroading for the base of hard shell scenery.
  • H2O – A water train.




  • IHC – “International Hobby Corporation” Model Railroad Manufacturer.
  • In The Hole – Train on a siding waiting for another train to pass.
  • Industrial Locomotive – A small locomotive used on an industrial railroad for switching.
  • Industrial Railroad – A small railroad usually operator within a factory or industrial complex. These railroads are also used to move freight between an industrial complex and a nearby common carrier.
  • Inspection Car – self propelled service vehicle used for inspecting track
  • Interchange – Point, where passengers or freight are exchanged between trains.
  • Interchange Point – A location where cars switch from one road to another.
  • Interlocking – A system of electrical, and mechanical controls that allow only one train to move through a junction of two or more tracks at any one time.
  • Intermodal – Shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.
  • Intermodal Transport – Combination of rail transport with another form of transportation such as ships or overland vehicles.
  • Interurban – Short line railroad between two or more cities that provides passenger and freight service. These railroads usually use self propelled electric cars using overhead wires and catenary, or a third rail for power.
  • Iron – Rails.
  • Iron Skull-Boilermaker
  • Island Platform – An island platform is one with tracks on both sides.




  • Jack- Locomotive
  • Jacket – American term for outer covering of thin sheet steel over the lagging material of a locomotive boiler, cylinder or other insulated heat radiating surface.
  • Jerk Soup- Take up water from the track pan
  • Johnson Bar – the reversing lever of a steam locomotive.
  • Journal – The part of a shaft or axle support by a bearing.
  • Journal Log – Compiled by the guard of the make-up and events of train/movement.




  • Kadee – Brand name for precision couplers which are designed for model railroading.
  • Key – Wedge of hard wood or spring steel inserted between rail and chair to hold rail firmly in position at correct gauge.
  • Kick- Switch Cars
  • Kingpin – A plastic pin or screw that attaches the truck of a model railroad car to the bolster on that car. A steel pin that connects the wheel set or bogie to the bolster at the pivot point on a real or prototype railroad car.
  • Kitbashing –Taking one or more model railroad kits and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.




  • L-girder – A method of creating strong supporting benchwork inexpensively.
  • Ladder – American term for marshalling yard or siding layout where series of points on switches follow each other giving leads off a straight line to one side.
  • Ladder – Term sometimes given to rack rail of mountain railway system.
  • Ladder Track – A track connecting a number of parallel sidings or stubs in a yard or terminal.
  • LCL – “Less- than-Carload-lot” Small shipments that do not require an entire car.
  • Lead Track – Trackage connecting a yard with the main line.
  • Level Crossing – Crossing of two railways, or a railway and road, on the same level.
  • LGB – “Lehmann Gross Bahn” (The large train) German Manufacturer of high quality large scale Model railroading equipment.
  • Light Engine – Locomotive running without a train.
  • Limit of shunt – Board marking the point beyond which vehicles must not pass during shunting operations.
  • Lint – Surgical bandage useful in model railway scenic work, American Cast Gauge.
  • Line-haul railroad – A railroad that hauls passengers or freight between distant points, but does not provide delivery of passengers or switching of freight to local destinations.
  • Load Gauge – The limiting dimensions of height and width of rolling stock and loads carried to ensure adequate clearance with line side structures.
  • Load Limit – Weight limit established over a specific rout based on the weight or size of the rail, condition of the line, condition of bridges, the weather and many other factors.
  • Local Line – Line of track normally used by suburban or stopping passenger trains.
  • Loop – Continuous circular connection between up and down lines at terminal station or yard enabling trains to reverse direction without releasing locomotive.
  • Loose – Coupled vehicles of a train loosely coupled together with three link couplings.
  • Low Iron – Yard tracks; anything not on the main line.
  • Lubricating Oil – Viscous liquid introduced between moving surfaces to reduce friction.




  • Main Line – (also Main Iron, Main Stem, Main Track, etc.) – Through trackage; restricted by rules to travel only by scheduled trains or those trains with train orders or on a schedule.
  • Maintenance-Of-Way – (MOW) Equipment used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
  • Mallet – An articulated steam locomotive named after the designer; sometimes used to describe any articulated locomotive.
  • Markers – Flags or lights used on trains to indicate special status or to warn of a following section.
  • Marklin – Marklin is a German manufacturer of high quality precision model trains. Marklin is the worlds largest manufacturer of model trains, and produces “Z” scale, “N” scale “HO” scale and #1 Gauge large scale trains.
  • Marshalling Yard – Area where cars are sorted, assembled and marshalled into trains.
  • MBSO – Motorbrake second open carriage car.
  • Meet – When two trains traveling in opposite directions pass each other. Usually used to describe a single mainline operation where none train waits on a siding for the other to pass.
  • Micro-Trains – Manufacturer of precision model railroading equipment in both “Z” scale and “N” scale.
  • Mikado– A steam freight locomotive having a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement, pioneered in a design for the emperor of Japan in 1912.
  • Mike – Abbreviated term for a Mikado type locomotive.
  • Mile Post– A post or sign on pole each mile along the track that shows the distance from a predefined location such as a major rail terminal.
  • Milk Car – Refrigerator car for milk.
  • Milk Train – A slow train.
  • Mixed Train – A train pulling both passengers and freight cars.
  • Module – A section of a layout that is built following a standard pattern or dimensions. Each module can be connected interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards. NMRA has developed standards for “HO” and Ntrak is an organization that has developed standards to N scale modules.
  • Monorail – A railroad in which the train runs on a single rail.
  • Mother Hubbard – A locomotive with the cab straddling the boiler like a saddle. (See Camelback)
  • Motion – A moving mechanism on a steam locomotive.
  • Motor Bridge – Bogie having driving wheels or motored axles.
  • Motorman – Driver of an electric train, railcar or multiple unit train.
  • Mountain Railway – Specialized form of railway for ascending mountains.
  • MOW – Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
  • MRIA – “Model Railroad Industry Association”, An association of Model Railroad manufacturers.
  • MTH – “Mikes Train House” “O” gauge model railroad manufacturer.
  • MU– Multiple Unit. A lead locomotive followed by one or more locomotives. Cables between the MU connectors bring the electrical signals in party line fashion to the trailing units (clarified by Bob Murphy).
  • Mud Ring– The lower part of the boiler of a steam locomotive directly in front of the firebox, where boiler scale and sediment settled as the engine operated. A removable plug was located at the bottom of the boiler in this area, and this plug was removed during the monthly boiler wash to flush this contamination from the boiler.
  • Multiple Aspect Signaling – (MAS) A system of color light signaling, that could be provided either by multi-lens, or searchlight signals in which each signal unit can display more than two aspects.
  • Multiple Track – A section of railway track having more than just one up line and one down line.
  • Multiple Unit (MU) – Cars or locomotives which contain their own power but which can be controlled from the foremost car or locomotive; used on commuter trains and diesel locomotives.
  • Muzzle Loader – Any hand-fired steam locomotive.




  • Narrow Gauge – Railway track of less than the standard gauge.
  • NMRA – “National Model Railroad Association” NMRA helps to promote the hobby, establish standards, reward modelers for their talents as Master Model Railroaders, and much more.
  • Normal – Usual position of points or signals before action initiated by signalman to allow a train movement.
  • Nose – Front end of locomotive.
  • Nose Suspended Motor – A traction motor mounted on bearings on an axle that is driven via a flexible connection attached to a cross member on the truck. The gear on the axle is in constant mesh with the pinion on the armature shaft.




  • Observation Car – Passenger-carrying vehicle, usually at rear of train, with windows and seating arranged to give maximum view of passing scenery.
  • Old Head– One who has been around long enough to become familiar with his work or who “has his head cut in” – knows how to do his job well.
  • On The Ground – Used to describe a derailment.
  • Operation –Running trains on a layout ideally in a realistic manner. An operating session usually implies one or more operators running trains in a purposeful way from one point to another on a layout delivering goods or services according to a certain time frame determined by a simulated scheduled arrivals and departures, etc.
  • OS – Means “entered on sheet, ” often used as a verb to indicate the reporting of a train which has passed a tower.
  • Out of The Pocket- Means "I'm unavailable (e.g. in the crapper).
  • Overhead– Catenary and contact wire of an overhead electrical distribution system.
  • Overhead Line Haul Road– Any railroad or railroads between the originating line haul road and the terminating line haul road. Also known as a bridge line haul road.
  • Overhead Route – (Also called Bridge route or bridge traffic.) Freight which is delivered by one railroad to a second railroad for delivery to a third railroad.
  • Overlap– A section of track where the control length of a signal overlaps the next signal to reduce the risk of collision if the train fails in braking before the stop signal.




  • Packing – Maintaining the correct level of sleepers by adjustments in the amount of ballast beneath.
  • Panel Desk – Or board on which operating switches for points and signals are mounted.
  • Panorama – A background picture that gives a wide sweeping view in all directions when seen from a central point.
  • Pantograph – A collapsible and adjustable structure mounted on the roof of an electric locomotive or powered car which comes into contact with an overhead wire for picking up and transmitting electric power to the motors.
  • Parlor Car – Luxuriously fitted railway car.
  • Passing Siding – A siding specifically for passing of trains in the same or opposite direction; may be several miles long so that neither train is required to stop.
  • Peddler – A way freight.
  • Pendular Suspension – A suspension system allowing the body of the vehicle to tilt on curves allowing greater speed.
  • Per Diem – An amount paid to railroad employees for daily expenses when working away from their home base. Also an amount paid by one railroad to another for the rental of freight cars owned by the other.
  • Permanent Way – Term for track-bed and tracks in position.
  • Pick-Up – Electric current contact such as a roler or sliding pick up shoe.
  • Pick-Up Freight – Train which stops at intermediate points to pick up and drop off freight cars on an as required basis.
  • Pickup Shoe – A device for picking up electric current from a third-rail system.
  • Pier – A support for the center section of a bridge.
  • Piggyback – A system of carrying truck trailers or similar containers on flat cars.
  • Pike – A model railroad.
  • Pilot – Structure at the front of a locomotive for sweeping tracks, often called a cowcatcher; also an additional locomotive coupled to the front of the train locomotive to provide assistance over a heavy graded section of line.
  • Pilot Truck – The front or leading small trucks on a locomotive also referred to as a Pony Truck.
  • Piston – The head which moves inside the cylinders of a steam locomotive when pressured by steam.
  • Piston Rod – The rod attached to the piston which transmits the power to the connecting rods on the driving wheels.
  • Platelayer – Track maintenance man.
  • Platelayer’s Hut – Small shed for use of platelayers, section house.
  • Plug – A small passenger train.
  • Point – A tapered moveable rail by which a train is directed from one line to another.
  • Poling – Moving cars on an adjoining track by using a long spar which is placed in a socket of the car end beam and a socket on the locomotive pilot beam.
  • Power Supply – In model railroading this unit changes 110 volt house current into low voltage current used to run the trains and accesories. Sometimes called Transformer.
  • Power Unit – A device which converts high-voltage main current into low voltage currents, often with several outputs.
  • Prime Mover– A V-type diesel with 8 to 20 cylinders rated at about 125 hp per cylinder if normally aspirated or 250 hp per cylinder if Turbo charged.
  • Private Car/Business Car– Coaches owned by private individuals/railroad (for use of corporate officials or supervisors). Cars were positioned at end of trains and train crew were to remain off these cars except in performance of duties.
  • Prototype – A full-sized locomotive or car; the original unit from which the model has been patterned.
  • Pulse Power – The locomotive is fed intermittent pulses of current to facilitate slow starts.
  • Pullman Car – Rail car providing a high standard of comfort and service for which a premium fare must be paid.




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  • Rack Railroad – A railroad that can climb steep grades by using a toothed cog wheel between the driving wheels of the locomotive that meshes with the teeth of a rack rail that is mounted to the cross ties between the other rails. Also called Cog Railroad.
  • Radio Control – A method of operating and controlling locomotives by means of radio signals transmitted through the air or by means of a carrier control basis through the track.
  • Rail Car – Self-propelled passenger carrying vehicle.
  • Rail Joiner – A formed piece of metal that joins two rails together and helps to complete the electrical circut.
  • Rat – Slang for a freight train.
  • Razor Saw – A fine toothed saw used by model railroaders that resembles a straight razor.
  • RCS – (Remote Control Section) – A type of Lionel track for unloading and uncoupling
  • Rectifier – A device for converting AC into DC.
  • Red Ball – A fast freight train.
  • Reefer – A refrigerator car. Similar to a boxcar but has ice or mechanical cooling equipment.
  • Reefer Block – A freight train consist of refrigerator cars.
  • Regional Railroad – A railroad which is smaller than a major railroad but larger than a short line railroad.
  • Reporting Marks – These are the letters or abbreviations that mark the sides of freight cars to identify what railroad owns the car. Also see Road Names.
  • Resistor – A device used to reduce the intensity of electricity.
  • Restricted Track – A track section where train speeds are reduced.
  • Retarder – Braking system usually found in hump yards. Commonly pneumatically actuated, located on inside of rail, forcing a brake pad against the inside of the wheel flange, “pinching” the flange between the brake pad and the rail.
  • Reversing – A station where train reverses direction of travel . May be at normal dead end or terminal station.
  • Reverse Loop – A track configuration that curves around, turns back and reconnects to itself for the purpose of turning a train around and returning to the same track from which it came.
  • Right-of-Way – The land on which a railroad is built; also precedence given to one train to proceed before another.
  • Riprap – Large pieces of stone used to prevent washouts in roadbeds.
  • Rip-Track – An area of the maintenance yard where equipment is stored while waiting for repairs. In model railroading a few sections of track by a freight yard or on a shelf above the workbench.
  • Road Bed – A layer of earth or gravel which provides a foundation for ties and rail. In model railroading wood, cork, plywood, Homosote and other materials are used.
  • Road Engine – Locomotive used regularly for mainline service.
  • Road Names – Names of various railroad companies in the United States and Canada. Also see Reporting Marks.
  • Road Unit – A diesel locomotive built specifically for mainline service. the wheels and axles are of a more heavy duty design, and the gearing of the traction motors are more appropriate to the higher speeds.
  • Rolling stock – Freight and passenger cars.
  • Roundhouse – An Engine shed for the storage, service and repair of locomotives usually with a turntable.
  • Route-Mile – The actual distance traveled over the tracks between two points.
  • RTR – Ready to run. A model train that needs no assembly.
  • Rule G – The railroad rule against drinking.
  • Run-around – This is a maneuver in which the same locomotive is used to pull the train in the opposite direction for the return trip. the locomotive is uncoupled and then returned to the other end of the train on a different track.
  • Running Board – The walkway around the boiler of a steam engine: also a walkway along the roof or along sides of tank cars.
  • Running Gear – All the components involved in the movement of a railroad car, such as wheels, axles, axle boxes, springs and frames.




  • Scale – The size of things on a model railroad relative to a real railroad. For example, in the most popular scale, HO, models are 1/87th full size.
  • Scenic Break – A scenic break is a deliberate barrier to disguise the fact that the main line links two sections of a layout which either clash or should, be widely separated. An example might be a rural landscape and a heavily populated city.
  • Scissor Crossing – Junction between two parallel railway tracks enabling trains to cross over from one to the other in either direction.
  • Scratchbuilding – Making a model from raw materials and parts, and not using kits.
  • Section Hand – A track worker.
  • Selective Compression – A modeling technique that gives the impression that there are more buildings in a scene than are really possible. This is accomplished by making the buildings in the background smaller to give the impression that they are further away.
  • Semaphore – Type of fixed signal with a pivoted arm which can be raised or lowered as required.
  • Semi-Conductor – Material used in electric traction rectifiers, whose electrical resistance depends on the direction of the applied voltage. Silicon and Germanium are typical examples.
  • Seniority – Length of service relative to others.
  • Service Track – Track on which engines take on coal and water.
  • Shaker Bar– A tool carried in steam locomotive cabs that would be placed on the grate levers mounted in the cab deck to allow the fireman to shake the grates in the firebox, dumping ashes into the ash pan below the firebox.
  • Shanty– A caboose, also a small building.
  • Shay– A type of steam locomotive using a gear drive in place of a side rod drive, designed by Ephraim Shay in the late 1800′s, and produced by what became the Lima Locomotive Works. This locomotive was designed for logging and other operations where heavy grades and sharp curves existed and prevented the use of side rod type locomotives.
  • Shoo-fly Track – Temporary track used primarily for mainline service.
  • Shuffle – To switch cars.
  • Shunt – To switch to another path.
  • Shunting Movements–Movements inside of stations and yards for making up trains, moving cars between different tracks and similar purposes. Shunting movements are done under simplified conditions with restricted speed and in viewing range.
  • Shuttle – Train which gives a frequent return service over a short route.
  • Siding – A passing siding or temporary storage area, An auxiliary track turning out from the mainline and rejoining at another point along the main; can be used as a holding track; Sidings can also be used in the form of a branch or short line to service a small town and rejoin the mainline at a distant point.
  • Signal – Means of controlling the movement of trains by warning or advising the engineer of the occupational state of the line ahead or intention to divert to another line.
  • Signal Box – Tower or building housing equipment for operation of points and signals in a particular section of a route.
  • Silo – Sand storage tower for filling locomotive sand boxes.
  • Single Track System – Consists of a single track between two terminals.
  • Six-Footway – Area between parallel railway tracks.
  • Skew – Bridge spans obliquely and is therefore longer than the square gap.
  • Slab – Track rails laid on a continuous concrete or asphalt base instead of conventional sleepers and ballast, to minimize settlement and changes in alignment; this helps to reduce maintenance costs.
  • Slack– The motion, forward or back, that one or more cars, locomotives, or parts of a train has without moving other coupled cars, locomotives, or parts of the train. Loose slack is the free movement or lost motion between parts of a train. Spring slack is the movement beyond the free or lost motion brought about through compressing the draft gear springs. Slack is necessary so as to start one car at a time and so that the train may be operated around curves and over high and low places.
  • Slack Action– Movement of part of a coupled train at a different speed than another part of the same train.
  • Sleeper – Steel, wood or precast concrete beam for holding the rails to correct gauge and distributing the load imposed by passing trains. The sleepers are usually set in crushed rock or ballast.
  • Slippery Track –A highly greased track near the roundhouse or back shop where a newly rebuilt locomotive could be run in without going anywhere, and without calling an engine crew or pilot.
  • Slug – A locomotive which receives its electrical current to run the traction motors from another locomotive. They are not equipped with their own diesel and therefore must be operated with another locomotive.
  • Smoke Box – The section of a steam locomotive boiler at the forward end which houses the main steam pipes to the cylinders, exhaust pipe and stack.
  • Smoking a Meet – Sending a column of black smoke to signal any approaching train that another is present.
  • Snow Plough – Special vehicle propelled by, or attachment to, front of locomotive to remove snow from the track. The snow plough may be of simple wedge shape or rotary type.
  • Snow Shed – Substantially built shed along the side of a mountain with sloping roof erected over the railway to provide a path for avalanches without blocking the line.
  • Solebar –Longitudinal main frame, outer member of carriage or wagon under-frame, usually of channel section.
  • Soleplate – Longitudinal man frame member of a built up carriage bogie, usually of standard rolled steel section of pressings. Also a plate inserted between the chairs and the sleeper at a pair of points to maintain the correct gauge and prevent any spreading of the gauge that might occur from the gradual enlargement of the spike holes in the wooden sleepers.
  • Spar – The wooden rod used in poling operations.
  • Spark Arrester - A device, usually in the form of a mesh or baffle plate fitted in the smoke box to prevent the emission of live coals and sparks from the chimney or smoke stack.
  • SPDT – Single pole double through. A type of electrical switch used in model railroading.
  • Special – A train not shown in the working time table or pre-planned.
  • Spike – Square section heavy steel nail driven into wooden sleeper to affix flanged rail in position.
  • Split Switch – A term referring to the condition that exists at a switch when one pair of wheels under a car follows a course different from all other wheels under the car, generally resulting in a derailment.
  • Spring Switch– A switch equipped with a spring mechanism to restore the switch points to original position after having been trailed through.
  • Spot –To marshall or shunt. To move a car to the desired location.
  • Spur – A divergent track having only one entry; a branch line over which irregular service is offered.
  • Stabling – Accommodation for a short period of time.
  • Staff – Wooden stick which must be carried by each train traveling on single line section of railway branch line to maintain absolute block working and prevent possibility of head-on collision.
  • Staging Yard- several lengths of track on a layout used for storing or putting trains together before an operating session.
  • Stagger – Interlacing of sleepers at switches and crossing or, making rail joints in one running rail not to coincide with those in other rail.
  • Standard Gauge – Most common distance between rails in a country. Also a three rail tin plate train manufactured by Lionel and others.
  • Starter Signal – Signal in British practice which gives authority to a train to proceed into a block section.
  • Station – Any stop along the mainline.
  • Station Way – A small station with a passing track only.
  • Steam Chest – A box containing the valve mechanism for the cylinders of a steam locomotive.
  • Step On- A train moving at a relatively slow speed that never stopped while changing crews.
  • Stephenson Valve Gear – The mechanism that controls the movement of the steam distribution valve of a steam locomotive. Stephenson Valve Gear (link motion) – A valve gear in which the steam lead is greatest at mid-gear and greatest at full forward. Walschaert Valve Gear – A valve gear in which the lead is constant at any position of the reversing gear.
  • Stock Car – American term for vehicle used for the conveyance of cattle.
  • Stub – A short diverging track ending in a bumper; it has a switch only at one end
  • Stub Axle – Short non-revolving axle which supports only one wheel.
  • Stub Terminal – A dead end track with a bumping post; used in yards, industrial spurs, mining and logging areas.
  • Stud Contact – Similar to 3-rail, but the conductor rail is replaced by a row of energized studs along the center of the track. A long collector skate on the locomotive picks up current. Used by Marklin and in O gauge.
  • Styrene – Short for polystyrene, a plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thickness’ and sizes.
  • Sub-roadbed–The base supporting platform on which your layout will be built. usually plywood and another material on top such as homosote or extruded foam sheets.
  • Superheater – A device for raising the temperature and volume of the steam after it leaves the boiler through the application of additional heat.
  • Superelevation – Amount by which one rail of a curved track is raised above the other. Superelevation is ‘positive’ when the outer rail is higher than the inner rail and ‘negative’ when the inner rail is higher than the outer. Also called Cant. Superelivation allows the train to maintain a faster speed.
  • Suspension – Connecting system, including springs, between vehicle wheel and body, designed to give best possible riding qualities by keeping unsprung weights to a minimum and reducing shock loadings on track. Switch device for opening and closing electrical circuit.
  • Switch – American term for points. Also called Turnout. A track section allowing the train to move from one track to another. Switch is also a term used to describe the sorting of freight cars.
  • Switchback – A method of climbing a steep grade in a confined area. This is accomplished with a series of switches requiring the train to change direction as it climbs up the side of a mountain on a series of switchbacks.
  • Switch Machine – A mechanical device which will change the position of a turnout; can be used manually or by remote control from a control panel.
  • Switch stand – A mechanical device (usually done manually) which will change the position of a turnout, and simultaneously change the position of the signal mounted on top of the switch stand.
  • Switching District – An area where shippers have access to many railroads through a terminal.
  • Switching railroad – Also called a terminal railroad. These railroads move freight in a limited area between shippers and a terminal where freight is transferred to long haul railroads.
  • Synchronous – Electric motor whose speed varies in direct proportion to the frequency of the supply.




  • Tank Locomotive -A locomotive which carries its fuel and water supplies on its own main frames.
  • Tank – Freight car designed to carry liquids or gases in a tank like container.
  • TDS– “Total Dissolved Solids.” A sample of boiler water was taken and tested before each steam locomotive was dispatched and the total dissolved solids in the water was indicated by a hydrometer at a certain temperature. If the total was too high, the boiler would “foam” and allow water into the cylinders, causing lubrication to be washed off pistons and valves. The cure for “Foaming” was to blow water out of the boiler through the “Blow off cocks” and replace with fresh water through the “injectors” until T.D.S. was reduced to a proper level.
  • Tea Kettle – Old locomotive, especially a leaky steam locomotive.
  • Team Track– A track on which rail cars are placed for the use of the public in loading or unloading freight.
  • Tender – The car attached immediately to a steam locomotive and which carries fuel and water ; Also the first locomotive running with tender leading in direction of travel.
  • Terminal – The end of the line (or departure point); The station, switches, associated buildings, towers and other equipment.
  • Terminal Railroad – Also called a Switching railroad. These railroads move freight in a limited area between shippers and a terminal where freight is transferred to long haul railroads.
  • Third Rail – A continuous track placed alongside the running tracks to supply electric current for trains on the running tracks.
  • Three Rail – Current is fed from a center or side conductor rail, return is through the insulated wheels and track.
  • Three-Way – Point or switch making connections to three alternative tracks.
  • Throat – Entrance tracks to a terminal or yard.
  • Tie – American term for sleeper; A cross member made of wood, steel or concrete placed between the rails to keep the rails at correct gauge and to distribute the weight of the load on the track.
  • Tie Plate – The steel shoes in which the rail sits when spiked to a wooden tie.
  • Tightlock Coupler –A specially designed coupler used mostly on passenger cars that minimize slack and have interlocking features.
  • Timetable – A printed schedule of train movements.
  • Tin Hats – Prototype railroad V.I.P.’s.
  • Tin Plate – Commonly associated with toy trains that do not conform to a scale. The name ‘tin plate’ originated during the 1800′s when many an early model, crude or otherwise, was fashioned out of tin.
  • Tipping – Freight car with facility for unloading contents by tilting the body.
  • Toad-Derailer
  • Toe – Tip of switch rail at the end which fits against the stock rail.
  • Toe Boards – Walkway or running boards on the roof of a car.
  • TOFC – A trailer on a flatcar system of intermodal transport on which truck trailers are carried.
  • Token – Authority for train to enter single line section. Of different forms including wooden staff, electric staff, tablet, key token. Used to show payment of fare such as on a subway system.
  • Tongue – Switch blade or rail.
  • Tower – Signal box. Control center. Electric locomotive; so called for its pivoting arrangement. Also a device such as a Pantograph. for making contact and drawing power from overhead trolley wires.
  • Track Bulletin– A notice containing information as to track conditions or other conditions, necessary for the safe operation of trains or engines.
  • Track Car– Equipment, not classified as an engine, which is operated on track for inspection or maintenance. It may not shunt track circuits or operate signals and will be governed by rules and special instructions for trains other than passenger trains.
  • Track Circuit– An electrical circuit of which the rails of the track form a part. The track circuit is the basis of signaling systems.
  • Track Gauge– The distance between the inner faces of the track heads. Nominally, 4′ 8.5″”.
  • Trackage Rights– An agreement between two railroads allowing the use of the others tracks for a fee. This type of agreement dose not allow the pick up or delivery of freight along those tracks however.
  • Trailing Switch – One with the points facing in the opposite direction from the flow of traffic.
  • Trailer Truck – A rear locomotive truck with two or four small wheels.
  • Train Brake –The combined brakes on locomotive and cars that provides the means of controlling the speed and stopping of the entire train. The combined brakes on locomotive and cars that provides the means of controlling the speed and stopping of the entire train.
  • Train Order – A written order on a form which gives directions for train movements not on the schedule; train orders usually come from the dispatcher.
  • Train Order Signal –Fixed signal near the entrance to a river tube, bridge or at stations with moving platforms. Two lunar white mean Proceed without orders according to rules, two red mean Stop, stay and call for orders. Also: a signal at a station that indicates by its position or by its color, that train orders are to be delivered to a train, or that no orders are to be delivered.
  • Train Line– A cable of series of hoses used for connecting electrical or steam (in older passenger equipment).
  • Trainmaster – An employee who coordinates the work of the yardmaster and the roundhouse foreman; he reports directly to the superintendent.
  • Tramway – Light railway or rails for tram-cars.
  • Tramcar - Streetcar electrically operated public service passenger vehicle on rails in the street.
  • Transformer – A device for changing high voltage AC into low voltage AC. In model railroading now called a power supply
  • Transition Curve – A curve that gradually increases or decreases. Also called an easement.
  • Trestle – A wooden bridge structure of regularly placed bents.
  • Trolley – Pole mounted on a roof of electric vehicle with a wheel attached to outer end to pick up electric current from overhead contact wire. Also a self propelled rail car used to transport passengers
  • Truck – A swiveling set of wheels mounted at either end of a rail car. Assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car. A wheelset is a pair of wheels connected by an axle.
  • Trunk – A main line or route of a railroad from which other lines branch off.
  • Turbine – A rotary engine consisting of blades or fans attached to a central shaft which are turned by hot, expanding gases.
  • Turnout – A switch; European term for switch. A piece of track that allows a train to go from one track to another. Referred to by number. For example, a no. 6 turnout spreads one foot for each six feet of forward travel measured from the frog.
  • Turntable – A rotating device that enables locomotives to turn completely around, or to spot them for roundhouse stalls.
  • Two-Rail – Current is fed along both rails of the track, the rails and wheels being insulated from one another.
  • Tyre – (American, Tire) Steel band forming the periphery of a wheel on which the flange and tread profile is formed.




  • Uncoupling lever – Also called a cut lever. The device which raises the locking pin in a coupler to allow the knuckle to open for uncoupling.
  • Underbridge – Underline bridge carrying the railway over a gap, road, or river.
  • Underframe – Framework or structure which supports the body of a rail car.
  • Underpass – A roadway going beneath an overpass, scenic effect, bridge, etc.
  • Unit – A single locomotive or two or more locomotives that are coupled together and operated as a single unit with one engineer
  • Unit Train – A freight train consisting of one type of freight car, usually hopper cars for carrying coal or grain. Unit trains are seldom, broken up, and tend to operate continuously from loading to unloading point.
  • Up-Line – Line over which trains normally travel towards the headquarters of the railway company.
  • Up-Train – One which travels on or in the direction of the up line.
  • USRA – United States Railway Administration. The USRA took over and operated American Railroads during World War I; was responsible for certain long lasting and “standard” locomotive designs.




  • Valve Gear – The mechanism that controls the movement of the steam distribution valve of a steam locomotive. Stephenson Valve Gear (link motion) – A valve gear in which the steam lead is greatest at mid-gear and greatest at full forward. Walschaert Valve Gear – A valve gear in which the lead is constant at any position of the reversing gear.
  • Van – Covered vehicle for conveyance of luggage or goods.
  • Vanderbilt Tender – A cylindrical-shaped tender featuring a partially squared-off front; used for either coal or oil.
  • Variable Switch– A switch, designated by letter “V” or bowl painted yellow, when trailed through the switch points remain lined in the position to which forced.
  • Varnish– Term used to refer to passenger trains, dating back to the late 19th century and the varnished passenger coaches of the luxury trains such as those employed on the LV’s Black Diamond and the C&O’s Sportsman
  • Vestibule – Covered gangway giving access between cars.
  • Vestibule Cab – Closed cab on steam locomotives to protect the engineer and fireman from inclement weather; includes doors and diaphragm connection to tender.
  • Volt – A unit of electrical pressure. Commonly, 0 – 9 volts of D.C. is used for “Z” scale model railroading, 0 – 14 volts D.C. is used for “HO” gauge, and 0 – 20 volts D.C. is used for large scale model railroading.
  • Voltage – Electromotive force (analogous to a pressure) measured in volts




  • Windy – A slang term for a car going down a track with no air or hand brake applied Wagon – European term for railway vehicle for the conveyance of goods.
  • Washout – Track ballast washed away by water action.
  • Water Plug – The standpipe where a steam locomotive would stop to fill its tender with water.
  • Way Car – A freight car carrying local shipments.
  • Weathering – Making shiny models look more realistic by painting them to show the effects of use.
  • Wheel Set – Pair of wheels secured to an axle.
  • Wheel Knocker –Another name for car knocker. This person would check the wheels for flaws.
  • Wheel Pull –Caused by the friction between the brake shoe and the wheel and transmitted to the rail.
  • Wheel Rolling –The wheel rotating on its axle theoretically without motion existing between the wheel and the rail at the area of contact.
  • Wheel Slipping– The wheel rotating on its axle with motion existing between
  • the wheel and rail at the area of contact.
  • Wheel Sliding – The wheel not rotating on its axle and motion existing between the wheel and rail at the area of contact.
  • Whistle Post – A specially marked post on the engineer’s side of the train that tells him when to start whistling for a grade crossing. Slower trains may delay whistling until closer to the crossing.
  • Wide Vision Caboose – Caboose with center areas extended out past normal sides of caboose allowing for unobstructed forward viewing.
  • Wildcat – A runaway locomotive.
  • Wing Rail –A continuous running rail that forms the obtuse angle of a diamond crossing. Also a running rail from switch heel towards nose which is then set to form check rail past nose of common crossing.
  • Wipe the Clock- Stop Short
  • Worm Gear – A gear with slightly slanted or dished teeth to mesh with the worm. In model railroading the worm gear is usually mounted on the driving axle.
  • Wye – A track with three switches and three legs forming a large triangle which enables an entire train to turn around.




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  • Yard – A group of tracks where switching chores are performed for storage, classification, making and breaking up of trains, etc.
  • Yardmaster –A railroad employee in charge of a yard operation.
  • Yard Geese- Workers in the yard; switchmen
  • Yellow Eye- "Proceed with Caustion" signal
  • “Y” Switch – A switch that turns off at both sides, but not straight ahead.




  • Zamac – Trade name for zinc-aluminum alloy die-casting metal used widely for pressure die-casting in model trains.



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