This page is a collection of terms used in railway construction and operation. Please e-mail me any additions or corrections.
- Crossover: Two switches on parallel tracks that allow a train to move from one track to the other.
- Crossing: An intersection of two tracks. Normal crossing angles are 90°, 45° and 30° but other angles are used when required.
- Interlocking Plant: A combination of track, mechanical locks and signal apparatus that prevents conflicting movements through an arrangement of tracks such as junctions or crossings.
- Siding (Passing Siding): A length of track with switches at each end, used for train meets or overtakes (passes).
- Lapped Siding: A length of track with two overlapped sidings. It allows a three train meet.
- Spur Track: A length of track for industrial, storage or sorting. It may have access from one [stub] or both [double ended spur] ends. Stubs can be either a facing or trailing spur depending on the direction of the train.
- Wye: Three switches arranged at the corners of a triangle that can be used to reverse the direction of an engine or train.
- House Track: A franchise spur adjacent to a freight house.
- Team Track: A public spur used by industries that do not have their own spur track.
- Industry Track: A private spur used by an industry or shared with others.
- Interchange Track: A portion of track shared by two or more railways to move cars from one to the other.
- Shoofly Track: A temporary track (often preassembled) of minimum standards that is used as a detour around a construction area such as a bridge replacement.
- Fish Plate: A steel plate lapping a joint of railway rails and secured to the sides so as to connect the members end to end.
- Classification Yard: A yard whose main function is to sort cars by destination or train.
- Storage Yard: A yard whose main function is to store cars, sometimes with cleaning and maintenance facilities.
- Service Yard: A yard whose main function is to service engines, repair cars and provide heavy maintenance and rebuild functions. Normally located at division points or central point of smaller railway.
- Flat Yard: A yard where sorting is done with switcher engines jockeying cars onto the correct tracks.
- Hump Yard: A yard where gravity and powered switches sort incoming trains onto correct tracks. DO NOT HUMP signs are placed on cars that must not use a hump yard because of cargo restrictions or car age.
- Yard Lead (Lead Track): The portion of track before the yard ladder used to assemble the train. In theory the yard lead should be as long as the longest train but if shorter, it provides interesting work for the yard engine.
- Ladder: This is a series of sidings parallel to each other with a set of linked switches for access.
- Runaround Track (Escape Track): A pair of switches arranged on parallel tracks in yard ladder that let engine get by train it just pulled in.
- RIP Track: A spur or siding with facilities for 'Repair In Place' maintenance.
- Blocking: Arranging a train with all cars bound for a single destination (station or yard) in a group.
- Cherry Picking: In the Yard it is pulling only selected car from a makeup track rather than pulling the whole track. At Industries it is handling most convenient first. The prototype had protocol for specific industries like early morning, after 5pm, and between 12-1. Customer serviced ruled here.
- Passing Track: The operational use of a double ended siding for overtaking another train or approach passing.
- Pickups vs Pulls: Pickups are done in blocks from yard tracks. Pulls are from industrial sidings.
- Setouts vs Spots: Setouts are blocks placed at yard tracks. Spots are cars placed at industrial sidings and loading docks.
- Sawby: The maneuver used when both of the meeting trains are too long for the passing siding and must be split to allow passing.
- High Priority (aka redball manifest): Carries goods that are time valued such as perishable goods or just-in-time factory inventory.
- General Merchandise: Regular shipments being transferred from yard to yard.
- Drag: High tonnage - low value cargo.
- Unit Trains: Single cartype, single destination consist.
- Way Freights (aka peddler, patrol): Pickup and delivery from yards to destination tracks.
- Limited: Only main stations are serviced. Emphasis is on comfort, speed and convenience.
- Accommodation: Serve all or most stations on a route. Serve as collectors.
- Commuter: Link core of large city to its suburbs.
- Work train: used in scheduled maintenance of grade and track. Occupies active track so train orders required to keep traffic flowing.
- Wreck train: used in emergency situations to rerail/remove cars and engines and repair grade and track. Occupied track is often closed to traffic but orders needed to move wreck train to site.
- Construction train: used for scheduled new construction of grade, track, bridges, trestles, cuts and fills. Often occupies track not yet in service but can also be on active lines, constructing second line.
- Timetable: The original method of train control was through a published timetable of scheduled meeting places for trains where priority was through class (1st, 2nd, extra etc.) then by direction.
- Timetable and Train Orders: With the development of the telegraph, train orders could be issued to supercede the timetable when required.
- Automatic Block Signals (ABS): Lineside signaling system of sequential blocks. The signals provide safe spacing for following trains and stop oncoming trains from entering a block.
- Centralized Traffic Control (CTC): Traffic is controlled by signal indication, not superiority but is under control of a dispatcher not automatic as above. A more expensive system but had ability to handle more traffic.
- Track Warrant Control (TWC): Reliable radio communications allowed a new system of 'aural' orders to be given to trains. No timetables or class designations are used. Block boundaries are issued (as mileposts) as part of the order to give the dispatcher flexibility. Track warrants issue authority verbally. There is no "regular" train in TWC. Train orders were free form but had a set group of formats to follow. TWC uses a rigid, fill in the blanks format. TWC is intended to be issued "real time" and each individual step in the movement process requires a separate warrant. TWC requires only the crew and the dispatcher (no station operators).
- Direct Traffic Control (DTC): Similar to TWC but blocks have fixed boundaries. Now in disuse except for southwestern U.S.
- Automatic Block Signals (ABS): Lineside signaling system of sequential blocks. The signals provide safe spacing for following trains (following movement protection) and signal oncoming trains from entering a block (but does not provide opposing movement protection).
- Automatic Permissive Block (APB): A signaling system of sequential blocks that provides safe spacing for both following movement protection and opposing movement protection.
- Approach Lighting: A system where signals are not lit until train is in block. This was more prevalent in early days when power source was batteries.
- Following Movement Protection: Signaling that protects the rear end of a train from a following train.
- Opposing Movement Protection: Signal ling that protects the front end of a train from oncoming engines.
- Tumble-down: This describes the action of an opposing signal that moves from clear to stop as a train approaches a block.
- Conductor: The conductor (on trains) or foreman (on a yard engine) is the person in charge of the crew. He is the leader of the team; the "captain" of the train. He decides what moves are to be made, when moves are to be made and how the job is to be done. The conductor is responsible for the paperwork of the train. Both the train crew (brakemen/switchmen) and engine crew (engineers/firemen) report to him. The conductor is responsible for the rules observance of all members of his crew.
- Engineer: The engineer is responsible for safely operating the train over the railway. He is second in command of the train. He must know the territory and the rules, plus the operation of the engine and the air brake system. He is responsible for handling the train to minimize slack action in the train (the banging back and forth in the train due to cushioning devices and slop in the couplers) and to minimize fuel usage.
- Brakeman: Brakemen (on trains) or switchmen (on yard engines) do the work on a train or yard job. They couple and uncouple cars, throw switches and pass signals. Brakemen get promoted to conductor. Switchmen get promoted to foremen.
- Fireman: Firemen in the steam era were responsible for the mechanical care of the boiler and it's appliances. The engineer is responsible for the running gear. The engineer is responsible for the fireman's actions. They fuel and water the engine outside of terminals oiled steam engines and inspect engines for wear and defects. Once diesels came into widespread usage, fireman became 'engineers in training'. Firemen get promoted to engineers.
Train crews typically work on assigned territories or districts between two points. They can work on an assigned job (a crew which works on an assigned sequence of trains with definite starting times and off days) or in pool service (a crew catches the next available train; first in- first out). On the same territory or crew district there can be different groups or boards of train crews. There might be a switchman's board, local freight board, through freight board, passenger train board, and "extra" boards for each. Vacancies (vacation, sickness, personal days, etc) on a train crew or additional crews over the those run by the regular pools are covered by a group of people called the extra board, who work first in-first out. In addition there may be runs where a single crew operates over two or more crew districts. Such boards are called inter-divisional or ID runs. Assignments are on the basis of seniority in craft, when an opening occurs, the people in the craft bid or apply for the job with the most senior people being awarded the job.
All of these people come under the Federal Hours of Service Act which limit the number of hours train service employees can work in a row and their rest periods (16 hours prior to 1975 and 12 hours after that).
- Dispatcher: The dispatcher monitors and co-ordinates the movement of trains over main lines and sidings. Timetables and train orders, or other forms of more modern communication such as track warrants are used as forms of communications.
- Operator: The operator copies train orders, relaying movement instructions from the dispatcher and communicates train movements to the dispatcher. At one this was done by telegraphy and later by telephone and teletype. First trick is roughly 7am-3pm, second trick is roughly 3pm-11pm. First trick will normally be the more senior employee.
- Towerman (aka Block Operator): Manages subroutes under direction of dispatcher.
- Yardmaster: Yardmasters are in charge of the overall operation of a yard. They decide which cut will be switched and what cars will be switched into each track. The switch crews work directly for them. They also direct traffic in the yard tracks and on the main track in yard limits. They give trains movement instructions for their area of responsibility. In some smaller yards a switch foreman will be given the title of "footboard yardmaster" and he will have the responsibility to direct the overall yard operation, while still being a yard engine foreman. Complex terminals may have multiple yardmasters (hump, trim, east, west, etc.) and when there are multiple yardmasters a General Yardmaster is in charge. If the yardmasters are agreement employees, seniority in craft determines who gets the assignment. General Yardmaster or yardmasters might be non-agreement on some roads. The yardmasters work for Trainmasters and the General Yardmasters.
- Switch Tender or Switchman: Throws switches within yard limits under direction of yardmaster.
- Roundhouse Foreman: The roundhouse foreman is in charge of the mechanical crew that take care of the engines. He provides engines for yard or train operation.
- Car Foreman: The car foreman is in charge of car repair crews in larger facilities. He works for the Master Mechanic.
- Hostler: Hostlers (named for the people that took care of horses at an inn) handle light engines in the yards. They may take the power off inbound trains to the engine service tracks. They supply the engines with fuel, sand and water. Hostlers move engines around inside the engine service and repair facilities. They may take the engines back out to the outbound train. There may also be helpers or herders with hostlers. Hostlers typically come from the ranks of fireman or engineers. Hostler helpers are engine service employees who handle the switches for hostlers. Herders are switchmen who handle switches for hostlers. Most hostler crews cannot handle any cars, except maybe cars of supplies for the roundhouse or service track. Inside hostlers may only work within the limits of a roundhouse or shop area; building consists of engines, fueling, watering and sanding locomotives. Outside hostlers may work both inside and outside the mechanical areas in the terminal area. Outside hostlers are used to move power within a terminal area. Outbound and inbound road train crews may move their power between the roundhouse and their train or hostlers may do this. Not all terminals have outside hostlers. All hostlers work for the roundhouse foreman while in the mechanical facilities and the outside hostlers work for the yardmaster when outside the mechanical areas. These people come under the Federal Hours of Service Act and are considered train service employees.
- Carman: Carmen inspect and maintain the rolling stock in the yard. They inspect inbound trains for defects and bleed off the air brakes, that is, release the air from the air brake cylinders on the cars so they will roll free when switched. Any defective cars are tagged "bad order" by stapling or attaching a brightly colored tag to one of the tack boards on the car, and sent to the repair track, known as the RIP track (Repair In Place). When the outbound train is set they "lace the air" or couple all the air hoses. The carmen then perform the Federally required brake test to make sure all the brakes on the train are working properly. Carmen are responsible for oiling the journal boxes when friction bearings are used. Once again any defective cars are tagged bad order, switched out and sent to the rip track. Carmen work under the car foreman but are given work priorities by the yardmaster.
- Section Gang: The section gang maintained the ballast, ties and rails (ie. the infrastructure) of the railway. Heavy locomotives in movement cause a lot of shifting and it was the section gang's responsibility that tracks stayed in gauge and could safely handle the traffic. They were often called gandy dancers, from the rhythm of their work.
- Superintendent: Supervisor of personnel within a specific area of responsibility (eg. one division).
- Trainmaster: The trainmaster is in charge of railway operations on his territory, management. He is in charge of the train crews, yard crews and clerical forces, but on some roads may have authority over both the mechanical and MofW forces on his territory too.
- Freight Agent: The agent is the person in charge of the clerical forces and responsible for the business transactions of the station. The station freight agent accepts requests from customers and prepares waybills, bills of lading as well as pull/spot lists.
- Clerks: Yard clerks process the inbound trains, making a list of the train and filing the waybills. A waybill is more or less the ticket for a car to ride a train. They keep track of the switching and make lists of the classified tracks. When an outbound train is finally assembled or "set", they make the train list and gather the waybills. Clerks called 'weighmasters' weigh cars and record the information on the waybills. The clerks that work in the yards checking for car/track positions were called 'mudhops'. Cashiers are clerks who handle the money and financial affairs for the railway. There were several types of offices: passenger (handled tickets, baggage, express and mail), freight (billing, car orders, switch orders, customer car delay fees or demurrage and diversions) and yard (weighing, interchanging with other RR's, preparing train and switch lists) in major locations. These functions may be combined in small towns, down to a combination depot with only an agent performing all of these tasks. Clerks also are the ones who 'call' or notify the crews that they are to report for duty for a train. Clerks work for a chief clerk on their shift.
- Car Distributor: Assigns available car to waybills based on cartype requested and location of customer.
- Roadmaster: The roadmaster is in charge of the track crew. He is responsible for maintaining the right of way and track.