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John Combs, Webmaster... John's Alaska Railroad Web Page
  • Locomotive Nomenclature   
  • Railroad Slang
  • RailRoad Crews
  • Railroad Positions
  • Railroad Related Terms   
  • Track signs
  • Whistle Signals
  • Locomotive Daily Inspection
  • Various Questions I've Been Asked
    • Locomotive Nomenclature

    • Electro-Motive Division
          SC Six-hundred h.p., Cast frame
      SW Six-hundred h.p., Welded frame
      NC Nine-hundred h.p., Cast frame
      NW Nine-hundred h.p., Welded frame
      E Eighteen-hundred h.p.
      FFourteen-hundred h.p.
      TR Transfer
      BL Branch Line
      GP General Purpose
      SD Special Duty
      F Full-width carbody (as in F40)
      DD D-D wheel alignment
      MP Multi-Purpose

      General Electric
          U Universal
      B B-B wheel arrangement
      C C-C wheel arrangement
      P Passenger
      AC Alternating Current

          H Hood carbody
      CFA    Consolidation Line (C-Line), Freight, A-unit
      Fairbanks-Morse (cont.)
          CPA C-Line, Passenger, A-unit
          HH High Hood
      DL Diesel Locomotive
      S Switcher
      T Transfer
      FA Freight, A-unit
      FB Freight, B-unit
      PA Passenger, A-unit
      RS Road-Switcher
      C Century
      M Montreal Locomotive Works

          VO Model VO engine
      DS Diesel Switcher
      S Switcher
      DRS    Diesel Road-Switcher
      RS Road-Switcher
      AS All-Service
      DR Diesel Road
      RF Road Freight

    • Railroad Slang
    • Engineer hogger, hoghead, driver
      Engineer trainee   piglet
      Conductor Ram-rod, conducer,
      The Brains, skipper
      Fireman Bakehead
      Brakeman brakie, pinner, pinhead, baby lifter
      Yard Master yard goat, dinger
      Yard crew  yard rats, hostler
      Car inspector  car knocker, wheel knocker,
      car toad, car tonk
      Dispatcher  **#@$^+++, dipsnatcher
      Track worker Gandy Dancer, snipe
      Passengers peeps (short for "people")
      Switchman iron bender
      Railroad detective bull, cinder dick,
      pussyfoot (in plain clothes)
      Railroad executive   Brass Hat
      Locomotives hogs, lokies, power, motors
      Caboose hack, crummie, brain box
      Switcher engine goat
      Mainline  main, iron, high iron, high rail
      Switch  turnout
      Cut string of cars
      Train order flimsy
      Vandals  little terrorists, munchkins
      Semi-trailer pig
      "On the high iron, let the big dogs walk" means the caboose is over the switch and on the mainline so open the throttle all the way on the locomotives.
      "All black, well stacked, goin' down the track clickity clack" means the train looked good on the visual roll-by inspection.
      "Pull the pin" or "let's pull the pin and roll" means uncouple so we can get out of here.
      "Highball it out of here" means proceed at maximum permissible speed.
      "Double the hill" means the train is split in half to get up a grade.
      "We are on the ground!" means the train has derailed.
      "Mosey Speed" means when you approach the limit of your track warrant and have not received a new warrant, you mosey up to the limit prepared to stop.
      "Grip" is a Trainman's suitcase.
      "Dead Head" is a railroad employee traveling as a passenger.
      "Drag" describes the movement of a heavy train, such as a coal drag.
      "Dump the air" is the emergency application of the air brakes causing a train to stop abruptly.
      "Dog chasing" means a crew change out.

    • RailRoad Crews
    •     There are a couple of things that govern the crews on trains and their operations. There are Federal Laws governing the length of duty of Operating Railway Personnel. First and most important is the "Hours Service Law" This restricts the hours that we may work at any given time.
          Dispatchers: 9.5 hours max. Minimum rest 15.5 hours
          Train crews: 12 hours max. Min. rest 8 hrs 11:59 or less, 10 if more 16 hrs if mainline is blocked, to be used only in blocked area with much qualification.
          So as you experienced on your trip a crew "going dead on hours of service", this is not a union contract negotiable item, It is Federal Law. Some state have full crew laws, influenced by unions and lobbyists. Our crews are negotiated with the ARRC. When I started we had "full" crews, but that was negotiated down from the much larger crews needed at the turn-of-the century, or as I experienced in Mexico. Air Brakes and Radios have played the largest role in reducing crews. More recently, EOTs and Lineside detectors have been used to reduce the size of crews.
          Hostlers: Enginemen assigned to the roundhouse to service and makeup locomotive consists and move them to and from trains in the yard. Usually 2 per 8 hr. shift.
          Yard: Engineer, Conductor, Brakeman
          Freight: Engineer, Conductor, Brakeman
          Unit/TOFC: Engineer, Conductor, if more than 3600 Ft Brakeman
          Passenger: Engineer, Conductor, if more than 3 coaches Brakeman
      The company can increase the number of crew for any reason, but can't reduce the size without union agreement/consent.
      (Contributed by Frank Dewey, ARR Locomotive Engineer)

    • Railroad Positions
    • Roadmaster
      (Contributed by Rick Leggett, ARR General Roadmaster)
      It's not my job to run the train.
      The whistle I don't blow.
      It's not my job to say how far,
      the trains supposed to go.
      I'm not allowed to pull the brake,
      or even ring the bell.
      But let the damn thing leave the track,
      and see who catches hell!
      Seriously though, I am responsible for all track maintenance, construction, snow removal, avalanche control, etc. etc. for the entire system. I have four District Roadmasters who report to me and are responsible for their respective territories. I am also responsible for all heavy equipment operators and heavy equipment mechanics. We have approximately 115 employees in Maintenance of Way during the winter and increase to +-200 in the summer. Last year, MOW completed 16 million dollars worth of track and roadbed improvements. This is in addition to a 7 million expense budget. I started working for the ARR when I was 20 years old and have been here for 23 years.
      To oversee the safe operation of the train and supervise the Train Crew, Must be experienced in the operation of heavy equipment.
      Railroad Car Mechanic
      To maintain safe operation of the train and perform maintenance of railcars in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration regulations. Welding experience and prior railroad experience required, preferably as a railcar carman or inspector.
      General Manager
      Directs and coordinates activities to obtain efficiency and economy of operations to maximize the profits of the Railroad. Hiring and supervising of the managers and staff, including training, assigning and directing work, appraising performance, disciplining, and resolving problems. Submitting annual business plan, and analyzing monthly performance of the railroad to determine changes in operations required to stay on plan. Establishing and maintaining the railroad's credibility with its customers. Establishing the railroad within the community it serves, especially relations with connecting carriers, local suppliers, local, state and federal politicians and governmental agencies, and the business community. Representing the railroad within industry trade associations. Other duties as assigned by the Regional Vice President and RailAmerica executives.
      Baggage Handler
      The baggage handlers duties were to load and unload baggage from inbound and outbound trains. In small towns, the telegraph operator or station agent usually did this. The baggage handler had to make sure the baggage was placed on the right train, or was transferred from an inbound train to the right outbound train.
      Prior to 1888 when Westinghouse developed a reliable air brake, stopping a train or a rolling car was very primitive. Iron wheels, located atop cars, were connected to a manual braking system by a long metal rod. The brakemen, usually two to a train, would ride on top of the car. On a whistle signal from the engineer, the brakemen, one at the front of the train and one at the rear of the train, would begin turning the iron wheels to engage the brakes. When one car was completed, the brakeman would jump the thirty inches or so to the next car and repeat the operation to apply the brakes on that car. The brakemen would work towards each other until all cars had their brakes applied. Tightening down too much could cause the rolling wheel to skid, grinding a flat spot on the wheel. When this happened, the railroad would charge the brakeman for a new wheel. New wheels cost $45, which was exactly what a brakeman earned a month. In good weather, the brakemen enjoyed riding on top of the cars and viewing the scenery. However, they had to ride up there in all kinds of weather - in rain, sleet, snow and ice, as well as good weather. Jumping from one car to the next at night or in freezing weather could be very dangerous, not to mention the fact that the cars were rocking from side to side.
      Supervise the switching, loading/unloading, breaking or making up of trains. Travel with the train on its assigned route. Inspect all equipment on cars prior to departures. Assist and instruct crews to couple and uncouple cars, throw switches, and make minor repairs to rail cars, including replacing heavy couplings or air brake hoses. Requires walking long distances over uneven terrain. Receive and review instructions from dispatchers, yard masters, and station agents and discuss with locomotive engineer and train crew. Ensure all train orders, signals, and railroad rules and regulations are complied with. Prepare required reports, including train bulletins, switch lists, time slips, delay and accident reports, industry work order, etc. Utilize onboard computer systems to process payroll and other information. Must complete annual training and successfully pass safety and operating rules examinations. Federal regulations require periodic testing for drugs and/or alcohol. Work hours vary in length and schedule, including being on call 7 days a week, 24 hours per day. Conductors are exposed to various safety hazards and are required to wear protective equipment such are hearing protection, safety glasses, etc. Most work is done outdoors, year around.
      Senior Railroad Bridge Engineer
      Position will be responsible for preparation of designs and plans for railroad structures. This position will have active involvement developing new work as well as serving as a Project Manager or Project Engineer on small to large projects.

    • Railroad Related Terms
    • 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


      Association of American Railroads.
      AB Valve
      The operating device used on freight cars for charging, applying, and releasing the brakes. Also called a triple valve
      ABD Valve
      An improvement of the AB Valve that features a quick release.
      ABDW Valve
      An improvement of the ABD Valve. Modifies the Emergency Portion and provides for accelerated buildup of brake cylinder pressure during quick service applications.
      Absolute Block
      A length of track in which no train or engine is permitted to enter while it is occupied by another train or engine.
      Absolute Permissive Block (APB)
      A designated section of track or tracks within which the movement of trains will be governed by block signals, whose indications supersede the superiority of trains. The block signals may be controlled manually or automatically.
      Absolute Signal
      A block or interlocking signal designated by an "A" market or the absence of a number plate.
      Add, to
      Couple car(s) to a train
      Adhesion Coefficient
      The ratio of tangential and normal force that exist between the wheel and the rail during motion.
      AEI Tag
      An electronic transponder located on the side of rail cars that identifies them to trackside readers.
      Air Brake System
      All of the devices and parts included in making an air brake for controlling the speed and stopping a locomotive or train. It is made up of the operating devices, the pipes, fittings and foundation brake gear.
      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.
      A clear track in a switching yard.
      Angle Cock
      An appliance used for the purpose of opening or closing brake pipe on ends of cars, rear ends of tenders, and front ends of switch engines so equipped. Provision is made for supporting hose at proper angle.
      All Purpose Employee -- an employee that is a promoted engineer that can also be forced to work as a conductor or trainman.
      Consists of all of the operations from the time the brake pipe reduction is started until the brake is released.
      Approach Signal
      A signal that governs the approach to another signal.
      When a 2-way EOT is in communication with the HOT allowing it to dump the train from the rear.
      Articulated [Mallet]
      A Mallet locomotive. A simple articulated is a mallet which had a large enough boiler to supply all four cylinders with high pressure steam direct from the boiler. A compound mallet is a mallet which had a boiler too small to supply high pressure steam to all four cylinders at once, and used steam twice, once to the rear high pressure cylinders and the "partially used" steam would then supply the front cylinders. The best known example of a compound mallet is the N&W Y6b mallet, which "shifted" to compound operation at higher speed. Some well known simple articulated's are the UP BIG Boy, the UP Challenger, the N&W Class A, the B&O EM-1 type, and the SP AC class.
      American Railway Union, Crushed during the Pullman strike in 1894
      Automatic Block Signal System (ABS)
      A series of consecutive blocks governed by block signals, cab signals or both, actuated by a train, engine or by certain conditions affecting the use of a block.
      Automatic Cab Signal System (ACS)
      A system which provides for the automatic operation of the cab signals and cab warning whistle.
      Automatic Stop Arm
      Mechanical arm located on the wayside, in conjunction with a wayside signal, which causes an emergency brake application when a train passes the signal at danger and the arm is in tripping position.
      Automatic Train Stop System (ATS)
      A system actuated by wayside inductors, so arranged that its operation will automatically result in the application of the brakes until the train has been brought to a stop.
      Auxiliary Reservoir
      A reservoir located on each rail car that stores air supplied by the locomotive.


      Baby Lifter
      A brakeman.
      Bad Order
      A piece of rolling stock that needs repair.
      By moving the independent brake handle sideways, the engineer can release locomotive brake cylinder pressure that is due to an automatic brake application (a brake pipe pressure reduction). The bail has no effect on brake cylinder pressure that is due to an independent brake application.
      Fireman (because his head was near the door of firebox when shoveling coal)
      Ball (of a Rail)
      The head of the rail
      Balloon Track
      Railroad track in the shape of a teardrop used to reverse the direction of a train.
      Bend the Iron, To
      To throw a switch.
      An articulated steam locomotive with a central boiler/cab assembly pivoted between two power units. Designed for hard roads with tight curves, this type is found mostly in Africa.
      Big Boy
      Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 600 ton steam freight locomotive
      Big C
      The conductor (from the Order of Railway Conductors)
      Big E
      A railroad engineer (for Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers)
      Emergency application of air brakes, usually when initiated by engineer, i.e. put her in the big hole
      Brakes In Emergency; application of the emergency braking system.
      Black Snake
      A coal train.
      Initials of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers union
      Initials of Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engine-men union
      A walk way between two passenger cars covered with either canvas or leather in an accordion shape. From the outside of the blinds to the outer edge of the cars there was a space about 24 inches wide. There was a ladder running up to the top of the car in this space and the bums would grap hold of the ladder and hold on to it. That was riding the blinds.
      A length of track between consecutive block signals or from a block signal to the end of block system limits, governed by block signals, cab signals or both.
      Block Occupancy Indicator
      An indicator used to convey information regarding block occupancy.
      Block Signal
      A fixed signal at the entrance of a block to govern trains and engines entering and using that block.
      Block System
      A block or series of consecutive blocks within APB, ABS, ACS, CTC or interlocking limits.
      Block Track
      Track with equipment for repairing rail cars on the spot.
      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.
      Brooklyn Manhattan Transit - subdivision B-1 of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) subway
      British: term for a signalman in UK. Derives from railway policeman of early railways. The policeman being 'invented' by Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel.
      Australian and European term for a truck.
      Itenerent railroad workers. Always moving from one road to another.
      A small two cylinder steam driven engine, manufactured by the Franklin Railway Supply Co., and attached to an axle of the trailing track of some steam locomotives to provide additional tractive effort when starting a train.
      Bradley Bar
      A device shaped like a hockey stick used to straighten hand holds on freight cars.
      The Brains
      The conductor
      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
      A portion of a division designated by a timetable. Rules and instructions pertaining to subdivisions apply on branches.
      Branch Line
      A secondary line of a railroad, not the main line.
      Brass Hat
      AA railroad executive, usually a division manager or higher, a.k.a. suits
      Bridge Line Haul Road
      See overhead line haul road.
      Brotherhood Notch
      A notch high on the reverse lever quadrant which admitted a very limited amount of steam to the cylinder making it easier on fireman, but taking longer to get over the road.
      Initials of Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen union
      Slang for a railroad police officer or railroad detective.
      A condition where both drawbar knuckles are closed, making the coupling impossible without opening one knuckle (amer. slang).


      Cab Apron
      The hinged metal plate attached to the rear end cab floor of a steam locomotive, which rested on the front of the tender and formed a transition piece between the engine and tender for crew safety. Also called a deck plate.
      Cab Forward
      A steam locomotive with the engineers cab placed ahead of the boiler instead of behind it.
      Camel back
      Slang: an older rerailing device, also called a rerailing "frog". Used in pairs, one on each side to lift the wheel flanges of a derailed car and allow them to slide back onto the rail.
      Another name for the hood-type diesel locomotive. Examples: F40PH, FP45, E and F units.
      Overhead wire system on elecricfied railroads for suppling current to electric locomotives and self-propelled cars equipped with pantographs.
      Centipede Tender
      A high capacity tender applied to some large steam locomotives, and having seven axles, with the front two axles contained in a track casting and capable of swiveling. Major users of centipede tenders include New York Central and Union Pacific railroads (USA).
      Cab Signal
      A signal located in engineer's compartment or cab, indicating a condition affecting the movement of a train or engine and used in conjunction with interlocking signals and in conjunction with or in lieu of block signals.
      Cabin Car or Hack
      A non revenue car formally used on the rear of trains (caboose)
      End of train non revenue car
      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.
      From the 1889 Century Dictionary of the English Language: A timber running along the tops of the upright pieces in the sides of the body of a railway-carriage and supporting the roof and the roof sticks. Called in the United States a plate.
      Car Knocker
      It was common for car inspectors to tap parts with a hammer. The resulting tone of sound gave clues to the condition of those parts. Ergo, Car Knocker.
      Formal name for a craft employee that inspects and repairs railway cars.
      Car Toad, Car Tonk
      Car inspector who checked the condition f freight and passenger cars and conducted the air brake tests
      Central Control Room, a facility from which rail system operation will be monitored and controlled.
      Centralized Traffic Control (CTC)
      A remotely controlled block signal system under which train movements are authorized by block signals whose indicators supersede the superiority of trains.
      A specified frequency for communication between train and dispatcher or 2 trains. The channel numbers (07 thru 97) are shorthand methods of designating assigned radio frequencies for transmission. For example, channel 96 means to transmit on an assigned radio frequency of 161.550 mHz.
      Cinder Dick
      Railroad detective (slang)
      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.
      Complete Locomotive Control, retrofitted adhesion system manufactured by Woodward Governor Company.
      Clear Block
      A block not occupied. Sometimes used to denote a clear signal indication.
      Container on flat car. Referred to in intermodal traffic.
      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.
      Company Notch
      Denotes reverse lever in lower quadrant using lots of steam to pull a heavy, i.e. revenue train making money for the company.
      Brakeman, with or without brains, displaying pencils.
      Controlled Point
      A location designated by number where signals and /or switches of a CTC system are controlled by a control operator.
      Controlled Siding
      A siding within CTC or interlocking limits, the authorization for use of which is governed by signal indication or control operator.
      Controlled Signal
      An absolute signal, the aspect of which, is controlled by a control operator.
      Coon It, to
      To walk across the tops of freight cars.
      Clean, Oil, Test & Stencil. Applies to air brake rework.
      Covered Wagon
      A nickname that is generally attached to EMD E and F units.
      Cow Catcher
      A metal frame on the front of a locomotive to remove obstructions from the tracks.
      A rail anchor of spring steel that is driven onto the base of the rail and bears against the tie which is prevented from moving by the resistance of the stone ballast. The name comes from the function of the anchor which is a "rail anti-creep device."
      A length of track that carries one track across another.
      A track connection between two adjacent tracks.
      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.
      A wooden, two truck or bobber trucked, caboose. Also called a way car, hack or, in the days of living in them, a bean shack
      A small cabin on the roof of a caboose to afford a means of lookout for the train crew.
      Current of Traffic
      The movement of trains on a main track, in one direction, specified by the rules.
      Cut, to
      Separate car(s) from a train
      Cut Lever
      The hand operated lever applied to all cars and locomotives, which was used to lift the coupler pin and release the knuckle in order to couple or uncouple cars and locomotives.
      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 Head
      A railroad employee traveling on a pass.
      Dead Man
      Usually a foot pedal that was pressed by the engineer. When pressure on the pedal was released, the train brakes were automatically applied. This was to detect sleeping or dead engineers.
      In the days before air brakes, the duties of the brakemen included stopping the train. The brakeman would have to go to the top deck of the car - thus decorate - and wind the stem winder.
      A device placed short of clearing point on a track to prevent a car or engine from fouling main track, derailing said car or engine if not removed to permit safe passage.
      A special track work item that allows two railroad tracks to cross each other at grade.
      A yard master.
      Direct Traffic Control (DTC)
      System of traffic control with fixed blocks, where block occupancy is granted remotely by a dispatcher. Ordinarily, only one train may occupy a DTC block at a time. Similar to TWC except that the blocks are fixed by timetable rather than granted case by case. DTC may be used in conjunction with track signalling in APB, ABS, or over dark territory.
      Distant Signal
      A fixed signal outside of a block system, used to govern the approach to a block signal, interlocking signal or switch point indicator. It will not convey information as to conditions affecting the use of the track between the distant signal and block signal, interlocking signal or switch point indicator to which approach is governed. It will be identified by a "D" marker.
      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.
      A portion of the railroad designated by timetable.
      Empty boxcar train.
      A device used in unison with a clawbar to pull spikes from the wing rails of a frog and also from the guard rail.
      A brakeman or switch-tender - someone who throws switches.
      Slang for a passenger trainman. Usually used by freight trainmen who are adept at station switching, and all the other skills needed in general freight service.
      Double Slip Switch
      Used only where space is limited, combines the functions of a crossing and turnouts to allow any one of four routings.
      Double Track (DT)
      Two main tracks, on one of which the current of traffic is in a specified direction, and on the other in the opposite direction.
      A common expression to describe the movement of a heavy train, such as a coal drag or an ore drag.
      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 Track
      A track connecting with the ladder track, over which locomotives and cars move back and forth in switching.
      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.
      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
      A short section of brake hose with a coupling(glad hand) on each end. It's used to connect two short hoses together.
      Dwarf Signal
      Two or three lens signal used to control a move over a switch in a yard.
      Dynamic Braking
      A method of train braking where the kinetic energy from the train movement generates current at the locomotive traction motors, and is dissipated in a resistor grid on the locomotive.
      Initiation of an emergency application.
      A term commonly given to an brake operating valve that goes into quick-action emergency when it should not. Also called a Kicker. Dynamiting -- application of emergency (air) brakes.


      Electric Switch Lock
      An electrically controlled lock device affixed to a hand operated switch or derail to control it's use.
      Elephant Ears
      Metal side plates used on some large steam locomotives to lift the smoke above the train at speed.
      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.
      A unit propelled by any form of energy, or a combination of such units operated from a single control, used in train or yard service.
      Engine Lite
      Locomotive or multiple units lite of any cars.
      Engine Whistle Signals
      {o} means a short blast of the whistle or horn

      {--} means one long blast
      {o} apply brakes, stop
      {o o} answer to any signal not otherwise provided for
      {o o o} when standing, back
      {o o o o} call for signals
      {--} test train brakes
      {-- --} release train brakes
      {-- -- --} when running, stop at next passenger station
      {-- -- --} when standing, train parted
      {-- -- -- --} recall flagman from south or west
      {-- -- -- -- --}     recall flagman from north or east
      {-- o o} calling attention to another train that signals are displayed for a following section
      {-- o o o} flagman protect the rear of train
      {o o o --} flagman protect the front of train
      {-- -- o} approaching meeting or waiting points
      {-- -- o --} approaching crossing at grade
      {-- o o --} answer to yellow temporary reduced speed flag
      placed 1.5 miles in advance of restricted tracks
      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).
      Extra Train
      A train not authorized by timetable schedule.
      It may be designated:
    • Extra - For any extra train except work extra, the movement of which is authorized in a specified direction.
    • Work Extra - For any extra train authorized by Form H train order, the movement of which may be in either direction within specified limits.
    • F

      Facing Point Lock
      A locking device which automatically locks the switch points of a spring switch in normal position.
      Double ended Locomotive with a single central cab, Designed by Robert Francis Fairlie. Always running cab forward. Robert Francis Fairlie also designed a 'single' locomotive with one powered and one unpowered boogie and with a conventional cab at one end so can travel chimney first or bunker first.
      Ferro- meaning iron plus equine- meaning horse give one who studies iron horses, i.e., a railfan.
      Fire Box
      The "stove" where the wood, coal, oil, etc., was burned to make steam to propel the engine.
      Length of iron, applied to either side of rail web, used to connect sections of rail together.
      Fixed Signal
      A signal of fixed location indicating a condition affecting the movement of a train.
      The rear brakeman. The great country music singer Jimmie Rodgers used to brag about being a flagman. Reason? Because flagmen had to know how to read so they could understand train orders.
      A slang term use by graffiti writers for a box car without ridges on the the sides. Perfect for applying illegal graffiti by the medium of spray paint.
      Train order, or paper paper used for train orders.
      Flying Duck
      A derogatory term used to describe a switchman of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, who customarily gave hand signals to their enginemen using both hands at once.
      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.
      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. This system was in use for many years on the New York Central railroad.
      The name used by train crews to identify the people who gather along the railroad tracks to watch or take pictures of trains.
      Form D
      A form used in receiving written permission to occupy track in DCS sections of railroad lines. Permission is given by Train Dispatcher or Operator.
      Forty Five
      Yellow signal or semaphore at 45 degrees. Train may proceed through signal, prepared to stop.
      Fountain Valve
      A steam supply chest mounted inside the cab at highest point on boiler, with multiple valve outlets that allowed many devices, such as the air pumps,electric dynamo,hydrostatic lubricator, etc, to be operated by steam from the boiler.
      Flashing Rear End Device -- end of train telemetry device
      Friction Bearing
      A babbet type wheel bearing sometimes seen on old rail cars.
      The intersection of two rails of a switch.
      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).
      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.


      Gandy Dancer
      A railroad track worker. Name came from the Gandy Mfg Co. in the 19th century that made a lot of track tools.
      See Interchange Point
      Broad gauge (Spain): 1674mm 5'5.9"
      Broad gauge (Portugal): 1665mm 5'5.55"
      Broad gauge (Ireland): 1600mm 5'3"
      Broad gauge (Finland): 1524mm 5' exactly
      Broad gauge (former USSR):    1520mm    5'
      Standard gauge: 1435mm 4'8.5"
      Narrow gauge (Cape gauge): 1067mm 3'6"
      Narrow gauge (meter gauge): 1000mm 3'3.37"
      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.
      Glad hand
      The metal attachments to which train line air hoses connect
      A yard engine.
      A slang term for a promoted engineer with trainman seniority.
      Grade Resistance
      Resistance that results from the energy you must put into a train to lift it vertically. The energy is returned without loss when the train comes back down again.
      Rail slang for covered hoppers, which are often used to transport grain and other bulk, fluid solids.
      A section of curved track that has flange lubricators.
      Green Eye
      A slang term for a clear signal.
      Trainman's suitcase.
      Guinea, or Guinny
      A green worker or one who is not an familiar with job requirements.


      Hand Brake
      A manually operated brake used to hold rail cars from moving.
      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.A 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.
      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."
      Head End
      The front of the train. Use of this term is declining with the demise of the caboose.
      Head End Power
      A power system installed on diesel-electric passenger locomotives, used to 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.
      Time interval between two following trains.
      Any locomotive added to assist a train up a grade.
      An oversized boxcar usually used to haul autoparts.
      A signal given to proceed at maximum permissible speed.
      High Iron
      The railroad's mainline, usually with more ballast and heavier rail, which made this track higher than yard track.
      High Rail
      Main track.
      An individual who rides freight trains to get from town to town. Not to be confused with a bum, a hobo is a transient worker.
      A locomotive
      Hoghead, Hogger
      A railroad engineer
      Hog Law
      Refers to ICC hours of service regulations.
      Holding Lights
      Amber or green light signal displayed at certain station platforms at or near the conductor's position, to regulate train spacing.
      Holy Roller
      A graffiti slang term for a car transport car. Like for their great length, perfect for doing an end to end and other large "productions" with the illegal spray-paint techniques.
      Home Signal
      A special red signal that requires the train crew to call the dispatcher for orders before the train can proceed.
      Hooking Up
      The act of shortening the duration of the steam admission setting on a steam locomotive, using a Johnson Bar or Power reverse wheel or lever, thereby trading power for speed.
      Horsepower per Trailing Ton.
      The total horsepower of all working locomotives divided by the total trailing weight of the train in tons.
      Horsing Lever
      The lever on a steam locomotive used to manually adjust the valve setting (ie. cutoff). Also known as the Johnson bar. When engines became larger in size, a manual adjustment was no longer practical and air operated motors were used for this purpose, and a smaller lever or wheel located in the cab of the steam locomotive was used to adjust direction and cutoff.
      A person who operates engines in engine house territory and works under the direction of the engine house foreman (inside hostler). Some railroads created outside hostlers after a limited exam, who could deliver engines anywhere in the terminal.
      Hostler's Controls
      A simple throttle to allow independent movement of locomotives not equipped with engineers controls.
      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 flexable 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.
      Hot Box
      On friction bearings, an overheated journal bearing.
      Hot Spot
      Loaded double-stack or container train.
      House Track
      A track entering, or along side a freight house. Cars are spotted here for loading or unloading.
      A rail yard with a hill. Cars are cut off in motion at the top of the hump and gravity pulls the cars to the classification tracks.


      Independent Break
      The brake control on a locomotive used to control the locomotives air brakes.
      INDependent City Subway - subdivision B-2 of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) subway
      Initial Station
      The first station on each subdivision from which a train is authorized to occupy the main track.
      Interchange Point
      The point at which two or more railroads join. Traffic is passed from one road to another at interchange points.
      An arrangement of signal appliances so interconnected that their movements must succeed each other in proper sequence. It may be operated manually or automatically.
      Interlocking Limits
      The tracks between the outer opposing absolute signals of an interlocking.
      Interlocking Signals
      The fixed signals of an interlocking, governing trains using interlocking limits.
      Freight traffic that refers to containerization of freight for easy transloading to different modes of transportation. See TOFC,COFC, Piggyback.
      Iron Bender
      A switchman.
      Interboro Rapid Transit - subdivision A of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) subway


      Jerkwater Town
      A small town with few facilities, identified on the railroad by the existence of a water plug only.
      Jew Bar
      A device that holds a track in gauge. Used on sidings or industrial track.
      Johnson Bar
      Valve gear adjustment lever.
      Join the Birdies, to
      To jump from a locomotive cab before a collision.
      Joint Facilities
      Any facilities owned by two or more railroads.
      Journal Box
      Metal box around axle bearing for holding a lubricant saturated pad next to the wheel bearing.
      British: a passenger leaping from a moving train on the blind side to avoid paying.


      (Steam) engine (amer. slang).
      The act of lowering an automatic stop arm in order to pass a red signal.
      A common expression for an emergency brake application which occurs when a service brake application is intended or when no application is intended.
      The movable portion of the drawbar coupler.


      Ladder Track
      A series of turnouts providing access to any of several parallel yard tracks.
      A hand operated throttle connected to the governer on a diesel locomotive.
      Less Than Carload Lots. Brakemen on local freight runs used to have to unload LCL merchandise at stations on their territories. This merchandise was usually carried in partially loaded - thus "Less than Carload lots" - boxcars, usually right ahead of the caboose.
      Lead Rail
      Rail between the frog and the switch.
      Lightning Slinger
      Slang: railroad telegrapher.
      Line Haul Road
      A railroad that handles freight over a medium to long distance.
      Linked Up
      When a 2-way EOT is in communication with the HOT allowing it to dump the train from the rear.
      Live rail/Dead rail
      A railroad track scale was usually unable to handle the weight of a locomotive, therefor it was necessary to provide a way for the locomotive to pass the scale without damaging it. The "live rail" was the track where the cars were weighed, the "dead rail" allowed the locomotive to pass over the scale without damage.
      Locomotives are units propelled by any form of energy, or a combination of such units operated from a single control station, used in train or yard service
      Locomotive Speed Limiter
      A modern device used to control train speeds. All engines on Amtrak's NEC must be so equipped.
      Low Arm
      A nickname for a restricting signal in the days of the semaphore with the arm down 45 degrees.
      Low Irish
      Stands for medium clear signal.
      Lubricating Arm
      The lubricator forced valve oil into the valve chamber to lubricate the steam valve, and the lubricating arm on a mechanical lubricator drove the pump that supplied this lube.


      Main Track
      A track extending through yards and between stations which must not be occupied without authority or protection.
      Reference to the Mallet Articulated Cab Forward steam locomotives used by Southern Pacific railroad in the 30's, 40's and 50's.
      Manual Block System
      A series of consecutive blocks, governed by block signals operated manually, upon information by telegraph, telephone or other means of communication.
      Short lines in Connecticut and Massachussets, USA
      A train signal that is used to indicate the end of the train.
      A steam freight locomotive having a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement, pioneered in a design for the emperor of Japan in 1912.
      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.
      Monkey Motion
      Slang for the valve gear linkage on a steam locomotive.
      Monkey's Tail
      Slang for the handle of a switch stand, as in twisting the monkey's tail.
    • The electrical machine (traction motor) geared to the axles of all diesel-electric and electric locomotives, and used to convert the electrical energy provided by the diesel engine and main alternator in a diesel electric locomotive, or the transformer output in an electric locomotive, to mechanical force in the form of tractive effort.
    • The descriptive term used on the electric division of the Great Northern railroad to designate an electric locomotive.
    • Mother and Slug
      The name used for a locomotive and slug when MU'd for yard or road operation.
      Maintenance Of Way
      Multiple Main Tracks
      Two or more main tracks, the use of which is designated in the timetable.
      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 Hen
      A non-superheated steam engine.
      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.
      A movable, hand-carried derail that is placed on either rail.
      Muzzle Loader
      Term used to describe a hand fired locomotive.


      North-Eastern Corridor -- the Amtrak route with intensive passenger traffic that connects Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston
      19 & 31 train orders
      These types of orders were transmitted to train crews. They covered vast area of conditions such as fixing meeting points, speed restrictions.
      Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee: the operating rules the many USA Northeast Freight and Passenger Railroads operate under.
      Number Dummies
      Clerks who worked as yard checkers


      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.
      One Person Train Operation - the motorman (engineer) performs all the functions of a conductor and an engineer on a passenger train.
      Old Reliable Conductors -- The union that represented conductors during the mid to late 19th century.
      Originating Line Haul Road
      The railroad where any freight shipment starts.
      Originating Station
      The first station on each subdivision from which a train is authorized to occupy the main track.
      Other Track Material -- materials other than ties and rails, generally refers to spikes, tie plates and rail anchors
      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.
      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.
      Overlap Sign
      A sign marking the limit of control of a block signal.
      Out of Station (O. S.)
      Report the telegrapher would give the dispatcher on the Rock Island and presumably other railroads when the train would be past their station.


      Paired Track
      When two railroads own single track lines, they may reach an agreement whereby one railroads track services both roads in one direction, while the other railroads track services both roads in the other direction.
      British for the Centralized Control Tower.
      An electrical trolley carried on a collapsible and adjustable frame. Used on electrified locomotives and self-propelled cars for current pick-up from the catenary system.
      Partial Service Application
      Reducing the brake pipe pressure at a service rate but not enough to cause the reservoir and cylinder pressure to equalize.
      British: a signal post.
      A TOFC or COFC type car.
      TOFC or trailer on a flat car. Originally used when truck trailers were loaded onto flat cars for shipment by rail.
      A locomotive engineer trainee.
      An employee assigned to a train when the engineer or conductor is not acquainted with the rules or portion of a railroad over which the train is to be moved.
    • A piece of metal used to lock the coupler to keep cars coupled together. Also a term meaning to push in the slack when uncoupling cars.
    • A brakeman. Third Pin -- the third brakeman required in Indiana on all trains more than 69 cars in length. Head Pin -- a brakeman that rides the head end or locomotive.
    • Pins and Knuckles
      P/K, train inspection.
      Slang for interlocking.
    • Illegal device to continuously bail independent brake pressure. Could be simply a coin or a more elaborate device wedged above the independent brake valve.
    • (verb, to plug it) To place the brake handle in emergency.
    • Pocket
      Portion of track within a terminal on which a train may stand for a period of time
      South-African: a hand-operated pump-action inspection cart.
      Pony Truck
      The casting and wheel set or wheel sets which make up the leading wheels of most steam locomotives, intended to guide locomotives through curves and switches, and used to properly distribute the weight of the locomotive.
      Position Light Signal
      A fixed signal in which the indications are given by the position of two or more lights.
      A name used to mention the engine units on a train.
      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. Crew was also to see that occupants of these cars were not disturbed at all costs
      Pumping Signal
      Any fixed signal including Absolute and Intermediate block signals, who's indications change rapidly from one indication to another and then back again due to track circuit or signal circuit failure. An engineer encountering such a signal will be governed by the most restrictive indication the signal can display.
      A helper added at the rear of a train.
      Railroad detective, police, or security personnel, often found in plain clothes in rail yards or piggy-back lifts where high-dollar freight is being moved.
      Puzzle Switch
      Another name for a slip or double slip switch.


      Railway Association of Canada (the AAR in Canada).
      Radio Train
      A heavy train that has additional "slave" locomotives located in the middle of the train that are controlled by the engineer remotely by radio.
      Rail Weight
      The number of pounds per yard that rail weighs. Currently rail is being rolled at 112 to 145 pounds per yard.
      Wagons/carriages semi permanently joined in an articulation rather than via a coupler
      Red Eye
      A red signal or horizontal semaphore arm requiring the train to stop and proceed with caution.
      A common slang term for a refrigerator car.
      Regenerative Braking
      Braking mode of modern electric locomotives, where the motors act as generators as with the dynamic braking but, instead of being converted into heat, the current is fed back to the supply. Return energy from asynchronous motors is around 90%.
      Register Station
      A station at which a train register is located.
      Regular Train
      A train authorized by a timetable schedule.
      Repeater Signal
      Signal placed on the opposite side of the track from the controlling signal. It repeats the aspect of the controlling signal for a greater range of vision.
      A heavy metal casting which was designed to be placed near a derailed wheelset of a locomotive or car, for the purpose of guiding the wheelset back onto the rail. Steam locomotives and early diesels usually carried rerailers on hooks on the tender trucks or frame (steam locomotive) or on the frame of a diesel.
      Restricted Speed
      A speed that will permit stopping within one half the range of vision; short of train, engine, railroad car, stop signal, derail or switch not properly lined, looking out for broken rail, not exceeding 20 MPH.
      A device added to the braking device on a car, to allow a portion of the air pressure to be retained in the brake cylinder of a car to help restrict the movement of a train on severe downgrades.
      Revenue Collection Train
      A train which picks up the revenue collected by the railroad clerk.
      Ribbon Rail
      Continuous welded rail, laid in 1/4 mile lengths then welded end to end to make a continuous length.
      Rip Track
      A small car repair facility, often a single track in a small yard. Name derived from "Repair, Inspect and Paint."
      Rolling Resistance
      Resistance that is made up of wheel friction, journal friction, and wind resistance. It is non recoverable.
      Rotary Dump Car
      A car that is unloaded by turning it completely over.
      Rotary Dump Coupler
      A specially designed coupler used in rotary dump cars that rotate allowing them to be dumped without being uncoupled.
      Ruling Grade
      The particular point on the run at which the combination of grade and curve resistance makes the train pull hardest and , therefore, "rules" how heavy a load can be given to the locomotive.
      Run In
      Describes the action of the slack between the cars moving forward and hitting against the engine. A run out would be the opposite effect.


      Saw-by, Double Saw-by
      Maneuver used by two trains at meeting point, when train on siding is too long for the siding. Double saw-by is complicated maneuver allowing two trains that are both longer than the siding at meeting point to pass one another at that siding.
      Sense and Brake Unit (see also Caboose)
      Non union member doing work usually contracted by railroads for railway union labor contracts.
      Scrap Iron
      Broken knuckle due to uncontrolled slack action in train or overly aggressive starting technique.
      That part of a timetable which prescribes class, direction, number and movement for a regular train.
      One of two or more trains running on the same schedule, displaying signals or for which signals are displayed.
      Semaphore Signal
      A signal in which the day indications are given by the position of a semaphore arm.
      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.
      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.
      The effect of a sudden change in speed of a car, locomotive or train, or part of a train.
      Shoo Fly Track
      A temporary track built around a train wreck or washout
      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.
      Side Track
      A track auxiliary to the main track.
      A track auxiliary to the main track for meeting or passing trains. The timetable will indicate stations at which sidings are located.
      Signal Aspect
      The appearance of a fixed signal conveying an indication as viewed from the direction of an approaching train; or the appearance of a cab signal conveying an indication as viewed by an observer in the cab.
      Signal Dolly
      Train that delivers supplies to towers.
      Signal Indication
      The information conveyed by the signal aspect.
      Signalling System
      A system to ensure the safe movement of trains by means of lineside indications and/or indications given in the driver's cab.
      The man who controls the signals and authorizes the movements of trains on running lines
      Single-Car Test Device
      Is used to test the air brake equipment on car that is sent to a repair track
      Single Track
      A main track upon which trains are operated in both directions.
      The conductor
      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.
      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.
      A small, ballasted, four or six axle unit, semipermanently coupled to a locomotive that does not have a prime mover, but does have traction motors. Generally used in yard duty where the switcher has enough horsepower, but not enough tractive force to push long strings of cars up a hump.
      Smoking to a Meet
      In steam service, pre-radio, making smoke to alert awaiting opposing train that you were approaching meeting point.
      A switchman belonging to the SUNA, the Switchman's Union of North America.
      The title of a track laborer or Gandy dancer. One who builds or repairs railroad track.
      A four-wheel MOW vehicle to carry men and supplies to and from a railroad work site.
      A company employee charged with spying on other employees -- especially old time passenger conductors who collected cash fares from passengers and sometimes did not turn all the receipts in to the company at the end of the trip.
      The act of placing a car in a specific location on a track.
      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.
      Stack Train
      Train made up entirely or mainly of single or double stack containers on flatcars designed for just that purpose.
      Standing Cut
      A term for making a cut of cars by walking to the cut to be made rather than pulling the cut to you
      A place designated in the timetable station column by name.
      Stem Winder
      Nickname for a staff brake which consists of a vertical rod and a wheel at the top of the rod for the leverage to wrap the brake chain around the vertical rod to stop or secure the car. A pawl was provided to hold the brake applied.
      A portable insulated pole used by railroads (and transit authorities) with third rail trackage. The pole is used to "reach" from an existing third rail power source to the pickup shoes of the electric locomotive in instances where the shoes of the locomotive are not contacting the third rail. The stinger can also be used to move electric locomotives within a shop complex.
      Stub Track
      A form of side track connected to a running track at one only and protected at the other end by a bumping post or other obstruction.
      A portion of a division designated by timetable.
      Initials of Switchmen Union of North America
      Sun Kink
      A section of rail that elongates and bends out of alignment due to heat expansion. Here are two photographs of sun kinks along the Alaska Railroad (photo1, photo2).
      Superior Train
      A train having precedence over another train.
      Swing Man
      Supplementary brakemen added to a crew for all or part of a trip, perhaps to give more hand brake capacity in mountainous territory, or for other reasons.
      Switch Point Indicator
      A light type indicator used in connection with facing point movement over certain switches to indicate switch points fit properly.


      Tallow Pot
      Fireman. In the 1800's tallow was used as a lubricant.
      Tangent Track
      Straight track.
      Tare Weight
      The weight of an empty car.
      Traffic Control System
      Transportation Communications International Union, represents clerks, car-men, yardmasters, and supervisors.
      "Total Disolved Solids." A sample of boiler water was taken and tested before each steam locomtive was despatched and the total disolved 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.
      Team Track
      A track on which rail cars are placed for the use of the public in loading or unloading freight.
      Another name for an EOT device which transmits End Of Train info to engine. Also "Telem", "Tele", "FRED", and "Freddie".
      A vehicle connected to most steam locomotives which carried the coal (or oil) and water for the locomotive.
      Terminating line haul road
      The last railroad over which any shipment travels.
      Terminating Station
      The last station on each subdivision to which a train is authorized to occupy the main track.
      Throbbing Red
      A single flashing red light indicating Stop and Proceed or in some cases (depending on the railroad) a flashing red light indicating Restricting. No stop required, however a speed restriction applies.
      Tightlock Coupler
      A specially designed coupler used mostly on passenger cars that minimize slack and have interlocking features.
      Time table
      The authority for the movement of regular trains subject to the rules. It may contain classified schedules and includes special instructions.
      Toepath (Towpath)
      Towpath originated with canal barges and referred to the path alongside the canal used by the horses that pulled the boats, hence towpath. It was later used to describe the path alongside the first railroad tracks, because before steam locomotives were developed for the purpose, the original power was furnished by horses that pulled the cars. The horses could not walk between the rails because of the ties, therefore they walked on a path alongside the rails, the towpath. In later years, some railroad workers, unfamiliar with the history of the walkway, began referring to it as a toepath. Both versions are equally acceptable now.
      Trailer on a flat car. Refers to intermodal shipments.
      Tons per Operative Brake
      Gross trailing tonnage of the train divided by the total number of cars having operative brakes. (not including locomotives)
      Tommy Dodd
      British slang for a subsidiary semaphore signal on the same post or bracket as the main signal to which it applies.
      An explosive cap fastened to the top of the rail and exploded by the pressure of a rolling wheel to give an audible indication of conditions on the track ahead.
      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"".
      Track Head
      The top of the track on which the wheels roll.
      Track Pan
      A water filled trough placed between the rails at certain locations on a railroad's main line, each trough having a length of up to 2500 feet, for the purpose of adding water to the tender of a steam locomotive via an air activated scoop which was located on the underside of a locomotive tender. The use of a track pan arrangement prevented a need to stop to obtain water. Users of track pans included the New York Central, the Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads in the US.
      Track Permit
      A form used to authorize occupancy of main track where designated by special instructions.
      Track Side Warning Detector
      Wayside detectors which are provided at various locations as shown in the timetable which detect such conditions as overheated journals, dragging equipment, excess dimensions, shifted loads, high water and slides.
      Track Warrant Control (TWC)
      A method of authorizing movements of trains or engines or protecting men or machines on a main track within specified limits in territory designated by special instructions or general order.
      Track Web
      The thin section of track between the base and the head.
      Trackage Rights
      An agreement between two railroads according to which, one railroad buys the right to run its trains on the tracks of the other, and usually pays a toll for the privilege. That toll is called a "wheelage" charge.
      Traction Motor
      The electric motor that transfers the electrical current generated by the locomotive to the rail.
      Tractive Force
      The amount of force at the driving wheel rims to start and move tonnage up various grades.
      Trailing Truck
      A fabricated or steel casting containing one, two, or three wheel sets, located under the engine cab and firebox of some steam locomotives.
      An engine or more than one engine coupled, with or without cars, displaying a marker and authorized to operate on a main track.
      Train Brake
      The combined brakes on locomotive and cars that provides the means of controlling the speed and stopping of the entire train.
      Train Line
      A cable of series of hoses used for connecting electrical or steam (in older passenger equipment).
      Train of Superior Right
      A train given precedence by train order.
      Train of Superior Class
      A train given precedence by timetable.
      Train of Superior Direction
      A train given precedence in the direction specified in the timetable as between opposing trains of the same class.
      Train Order
      A message changing the meeting point between two trains. For movement of trains not provided by timetable train orders will be authorized by, and over the signature of the director of train dispatching or chief 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 Register
      A book or form used at designated stations for registering time of arrival and departure of trains, and such other information as may be prescribed.
      Additional track laid at a major junction to allow trains to be turned by running the three sides of the triangle rather than reversing in a wye. Found outside major terminal stations where fixed passenger sets need to be turned to equalize flange wear.
      Enclosed freight car for carrying 3 levels of automobiles.
      Triple Valve
      An operating valve for charging the reservoir, applying the brake, and releasing the brake.
      Truck Hunting
      Rapid oscillation of an empty car truck at high speeds where the flanges tend to ride up on the head of the rail.
      Toronto Transit Commission, public transit system operating in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. First subway in Canada (1954). Largest light rail system in North America.
      Turnout Number
      The ratio of the length of the tangent track to an equal unit of space between the tangent track and a point on the branch track.


      Undesired Emergency. An emergency that is not initiated by a crew member.
      Another term for a locomotive engine.
      Unit Train
      A train composed entirely of one commodity, usually coal or mineral, and usually composed of cars of a single owner and similar design, and usually destined for a single destination.


      A term used in Canada for a caboose.
      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.
      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


      Affectionate rail slang for Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway which was successor to most Nickel Plate Trackage.
      Water Plug
      The standpipe where a steam locomotive would stop to fill its tender with water.
      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.
      A slang term for a car going down a track with no air or hand brake applied
      A track shaped like the letter "Y", but with a connector between the two arms of the "Y". A wye is used to reverse the direction of trains or cars. A train pulls completely through one leg of wye, the switch is thrown and reverses the direction, allowing the movement across the semi-loop track of the wye, and the train is then headed in the opposite direction.


      A system of tracks, other than main tracks and sidings, used for making up trains, storing of cars and for other purposes.
      Yard Limits
      A portion of main track designated by yard limit signs and by timetable, train order Form T or track bulletin, which trains and engines may use as prescribed by Rule 93.
      Yard Engine
      An engine assigned to yard service.
      Yellow Eye
      A slang term for a yellow signal.
      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

    • Track signs
    • Fixed Signals
      All signs are black and white unless otherwise noted.
      Advance yard limit
      Advance Yard Limit
      Indicates will enter yard limit territory 1 mile ahead.
      Yard limit
      Yard Limit
      Indicates beginning of yard limits. When displayed on left-hand side of track, it indicates leaving yard limits.
      Begin measured mile
      Begin Measured Mile
      Placed 1 mile apart at designated locations along main track to check accuracy of speed indicator
      End measured mile
      End Measured Mile
      Placed 1 mile apart at designated locations along main track to check accuracy of speed indicator
      Indicates 100 feet beyond is a guard rail, road cross- ing, switch, frog, etc., that will not clear flangers and snow plows.
      Advance warning speed control
      Advance Warning Speed Control
      Placed 0.5 mile in advance of a permanent speed restriction. Train or engine must be so controlled as to not exceed speed specified 0.5 mile beyond.
      Speed control
      Speed Control
      Indicates beginning of a permanent speed restriction. Train or engine must not exceed speed specified once front of train or engine has passed this sign
      Resume speed
      Resume Speed
      Indicates end of a permanent speed restriction. Speed must not be increased until entire train has passed this green signal.
      Advance warning slide zone
      Advance Warning Slide Zone
      Placed 0.5 mile in advance of slide zone.
      Slide zone front
      Slide Zone - Front
      Indicates beginning of a slide zone. Speed of train must be controlled as per Timetable Speed Instructions.
      Slide zone back
      Slide Zone - Back
      Displayed on left-hand side of track to indicate end of slide zone.
      Station warning
      Station Warning
      Placed 1 mile in advance of first switch of a station or 1 mile in advance of station sign if no siding. Sound one long engine whistle signal while passing this signal.
      Roasd crossing warning
      Road Crossing Warning
      Placed 1/4 mile in advance of road crossings. Sound engine whistle as directed by Rule 5.8.2(11). Sound engine bell as directed by Rule 5.8.1.
      Bridge and tunnel warning
      Bridge and Tunnel Warning
      Placed approximately 1/4 mile in advance of bridges and tunnels. Sound engine whistle as directed by Rule 5.8.2(11).
      Mile post
      Mile Post
      Self explanatory
      Self explanatory
      Tunnel approach
      Tunnel Approach
      Self explanatory
      Self explanatory
      Derail switch stand
      Derail (Switch Stand)
      Attached to derail. When sign is facing movement, derail is in derailing position and must be changed to the off position to permit movement.
      Derail post
      Derail (Post)
      Displayed where short stand derail is located.
      Restricted clearnace
      Restricted Clearance
      Placed in advance of condition which will not clear employee on top or side of a car.
      Restricted clearance post
      Restricted Clearance
      Placed at the point where clearance is restricted.
      End of track
      End of Track
      End speed control
      Speed Control
      (Yellowing lettering on green background) Indicates the end of the speed restriction shown on the preceding speed control sign and the beginning of the speed restriction as shown. Speed of train or engine must not be increased to the speed shown on this green speed control sign until last car of train or engine has passed this sign.
      Block end
      End Block
      Indicates the end of a signal block.
      Temporary speed restriction
      Temporary Speed Restriction Within Yard Limits
      (Yellow signal with green numbers) A yellow signal with green numerals displayed on the right-hand side of the track as viewed from an approaching engine indicates the beginning of a temporary speed restriction. Do not exceed speed specified until rear car has passed a green signal displayed on the right hand side of the track.
      Malfunctioning Automatic Crossing Warning Signal
      (White signal with red stripes) When viewed at a signalized crossing on the right side of the track, as viewed from an approaching engine, this signal indicates the automatic crossing warning signals may not operate properly. Movement over the crossing must be protected as prescribed by Special Instructions whenever this signal is displayed. When this signal is displayed on the left side of the track, as viewed from an approaching engineer, it indicates the end of the restriction. Any crossings between these signals must be protected as prescribed by Special Instructions. This signal will only be displayed where Rules 6.27 and 6.28 apply.

      Block Signals
      Distant Signals
      Distant Signal Clear Block #1 Proceed 1 train or engine is displayed between Distant Signal Clear and interlocking signal, it must proceed prepared to stop short of next signal.
      Distant Signal Approach Block #2 Proceed prepared to stop before any part of train passes the next signal.
      Block and Interlocking Signals
      Clear Block #3 Proceed.
      Stop Block #4 Stop before any part of train passes the signal.

    • Whistle Signals
    • Here are the standard whistle signals with o indicating a short whistle blast and -- for a long whistle blast:
      {o}    apply brakes, stop
      {-- --}    release brakes, proceed
      {-- o o o}    flagman protect the rear of the train
      {-- -- -- --}    flagman return from the west or south
      {-- -- -- -- --}    flagman return from the east or north
      {o o}    answer to other signals
      {o o o}    when standing, back up
      {o --}    inspect train for leaking air or sticking brakes
      Some railroads also use optional whistle signals such as {o o o o} to indicate reduce speed and {o o o o o} to increase speed
      To start a westbound train, the lead engineer calls in the flagman {-- -- -- -- --}, releasing the brakes and sounds two long blasts {-- --}. The helper engineer responds with two short blasts {o o}, sees the brakes release on his air gauge, and begins gently pushing the slack in as the road engine starts pulling. If all goes well the load will be balanced with the road engine pulling a little more than half and the helper pushing the rest. A good engineer sensed every movement of his engine and could tell from the sounds how hard both engines were working.
      To stop the train, the road engineer sounded the slow down signal {o o o o} and made a light brake application to let the pusher know he intended to stop. The helper engineer then reduced his throttle enough to keep the engine working a little until the second heavier brake application was observed on the gauge. At that point, the helper shut down and let the engine coast until the train came to a halt.

    • Locomotive Daily Inspection
      (Alaska Railroad's GPs)
    • 1) Fuel locomotive
      2) Sand locomotive
      3) Clean cab and windows
      4) Change drinking water
      5) Check toilet
      6) Check flagging equipment
      7) Check MU air hoses
      8) Check engine cooling water
      9) Check engine oil
      10) Check governor oil
      11) Check air compressor oil
      12) Drain compressor intercooler
      13) Check spare knuckle and supplies
      14) Check inspection due dates
      15) Check fire extinguishers
      16) Check operation of:
    • Horn
    • Bell
    • Wipers
    • Sanders
    • 17) Test air brakes
      18) Check pressure settings MR, BP, ER, EC
      19) Check reverser, brake handles
      20) Check cab seats
      21) Change, adjust brake shoes
      22) Check air box drains
      23) Drain MR blow downs
      24) Check operation of:
    • Lights
    • Defrosters
    • Heaters
    • 25) Check fuses and spares
      26) Check jumpers and receptacles
      27) Check hand brake
      28) October 1 thru April 15 service motor supports

    • Various Questions I've Been Asked
      (Answered by person in parentheses)
    • Question: Does the Alaska Railroad heat their fuel tanks?
      Answer: EMD engines by their nature heat their fuel tanks. Fuel is fed to the injectors at a rate much higher than what they need, the excess being used to cool them. This hot fuel is then dumped back into the tank, warming it. Even the Florida East Coast's engines work that way. The Alaska Railroad does have fuel oil preheaters which are thermostatically controlled heat exchangers that use cooling water to heat cold fuel after it leaves the fuel pump and before it goes to the injectors.
      Furthermore, their batteries have built in heaters. This feature is unusual, but it is not unique to the Alaska Railroad. The only protection they have for the cooling system is the winterization hatch. EMD engines cannot have antifreeze in the cooling water. They are too prone to leakage and coolant in the lube oil (a common problem) would be catastrophic to the silver wrist pin bearings if that coolant contained antifreeze. And speaking of the lube oil, no heat is provided. In applications where oil pan heaters are used, it is for the purpose of reducing wear at the time of cold start. EMDs cannot be started cold. Its the nature of the beast. (Anonymous)
      Question: Does the Alaska Railroad ever haul autoracks?
      Answer: Yes, the autoracks only show up sporadically and appear to only come on the CN barges. A while back when SeaLand and TOTE had union contract problems in Seattle, one dealer (at least) decided to send his trucks and cars to Alaska via the CN barge as Seattle was tied up with the strike. This seemed to work well for the dealer and they continue to get new vehicles this way. They do get mostly trucks. You will see many different road names such as CN, ATSF, BN, Conrail, DRGW, CP and CSX autorack. (Jeff Childs)
      Question: Has their ever been a head on collision?
      Answer: The first and only head on collision on the Alaska Railroad occurred on October 19, 1943 when northbound freight Extra 901 collided head on with southbound train #553. Both locomotives were badly damaged, two freight cars were completely wrecked and many other cars received minor damage. One passenger and three employees were slightly injured. (Bernadine Prince)
      Question: What is the most unusual railroad accident?
      Answer: A bridge at milepost 138.7 is a reminder of one of the most tragic accidents that ever occurred on the ARR. In the spring of 1959, a rail motor car collided with a tie tamper. The motor car operator jumped to safety without injury. Unfortunately, the impact reverse the car, disengaged the brake and opened the accelerator. The car gained speed, flew around a curve and struck three men killing them instantly.
      At milepost 117, a broken cable from a winch and cable operation snapped and wrapped around a set of telephone and power lines next to the railroad. This cause a short circuit which burned up telephone equipment and caused phones to ring many miles up the line. At milepost 159.8, an employee answered the ringing phone and at the same time stepped on a metal plate on the floor of a railcar. He was instantly electrocuted. (Bernadine Prince)
      Question: Why is the passenger train pulled by both an SD70MAC and a GP40?
      Answer: The Alaska Railroad passenger cars need electrical power for lights, intercom, kitchen, heat and air conditioning. Since these passenger cars don't generate their own electricity, they get it from Head End Power (HEP) units. The HEP equipped baggage cars, when they work, are barely enough power for the train. If they try running too many electrical items on the train at once they have brown outs. SD70MACs are not equipped with HEP so an additional unit with HEP (GP40-2's 3009, 3010, 3011, F7B 1503 or E8B P-30) is added. Note that Westtours and Princess cars have their own generators and thus are self supporting (John Combs)
      Question: What was the largest snowfall along any part of the Alaska Railroad?
      Answer: In 1956, 72 feet of snow fell in Whittier. (Pat Durand)
      Question: How is the track laid?
      Answer: Before track is laid the right-of-way must be cleared, leveled and the road ballasted. Here gravel is used as ballast for the base of the roadbed. In some parts of Alaska the foremost maintenance problem is the sinking of the roadbed. On top of a well ballasted bed, the ties are laid. In the rush to construct the railroad, untreated spruce trees were used because they were readily available at low cost. Today all ties are treated with a protective coating. However, hardwood ties are used on curves where there is much more stress while cheaper more available softwood ties are laid on the straight aways. Rails come in various weights ranging from 55 to 136 pounds. This weight designation indicates pounds per yard. When the Alaska Railroad was built in 1915 through 1923 55 and 75 pound rails were used. This light weight rail warped easily because Alaska's extreme winters and permafrost hasten wear on the track. These rails were replaced in the early 1950s by 115 pound rail. Today, all mainline track on the Alaska Railroad is 136 pound rail. Gauge describes the distance between the rails measured from inside to inside. The width of narrow gauge is three feet, standard gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches and wide gauge measures five feet from rail to rail. In the earliest days of the Alaska Railroad surplus cars and engines from the Panama Railroad had to be converted from five foot wide gauge to standard gauge in order to operate here. (Potter sign board)
      Question: What is termination dust?
      Answer: Termination dust, the local term for snow covering the high mountains, signaling the end of summer. (Randy Thompson)
      Question: How many moose were killed in a single day by one locomotive?
      Answer: "An Alaska Railroad freight train on a run between Anchorage and Fairbanks hit and killed twenty-four moose in a single night. I've been here fourteen years and I can't remember anything like it," said Arnold Polancheck, assistant general manager of the railroad. "Normally you hit one or two on a trip." (New York Times)
      Question: What are sun kinks?
      Answer: A section of rail that elongates and bends out of alignment due to heat expansion. Here are two photographs of sun kinks along the Alaska Railroad (photo1, photo2).

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