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Railway Terminology

Track Configuration

Crossover: Two switches on parallel tracks that allow a train to move

from one track to the other.
Crossing: An intersection of two tracks. Normal crossing angles are
90, 45 and 30 but other angles are used when required.
Interlocking Plant: A combination of track, mechanical locks and
signal apparatus that prevents conflicting movements through an
arrangement of tracks such as junctions or crossings.
Siding (Passing Siding): A length of track with switches at each end,
used for train meets or overtakes (passes).
Lapped Siding: A length of track with two overlapped sidings. It allows
a three train meet.
Spur Track: A length of track for industrial, storage or sorting. It may
have access from one [stub] or both [double ended spur] ends. Stubs can
be either a facing or trailing spur depending on the direction of the
Wye: Three switches arranged at the corners of a triangle that can be
used to reverse the direction of an engine or train.
House Track: A franchise spur adjacent to a freight house.
Team Track: A public spur used by industries that do not have their
own spur track.
Industry Track: A private spur used by an industry or shared with
Interchange Track: A portion of track shared by two or more railways
to move cars from one to the other.
Shoofly Track: A temporary track (often preassembled) of minimum
standards that is used as a detour around a construction area such as a
bridge replacement.
Fish Plate: A steel plate lapping a joint of railway rails and secured to
the sides so as to connect the members end to end.

Yard Configuration

Classification Yard: A yard whose main function is to sort cars by

destination or train.


Storage Yard: A yard whose main function is to store cars, sometimes

with cleaning and maintenance facilities.
Service Yard: A yard whose main function is to service engines, repair
cars and provide heavy maintenance and rebuild functions. Normally
located at division points or central point of smaller railway.
Flat Yard: A yard where sorting is done with switcher engines
jockeying cars onto the correct tracks.
Hump Yard: A yard where gravity and powered switches sort incoming
trains onto correct tracks. DO NOT HUMP signs are placed on cars that
must not use a hump yard because of cargo restrictions or car age.
Yard Lead (Lead Track): The portion of track before the yard ladder
used to assemble the train. In theory the yard lead should be as long as
the longest train but if shorter, it provides interesting work for the yard
Ladder: This is a series of sidings parallel to each other with a set of
linked switches for access.
Runaround Track (Escape Track): A pair of switches arranged on
parallel tracks in yard ladder that let engine get by train it just pulled in.
RIP Track: A spur or siding with facilities for 'Repair In Place'


Blocking: Arranging a train with all cars bound for a single destination
(station or yard) in a group.
Cherry Picking: In the Yard it is pulling only selected car from a
makeup track rather than pulling the whole track. At Industries it is
handling most convenient first. The prototype had protocol for specific
industries like early morning, after 5pm, and between 12-1. Customer
serviced ruled here.
Passing Track: The operational use of a double ended siding for
overtaking another train or approach passing.
Pickups vs Pulls: Pickups are done in blocks from yard tracks. Pulls are
from industrial sidings.
Setouts vs Spots: Setouts are blocks placed at yard tracks. Spots are cars
placed at industrial sidings and loading docks.


Sawby: The maneuver used when one or both (double sawby) of the
meeting trains is too long for the passing siding and must be split to
allow passing.

Trains can be: freight, passenger, mixed (both freight and passenger) or nonrevenue.
High Priority (aka redball manifest): Carries goods that are time
valued such as perishable goods or just-in-time factory inventory.
General Merchandise: Regular shipments being transferred from yard
to yard.
Drag: High tonnage - low value cargo.
Unit Trains: Single cartype, single destination consist.
Way Freights (aka peddler, patrol): Pickup and delivery from yards to
destination tracks.
Limited: Only main stations are serviced. Emphasis is on comfort,
speed and convenience.
Accommodation: Serve all or most stations on a route. Serve as
Commuter: Link core of large city to its suburbs.
Work train: used in scheduled maintenence of grade and track.
Occupies active track so train orders required to keep traffic flowing.
Wreck train: used in emergency situations to rerail/remove cars and
engines and repair grade and track. Occupied track is often closed to
traffic but orders needed to move wreck train to site.
Construction train: used for scheduled new construction of grade,
track, bridges, trestles, cuts and fills. Often occupies track not yet in
service but can also be on active lines, constructing second line.

Train Control

Timetable: The original method of train control was through a

published timetable of scheduled meeting places for trains where
priority was through class (1st, 2nd, extra etc.) then by direction.
Timetable and Train Orders: With the development of the telegraph,
train orders could be issued to supercede the timetable when required.


Automatic Block Signals (ABS): Lineside signaling system of

sequential blocks. The signals provide safe spacing for following trains
and stop oncoming trains from entering a block.
Centralized Traffic Control (CTC): Traffic is controlled by signal
indication, not superiority but is under control of a dispatcher not
automatic as above. A more expensive system but had ability to handle
more traffic.
Track Warrant Control (TWC): Reliable radio communications
allowed a new system of 'aural' orders to be given to trains. No
timetables or class designations are used. Block boundaries are issued
(as mileposts) as part of the order to give the dispatcher flexibility.
Track warrants issue authority verbally. There is no "regular" train in
TWC. Train orders were free form but had a set group of formats to
follow. TWC uses a rigid, fill in the blanks format. TWC is intended to
be issued "real time" and each individual step in the movement process
requires a separate warrant. TWC requires only the crew and the
dispatcher (no station operators).
Direct Traffic Control (DTC): Similar to TWC but blocks have fixed
boundaries. Now in disuse except for southwestern U.S.

Automatic Block Signals (ABS): Lineside signaling system of
sequential blocks. The signals provide safe spacing for following trains
(following movement protection) and signal oncoming trains from
entering a block (but does not provide opposing movement protection).
Automatic Permissive Block (APB): A signaling system of sequential
blocks that provides safe spacing for both following movement
protection and opposing movement protection.
Approach Lighting: A system where signals are not lit until train is in
block. This was more prevalent in early days when power source was
Following Movement Protection: Signaling that protects the rear end of
a train from a following train.
Opposing Movement Protection: Signal ling that protects the front end
of a train from oncoming engines.
Tumble-down: This describes the action of an opposing signal that
moves from clear to stop as a train approaches a block.


Personnel are train crew, routing crew other operations,maintenance crew or
administrative staff.
Train Crew
Conductor: The conductor (on trains) or foreman (on a yard engine) is
the person in charge of the crew. He is the leader of the team; the
"captain" of the train. He decides what moves are to be made, when
moves are to be made and how the job is to be done. The conductor is
responsible for the paperwork of the train. Both the train crew
(brakemen/switchmen) and engine crew (engineers/firemen) report to
him. The conductor is responsible for the rules observance of all
members of his crew.
Brakeman: Brakemen (on trains) or switchmen (on yard engines) do
the work on a train or yard job. They couple and uncouple cars, throw
switches and pass signals. Brakemen get promoted to conductor.
Switchmen get promoted to foremen.
Engineer: The engineer is responsible for safely operating the train
over the railway. He is second in command of the train. He must know
the territory and the rules, plus the operation of the engine and the air
brake system. He is responsible for handling the train to minimize slack
action in the train (the banging back and forth in the train due to
cushioning devices and slop in the couplers) and to minimize fuel
Fireman: Firemen in the steam era were responsible for the mechanical
care of the boiler and it's appliances. The engineer was responsible for
the running gear. The engineer is responsible for the fireman's actions.
They fuel and water the engine outside of terminals oiled steam engines
and inspect engines for wear and defects. Once diesels came into
widespread usage, fireman became 'engineers in training'. Firemen get
promoted to engineers.
Train crews typically work on assigned territories or districts between two
points. They can work on an assigned job (a crew which works on an
assigned sequence of trains with definite starting times and off days) or in
pool service (a crew catches the next available train; first in- first out). On the
same territory or crew district there can be different groups or boards of train
crews. There might be a switchman's board, local freight board, through
freight board, passenger train board, and "extra" boards for each. Vacancies
(vacation, sickness, personal days, etc) on a train crew or additional crews


over the those run by the regular pools are covered by a group of people
called the extra board, who work first in-first out. In addition there may be
runs where a single crew operates over two or more crew districts. Such
boards are called inter-divisional or ID runs. Assignments are on the basis of
seniority in craft, when an opening occurs, the people in the craft bid or apply
for the job with the most senior people being awarded the job.
All of these people come under the Federal Hours of Service Act which limit
the number of hours train service employees can work in a row and their rest
periods (16 hours prior to 1975 and 12 hours after that).
Routing Crew
Operator: The operator copies train orders, relaying movement
instructions from the dispatcher and communicates train movements to
the dispatcher. At one this was done by telegraphy and later by
telephone and teletype. First trick is roughly 7am-3pm, second trick is
roughly 3pm-11pm. First trick will normally be the more senior
Dispatcher: The dispatcher monitors and co-ordinates the movement of
trains over main lines and sidings. Timetables and train orders, or other
forms of more modern communication such as track warrants are used
as forms of communications.
Yardmaster: Yardmasters are in charge of the overall operation of a
yard. They decide which cut will be switched and what cars will be
switched into each track. The switch crews work directly for them.
They also direct traffic in the yard tracks and on the main track in yard
limits. They give trains movement instructions for their area of
responsibility. In some smaller yards a switch foreman will be given the
title of "footboard yardmaster" and he will have the responsibility to
direct the overall yard operation, while still being a yard engine
foreman. Complex terminals may have multiple yardmasters (hump,
trim, east, west, etc.) and when there are multiple yardmasters a General
Yardmaster is in charge. If the yardmasters are agreement employees,
seniority in craft determines who gets the assignment. General
Yardmaster or yardmasters might be non-agreement on some roads. The
yardmasters work for Trainmasters and the General Yardmasters.
Towerman (aka Block Operator): Manages subroutes under direction
of dispatcher.
Switch Tender or Switchman: Throws switches within yard limits
Other Operations Crew


Hostler: Hostlers are the craft that handles light engines in the yards.
Hostlers (named for the people that took care of horses at an inn) may
take the power off inbound trains to the engine service tracks. They
supply the engines with fuel, sand and water. Hostlers move engines
around inside the engine service and repair facilities. They may take the
engines back out to the outbound train. There may also be helpers or
herders with hostlers. Hostlers typically come from the ranks of fireman
or engineers. Hostler helpers are engine service employees who handle
the switches for hostlers. Herders are switchmen who handle switches
for hostlers. Most hostling crews cannot handle any cars, except maybe
cars of supplies for the roundhouse or service track. Inside hostlers may
only work within the limits of a roundhouse or shop area; building
consists of engines, fueling, watering and sanding locomotives. Outside
hostlers may work both inside and outside the mechanical areas in the
terminal area. Outside hostlers are used to move power within a
terminal area. Outbound and inbound road train crews may move their
power between the roundhouse and their train or hostlers may do this.
Not all terminals have outside hostlers. All hostlers work for the
roundhouse foreman while in the mechanical facilities and the outside
hostlers work for the yardmaster when outside the mechanical areas.
These people come under the Federal Hours of Service Act and are
considered train service employees.
Carman: Carmen inspect and maintain the rolling stock in the yard.
They inspect inbound trains for defects and bleed off the air brakes, that
is, release the air from the air brake cylinders on the cars so they will
roll free when switched. Any defective cars are tagged "bad order" by
stapling or attaching a brightly colored tag to one of the tack boards on
the car, and sent to the repair track, known as the RIP track (Repair In
Place). When the outbound train is set they "lace the air" or couple all
the air hoses. The carmen then perform the Federally required brake test
to make sure all the brakes on the train are working properly. Carmen
are responsible for oiling the journal boxes when friction bearings are
used. Once again any defective cars are tagged bad order, switched out
and sent to the rip track. The carmen work for the mechanical
department directly, but are given work priorities by the yardmaster. A
car or mechanical foreman will be in charge in larger facilities. The
foreman works for the Master Mechanic.


Roundhouse Foreman: The roundhouse foreman is in charge of the

mechanical crew that take care of the engines. He provides engines for
yard or train operation.
Maintenance Crew
Section Gang: The section gang maintained the ballast, ties and rails
(ie. the infrastructure) of the railway. Heavy locomotives in movement
cause a lot of shifting and it was the section gang's responsibility that
tracks stayed in gauge and could safely handle the traffic. They were
often called gandy dancers, from the rhythm of their work.
Clerks: Yard clerks process the inbound trains, making a list of the train
and filing the waybills. A waybill is more or less the ticket for a car to
ride a train. They would keep track of the switching and make lists of
the classified tracks. When an outbound train was finally assembled or
"set", they would make the train list and gather the waybills. Clerks
called "Weighmasters" weighed cars and recorded the information on
the waybills. The clerks that worked out in the yards checking for
car/track positions were called mudhops. Cashiers are clerks who
handle the money and financial affairs for the railway. There were
several types of offices: passenger (handled tickets, baggage, express
and mail), freight (billing, car orders, switch orders, customer car delay
fees or demurrage and diversions) and yard (weighing, interchanging
with other RR's, preparing train and switch lists) in major locations.
These functions may be combined in small towns, down to a
combination depot with only an agent performing all of these tasks.
Clerks also are the ones who "call" or notify the crews that they are to
report for duty for a train. Clerks work for a chief clerk on their shift.
The Agent is in charge of clerical operations and works for the
Freight Agent: The agent is the person in charge of the clerical forces
and responsible for the business transactions of the station. The station
freight agent accepts requests from customers and prepares waybills,
bills of lading as well as pull/spot lists.
Car Distributor: Assigns available car to waybills based on cartype
requested and location of customer.
Superintendent: Supervisor of personnel within a specific area of
responsibility (eg. one division).


Roadmaster: The roadmaster is in charge of the track crew. He is

responsible for maintaining the right of way and track.
Yardmaster: The trainmaster is in charge of railway operations on his
territory, management. He is in charge of the train crews, yard crews
and clerical forces, but on some roads may have authority over both the
mechanical and MofW forces on his territory too.