Railroading Glossary
The following glossary is arranged alphabetically with each term catalogued by first letter. Select a letter below to begin.
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
Abbreviation for Conductor and Engineer, working as part of one train crew.
Cab car
Passenger car with an operating cab on one end, used to control a train in the "push" mode, with the locomotive on the opposite end.
Cab signal
Signal located in a locomotive or operating cab that indicates the conditions affecting train movement. Can be used in conjunction with, or in place of, lineside block signals.
Cab unit
A streamlined diesel locomotive with a full-width body. Examples include EMD's popular E and F unit models.
A type of articulated steam locomotive with operating cab at the front, smokestack at the rear. Fuel oil was piped from the tender all the way forward to the firebox. Developed and used extensively by Southern Pacific, because crews on conventional locomotives had trouble seeing and breathing in snowsheds and tunnels. Also called cab-aheads.
Cabin car
A term for "caboose", used on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Special cars used by members of the train crew, usually attached to the rear of freight trains; provided shelter, storage, and office quarters. Many cabooses were built with cupolas or bay windows which allowed crew members to observe conditions at the rear of the train. Automated end-of-train devices rendered the caboose obsolete in mainline train operations.
Caboose hop
A train consisting only of locomotive(s) and caboose.
A switcher-type diesel locomotive, complete with engine, generator, and traction motors, but lacking an operating cab. It is semi-permanently joined to a similar unit with a cab, called a "cow". Disconnected only for maintenance, the two units are operated as a single locomotive.
A steam locomotive with the engineer's cab astride the middle of the boiler rather than at the rear. A minimal shelter remained at the rear for the fireman stoking the wide anthracite-burning firebox. None were built after 1927.
Camp car
Car equipped with facilities for feeding and housing construction and maintenance employees in the field. Most often created from obsolete rolling stock originally built for other functions.
Canadian cab
Any control cab that is significantly larger than what has been used for the past several decades and which incorporates any of several features creating a better work environment for the engine crew, such as acoustic and thermal insulation, air conditioning, and improved collision protection. Also known as a comfort cab.
The total par value or stated value of the capital of a company. Overcapitalization means the value of the stocks and bonds exceeds the value of the physical properties of the railroad; conservative capitalization means the two values are close.
A system of overhead trolley wires that carry electric current, in which the contact wire is hung from another wire that hangs in a catenary curve; also, any or all of the overhead trolley wire system.
Diesel or electric locomotives with two sets of three axles, all powered.
Unique 6600 h.p. twin-engine DA40X model diesel engine, 47 of which were built by Electro-Motive Division for Union Pacific between 1969 and 1971. So named for the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.
Centralized Traffic Control (CTC)
A traffic control system whereby train movements are directed through remote control of switches and signals from a central control panel, enabling trains to pass each other at sidings or interlockings without the need for their crews to stop and throw switches. The trains operate on the authority of signal indications instead of the authority of a timetable or train orders.
CETC (referred to as SEE-tec)
Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control, the train control system used on Amtrak's Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor.
Chair car
Another term for a coach
An instrument in writing from a state or country granting or guaranteeing rights, franchises, and privileges to a corporation. Obtaining a charter is a necessary part of incorporation.
Class 1 Railroad
Until 1955 a railroad with annual gross operating revenue of $1million or more. In 1955 the threshold became $3 million. By 1992, it had risen to $250 million. Currently at $256.4 million.
Class 2 Railroad
A railroad with average gross revenue between $20.5 and $256.4 million.
Class 3 Railroad
A railroad with average annual gross revenue under $20.5 million.
Clearance diagram
A diagram showing the maximum size of cars and locomotives that may use a line or a track.
Clearance form
Document issued by an operator to passing trains. Indicates for each train the total number of orders, if any, and the sequence number of each order addressed to the train.
Type of geared steam locomotive built by the Climax Manufacturing Co. featuring a pair of inclined cylinders just behind the smokebox driving a transverse shaft which was geared to a central longitudinal driveshaft that in turn drove all the axles through skew bevel gears.
The transportation of containers on flatcars.
Cog railroad
A railroad that uses toothed wheels on the locomotive meshing with a rack between the running rails for traction. Much steeper grades are possible than on an ordinary railroad. Also called "rack railroad".
A combination coach and baggage car.
Comfort cab
Any control cab that is significantly larger than what has been used for the past several decades and which incorporates any of several features creating a better work environment for the engine crew, such as acoustic and thermal insulation, air conditioning, and improved collision protection.
Common carrier
A transportation company that offers-indeed, must offer-its services to all customers in exchange for compensation, as differentiated from a contract carrier, which carries goods exclusively for one shipper. The difference is like that between two buses, one signed "Main Street", the other, "Charter".
Commuter service
Passenger train service that takes people to and from work. Characteristics include morning and evening peak periods, fares with multiple-ride discounts, the same riders Monday through Friday, and luggage consisting mostly of briefcases.
Company-owned railroad
A railroad whose stock is held by a company, not by individuals.
A type of steam locomotive that takes the steam after it has partly expanded in one cylinder and pipes it to another cylinder, where it further expands and pushes another piston, before being exhausted out the smokestack.
Compression stroke
The second piston stroke in a four-cycle diesel engine. The piston moves upward in the cylinder, compressing the air in the cylinder and raising its temperature because all the valves in the cylinder head are closed.
Crew member responsible for the safe and proper operation of the train.
Connecting rod
The large steel arm that transmits motion from the piston to the driving wheels of a steam locomotive.
One who receives a freight shipment.
Consist (pronounced CON-sist)
The make-up of a train; a list containing specific information for each car of a train; also a group of locomotives.
The unification of two or more corporations by the dissolution of existing ones and the creation of a single new corporation.
Standardized box designed for shipping freight by rail, truck, or ship.
Continuous rating
Maximum amperage at which traction motors may operate continuously without overheating. It is the effective electrical limit on locomotive performance. See short-time rating.
Continuous welded rail (CWR)
Rail laid in lengths of 1,500 feet or so, rather than 39-foot pieces bolted together. It does not buckle, because the track structure resists thermal expansion and contraction, and the elasticity of the steel forces dimensional changes to occur in the cross section of the rail rather than in its length. Also referred to as ribbon rail.
Contract rebuilding
Locomotive rebuilding performed by an outside firm rather than by the railroad's own shop.
Ownership by a railroad or by those sympathetic to its interests of enough of the securities of a second road to control its traffic policies.
Controlled point
A location where switches and/or signals are remotely controlled by a dispatcher.
Controlled siding
Passing siding where switches and signals are remotely controlled by a dispatcher.
Controlling interest
Sufficient stock ownership in a corporation to exert control over policy.
Cotton Belt
Nickname of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (SSW), which became affiliated with Southern Pacific in 1919. Cotton was an important commodity on the railroad in its early years, and the railway lettered its rolling stock "Cotton Belt" and "SSW" until the Union Pacific-Southern Pacific merger.
The device that fastens cars and locomotives together.
Covered hopper
Hopper car used to carry bulk commodities, such as grain, that must be protected from the weather and/or contamination. Loaded through roof hatches, unloaded through bottom-opening doors. May have flat or rounded sides.
Covered wagon
Full-width carbody diesels of the 1940's and ‘50's. Most often applied to freight units such as EMD F series.
Abbreviation for Control Point.
Crew dorm cars
In long-distance passenger trains, cars containing sleeping and other facilities for on-board personnel-such as car attendants and the dining-car crew-who stay aboard the train for its entire run. (Operating personnel such as conductors and trainmen are on for less than 12 hours.)
The X-shaped sign located just before a road crosses railroad tracks. A passive crossbuck is simply the sign itself: a white X with black lettering. An active crossbuck includes active warning devices such as flashing lights and gates that lower when a train approaches.
A special piece of track that permits two tracks to cross one another but does not allow trains to move from one track to the other. Also called a "diamond" for its shape. Highways and roads intersect railroad tracks at grade crossings.
Two track switches laid back-to-back to allow trains to move from one track to another parallel track.
Slang term for caboose.
See Centralized Traffic Control.
Period of time when trains are not permitted to operate. Generally placed in effect to allow maintenance of way employees to work on tracks or signals without interruption from moving trains (also referred to as a maintenance window). Can also be used to describe predetermined intervals of time when a train may be restricted from operating. For example, freight trains that share tracks with high-speed passenger trains may be subject to daily curfews during which they may not run, so as not to disrupt passenger train operations.
Several cars attached to an engine, or coupled together by themselves. Also, a right of way that has been excavated across a high area rather than run over it or tunneled through it.
Chicago & Western Indiana.
Cylinder cocks
Opening on a steam locomotive's cylinders that permit the release of accumulated water, which condenses in the cylinders when the locomotive is stationary.
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