Glossary of Model Railroad
Prototype Railroad Terms


AAR - "Association of American Railroads", This trade group establishes safety and equipment standards.
Abandon - When a railroad ceases operation over a route with no intenttion of resuming service.
ABS - A plastic used in Model Railroading which is harder than Styrene.
–A foundation designed to hold back the pressure of solid ground, such as an end pier of a bridge.
ACC - Alphacyanoacrylate, Super glue, also called "CA".
Accommodation – A local train which makes all stops.
ACF - American Car & Foundry Company.
– The frictional grip of the wheel to rail; Maintenance of contact between the wheel s and the rail.
Adhesive Weight – The total of the driving-wheel axle loads.
Air-brake – A braking system in which compressed air is used as the operating medium.
Airbrush – A miniature paint sprayer that that is used by artists and model builders to give a controlled application of paint.
Alley – A clear track, usually in a yard.
Alternating Current (AC) – Standard 110 Volt house hold current, or low voltage current used in model railroading, usually around 18 Volts; An electric current that reverses its direction of flow at regular intervals. Each move from zero to maximum strength and back to zero is known as a cycle.
Ammeter – Meter used to measure current strength; How many amperes are being used by a motor or other electrical equipment.
Ampere or Amp – Unit used to measure electrical current strength.
Apron – Overlapping deck between the cab and a tender; Hinged covering above locomotive and tender connection.
Arbor – Wheel axle
Arc – Spark created by passage of current across a gap; also a curve.
Arch – A shallow, semicircular configuration, usually constructed of firebrick or similar material, in a steam locomotive firebox below the tubes. It is intended to promote more efficient fuel consumption and reduce the amount of smoke while protecting the flue tubes.
Armature – The wire-wound rotating part of a motor.
Arrival Track – The track which passenger trains arrive at a terminal; or freight trains arrive in or near a yard.
Articulated Locomotive – Any locomotive featuring two or more sets of wheels and cylinders mounted on separate or hinged frames. Permits large locomotives to snake around curves more easily.
Ash Cat – A locomotive foreman.
Ash Pan – A tray under a steam locomotives firebox which accumulates ashes until an ash pit is reached.
Aspect – One of the lighted positions of a signal light.
ASTRAC - Automatic Simultaneous Train Control (General Electric)
ATC - (Automatic Train Control) – A term covering systems designed to assist the engineer and provide against mishandling or misinterpretation of signals. These systems range from simple cab warning systems to fully automatic control.
Automatic Block Signal – Signal activated by train entering a block.
Automatic Coupler – Couplers which will couple and uncouple automatically through the use of uncoupling ramps, permanent or electro-magnets; permits remote operation as opposed to manual hand methods.
Auxiliary Tender – A second tender; enables an engine to maintain longer runs and reduces intermediate water stops.
Axle Box – A metal casing that houses the axle bearing. Attached to the frame, the axle box transmits the weight of car to the axle.
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Backdrop - Background scenery usually on a wall behind the layout that can be painted, a printed background or a large photograph.
Back Saw - A saw with a reinforcing bar on the top edge. In model railroading they are usually fine tooth saws called "Razor or Snap saws."
Bad Order - A tag which has been placed on a defective car by a railroad inspector.
Bad Order Track – A track on which cars are set to wait for repairs.
Baggage Car – American term for luggage wagon.
Baggage Smasher – A baggage handler.
Ballast – Usually gravel, cinders, or crushed rock placed between ties and around track and roadbed to help prevent the track from moving, spread load, provide bearing for ties and track, and to drain water and help control weed growth.
Balloon Stack – Smokestack found on most old time wood burners. Many had large kite or diamond-shaped housings. The shape was used to help prevent sparks from escaping.
Balloon Track or Balloon – Technical term for a reverse loop.
Balsa - A Lightweight wood sometimes used in model railroading, however better suited for model airplanes because of its light weight.
Banking – Assisting the working of a train, usually when ascending a grade, by attaching one or more locomotives to the rear of the train.
Bascule Bridge – A general term for a counter-balanced lift bridge.
Baseboard – The baseboard is the structure carrying the model railway.
Basswood - A light weight wood used in model railroading due to its strength and smooth grain structure. Northeastern lumber and others manufacture scale lumber in Basswood.
Bay Platform – A bay platform (or bay road) is a short terminal platform let into a longer one, normally for terminating branch or local trains.
Bellows American – Term for corridor connections: flexible connection or corridor providing access from the end of one car to another.
Belpaire Firebox – Square topped fireboxes typical of a Pennsylvania and Great Northern Locomotives.
Belt Line – A connecting railroad between two or more railroads, so-called because it encircles a city like a belt.
Benchwork – A frame which is the foundation of a model railroad layout. L girder and open grid (sometimes called butt-joint) are two popular types.
Bend the Rails – Turn the switch in the track; change position of turnout.
Big Boy – Popular name for largest team locomotive, the 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific.
Big Hook – A wrecking crane.
Big Wheel – A rotary snowplow.
Bill of Lading – A form describing freight, its charges and destination in detail.
Bleed – To drain the air from the brake system of a car or cars.
Blind Drivers – Drivers without flanges which permit locomotives to take shaper curves than wheel arrangement would usually allow; widely used in narrow gauge.
Blind Siding – A siding without telephone or telegraph connections to the dispatcher; no order can be received on it.
Block- The trackage between two signals; in model railroading, isolated electrical circuts. Section of track under one control and accommodating only one train at a time.
Block Signal – Indicates whether block is occupied or not.
Board – A fixed signal or marker.
Bobber – A short four-wheeled caboose.
Bob Tail Haul – An early slang expression indicating that a loco was only pulling a few cars and a bobber caboose; a short train.
Body Shell – Basic body section of vehicle without internal fittings.
Bogie – The European term for truck (see truck).
Bogie (American Truck) – Independent short wheel base truck with four or six wheels, capable of pivoting about the center at which it is attached to the under frame of long cars.
Boiler – The part of a locomotive where steam is generated, Consisting essentially of a fire box surrounded by a water space in which the combustion of fuel takes place, and barrel containing the flue tubes surrounded by water.
Bolster – Transverse floating beam member of bogie suspension system supporting the weight of vehicle body.
Boom Car – The car next to the wrecking crane or derrick on which the crane boom is resting while traveling.
Boomer - A person who works for the railroad but changes jobs frequently. also called a drifter.
Booster – In prototype, a small secondary stream engine which assists and increases starting power. Some trailing trucks and tender wheels feature boosters which cut off automatically after a certain speed had been reached.
Box Cab – Electric or diesel loco with a cab shaped like a box.
Box Car – American term for covered van or freight vehicle.
Boxcar – A rectangular, fully enclosed freight car.
Brakeman – A member of a freight or passenger train crew. His duties are to assist the conductor in any way.
Branch – A track turning off the trunk line.
Branch-line – Minor line acting as a feeder to main trunk lines.
Brass Hat – Top railroad executive; A V.I.P; President or boss of the line.
Brownies – Demerits issued by the superintendent for an infraction of the rules; a certain number means suspension and a greater number may mean dismissal.
Bridge traffic- (Also called Bridge route or overhead route.) Freight which is delivered by one railroad to a second railroad for delivery to a third railroad.
Bug – A Telegraph key.
Buggy – Caboose
Buggy Track – Caboose track.
Bump – To exercise seniority in replacing a man in his position.
Bumper or Bumping Post – Device that stops cars at end of a stub track.
Bunker – A bin, usually elevated, for storing coal.
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CA – Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on wood, metal and styrene plastic.
Cab – The section of the locomotive in which the controls are located and where the engineer and fireman rides.
Cab Control – A means of operating and controlling one or more trains singly or simultaneously . (trains operating independent of one another.)
Cab Forward – Articulated type steam engine, popular on Southern Pacific RR. Engines were reversed; cylinders toward the back, cab and smoke stack at front.
Caboose – A car, usually placed at the end of a freight train, in which the conductor has an office and living quarters. With increasing use of computer controls, cabooses are being replaced with ETD (End of Train Device)
Caboose Way Car
– A caboose with a section for freight.
Cab Signals – Lights on a control panel in front of operator which indicate condition of track ahead of his train
Call Boys, Caller – A boy, or man, whose duty is to summon the crews.
Camelback – A steam locomotive with the cab astride the boiler, the fireman riding under a hood at the rear; also called a "Mother Hubbard."
Cant – Amount by which one rail of a curved track is raised above the other. Cant is ‘positive’ when the outer rail is higher than the inner rail and ‘negative’ when the inner rail is higher than the outer.
Cap – A torpedo put on the tracks for signaling purposes.
Car – An American term for carriage or wagon.
Car Barn – Storage house for trolley and interurban cars.
Car Knocker – A car inspector, so-called from the men who tap the wheels to test for soundness.
Catenary – Supporting cable for the conductor wire of an overhead electrification system.
Chassis – Framework or underbody of a locomotive, or cars.
Cinder Pit – As ash pit.
Circuit – The path of an electrical current.
Circuit Breaker – A switch or fuse that automatically opens the circuit in the event of a current overload.
Class – Groups into which trains are divided, from two to four, depending on the railroad.
Class 1 Railroad – A railroad line with annual revenues in excess of a figure set by the Interstate Commerce Commission, adjusted annually for inflation.
Classification Yard – A freight yard where trains are broken up and made up by shifting cars with a switcher locomotive or by a hump.
Clear Board – A go-ahead signal.
Clear Signal – Fixes signal displaying a green, or proceed without restriction..
Clerestory Roof – Typical of certain passenger cars featuring raised center sections and "clerestory windows" along the sides.
Coal Bunker – Storage bin directly behind cab or in the tender.
Coaling Station – A place where locomotives stop to take on a load of coal. The tender is positioned under the chute of coaling tower which supplies the coal by gravity feed.
COFC - Container on flat car.
Cog Railroad - A railroad that can climb steep grades by using a toothed cog wheel between the driving wheels of the locomotive that meshes with the teeth of a rack rail that is mounted to the cross ties between the other rails. Also called Rack Railroad.
Command Control – A way of controlling trains independently of each other by sending electronic messages through the rails. Each locomotive has a decoder or receiver which only responds to its own discrete address.
Common Carrier - A railroad or other carrier that carries any passengers or frieight and not just contract passengers or freight from one customer.
Compound Engine – A steam engine in which the exhausted steam is directed into a second set of cylinders.
Conductor – A crew member on a freight or passenger train in charge of the train at all stops or while the train is at terminals or stations.
Consist –The cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. Locomotive consist is a group of engines put together to pull a train.
Container on Flat Car (COFC) - A freight system in which a container is carried on a flat car.
Converter – A devise for converting electric power from alternating current to direct current or vice versa.
Corn Field Meet – Slang for head-on collision.
Coupler – The device used to connect and disconnect locomotives and cars.
Cowcatcher – An early term for the pointed device used on the front of the locomotive to remove deer, cows and buffalo off the track.
Craftsman Kits - These kits are detailed building kits for experienced modelers. They usually include detailed drawings, strip wood, plastic and metal castings, along with other details.
Crankpin – Pin or screw attached to driving wheels hold side rods in place yet permits them to turn.
Crew – The men and women who run a train.
Cribbing - A framework of wooden timbers, steel, or concrete that acts as a retaining wall for loose rock, or dirt.
Crossing – An intersection between two tracks on the same level.
Crossing, Grade – An intersection between a highway and railroad tracks on the same level.
Crossover – Two turnouts and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.
Crummy – Slang for caboose; also called a doghouse.
Culvert – A passage way under tracks for drainage of water.
Cupola – Small cabin atop the caboose.
Current – Rate of flow of electricity within an electrical circuit.
Curve – Classified as: 1. Simple – one radius throughout.
2. Compound – two or more simpl e curves of similar radius.
3. Reverse – A compound curve of opposite directions.
Cut – A number of cars, coupled together; or an excavated section through a hill allowing the tracks to remain level.
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Dead-end – Short section running line terminating at buffer stops.
Deadhead – An empty car; a passenger riding on a pass; a locomotive traveling without cars.
Dead Man’s Control – Automatic control which an engineer must hold in "on" position against a spring; if he dies or is hurt, it is automatically released and stops the train.
Deck – American term for cab floor or footplate.
Departure Yard – An arrangement of yard tracks from which cars are forwarded.
Derail - To leave the rails. Also a fixture that is placed on a siding or spur line to prevent cars from rolling onto the mainline.
Derating - Modifications made to a locomotive which allows only a portion of the avalible horsepower to be used. This usually will result in cost savings in fuel and maintenance.
Diagram – Display in schematic form of track-work and signals controlled by a signalbox. The display could provide illuminated indications of signal and point operation, train positions, and descriptions.
Diamond Stack – A tall smokestack with a spark arrestor on top, was widely used on old wood-burning locomotives. It had a diamond shaped top.
Diecast - A casting process used to manufacture some products for model railroading, where molten metal is forced into the mold under pressure.
Diesel – Compression ignition, internal combustion engine.
Dinky – Any small, undersized locomotive.
Diorama - Small highley detailed scene. A proof of concept model. A display model. Sometimes built to learn new modeling techniques in a short period of time.
Direct Current (DC) – Electrical current which flows only in one direction.
Direct Drive – A system of power transmission in which there is a direct connection between the engine or motor and the driving wheels.
Dispatcher – A railroad employee who coordinates all train movements, usually within one division; he may issue specific orders to keep traffic moving.
Distant Signal – Signal in British practice which provides a warning to approaching trains of the state of stop signals ahead.
Division – That portion of a railroad managed by a superintendent.
– A round protrusion on the boiler of a locomotive that houses the steam controls or sand.
Dog bone - Model railroad arrangement consisting of two reversing loops connected together. Also known as" Dumb Bell".
Double – To take a train up a hill one half at a time.
Double-header – A train pulled by two locomotives.
Double heading – Using two locomotives at the head of the train.
Double Stack - A special train where containers are stacked two high.
Double Track – A two track railroad.
Down grade – American term for a down-hill grade.
DPDT - Double pole, Double Throw. This is a special switch which is used on model railroads to allow you to change the polarity of the current for reverse loops, or complex block control.
Draft Gear - The pocket or box where the coupler is mounted on model railroad equipment.
Drawbar – The bar that connects the locomotive and its tender.
Drill – To switch cars in a yard.
Drive – Transmission of power.
Driving Gear – The group of rods and cranks which transfer the piston energy to the driving wheels.
Driving Wheels –The large wheels of a steam locomotive connected by rods; And the motorized wheels on electric or diesel locomotives.
Drop side – Type of european wagon where the vertical side is hinged horizontally and can be lowered to facilitate loading and unloading.
Drovers’ Caboose – A long eight-wheeled caboose containing a small passenger compartment for hauling and bedding down cattlemen who are aboard to care for their cattle enroute.
Dry Brush - A modeling technique where a paint brush is used to accent highlights of a model. This is acomplished by using a light color paint and first removing most of the paint on a paper towel. You then drag the brush across the models surface leaving small amounts of paint on the highlights.
Dual Gauge – Track able to accommodate trains of two different wheel gauges. Usually achieved by the laying of a third length of rail, one being common to both gauges. Very common in Europe, and in model railroading in the U.S. such as HO and HON3.
Duckunder – An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the bench work to gain access to another part of the layout.
Dumb Bell – Model layout arrangement consisting of two reversing loops connected together. Also known as" Dog Bone".
Dynamic Braking - A system that uses a locomotives traction motors as a generator which acts as an additional braking system.
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– A reversing device on model locomotives.
Earth – Electrical connection to complete a circuit; Also called Ground.
Embankment – Ridge of earth or rock to raise the natural ground level.
End-to-End – Model layout consisting of a length of track with a terminal at each end. Point-to-Point.
Engine – Commonly referred to as the locomotive; is actually the cylinders and their drivers.
Engineer – A crew member who controls the locomotive; he is in charge of the train while it is moving.
Engine Yard – The yard in which engines are stored and serviced.
Epoxy - A two part adhesiv consisting of the resin and the hardner. A good choice for securing nonporis surfaces such as metal, glass, and some plastics.
End of train device. This is a device placed on the last car of a freight train with a flashing light. This device has replaced the caboose in most situations due to the increased use of computers and other electronic equipment.
Exhaust Pipe – A vertical pipe attached to the cylinder casing of a steam locomotive inside the smoke box in line with the smoke stack. It carries away the exhausted steam and the combustion products from the cylinders, producing a partial vacuum on the smoke box and draft on the fire.
Extra – A train not shown on schedules; it operates on train orders.
Facing Switch – A turnout or switch with the points facing traffic.
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Feed Back
– The result when separate circuits are so wired that some of the current from one circuit bleeds into the other circuit.
Feeder – Power connection from the power pack to track and elsewhere on model railroad; Also a short branch road feeding traffic to a mainline.
Fiddle Yard – A modeling term for a set of sidings where trains are terminated and stored. Also used as a staging yard where a modeler adds or removes equipment from a layout by hand.
Fill – Earth or rock is used to make a level roadbed across a valley or depression.
Firebox – The section of a steam locomotive boiler in which fuel is burned.
Fireman – Crew member whose job it is to keep the fire and steam up in a locomotive; on a diesel he services the motor.
First Generation Diesels - The first desils locomotivesto replace steam locomotives.
Fishplates – Pieces of metal for joining rail together. Fitted on either side of the web of adjacent rails and held together by fish plates and rail webs.
Flag – To protect the rear of the train by having a brakeman walk back with a flag while it is stopped; any person not on the crew stop the train by waving hands, hat, etc.
Flange –The thin or projecting rim on a wheel which fits down below the rail and keeps the wheel on the track.
Flash - A thin material that has oozed from the mold during the molding process and remains attached to the finished casting.
– A freight car with only a flat deck and no side rails or walls.
Flextrack – Flexible sections of track used on a layout. In "HO" it usually comes in straight, three-foot long sections which can be bent as needed. Larger Flex Track such as large scale "G" need to be bent with a rail bender before it is assembled. Other kinds of track are sectional (rigid pieces of straight and curved track that come with train sets) and handlaid (built with handmade ties, rail, and spikes).
Footplate – Deck, Cab floor, operating platform of steam locomotive.
Force – See tracktive effort.
Foreign Car – One that belongs to some other railroad other than the one it runs on.
Frame – The foundation of chassis on which a locomotive is constructed.
Freezer – A refrigerator car; also referred to as a "reefer".
Free-lance – Modeling that does not closely follow a prototype railroad; Also called "scratch building".
Freight Yard – A group of tracks used for storage of freight cars.
Frequency –The number of times per second an alternating current reverses its direction.
Frog – The portion of a switch which is grooved for the wheel flanges; named for its resemblance to a frog; Also a type of rail crossing allowing two sets of running rails to cross each other at grade level at an angle of less than 90 degrees.
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Gap - A space between the rails to insulate one rail from the other. Used to prevent a short in a reverse loop, or to devide the layout into seperate blocks or circuts for multiple train operation.
Gandy Dancer – Member of a section gang.
Gangway – The space between the locomotive and the tender through which the crew enters and leaves.
Garden – Freight yard.
Garden Railroad - A form of model railroading which is usually done outdoors. First started in Europe and now one of the fastest growing segments of model railroading world wide. Most Garden Railroads are built on "One Gauge" track which is 45mm. between the rails . This segmant of the hobby has become known as "Large Scale Railroading" because of the many scales involved. Some of the scales are: 1;32, 1;29, 1;22.5, 120.1, and others.
Gas Turbine – A rotary internal combustion engine driven by expanding gases exerting force against vanes or similar structures mounted on a common shaft.
Gate – Switch.
Gauge – The distance between the inside edges of the rail heads. Most real railroads in North America and Europe are built to a standard gauge of 4’- 8 1/2" . Narrow gauge means rails with a width less than standard gauge.
Geep - Nickname for early General moters Diesel Locomotives.
Generator – A device that changes mechanical energy to electrical energy.
Glory – String of empty freight cars.
Goat – Slang expression for a locomotive, usually a small yard switcher.
Gondola – A long, open, flat, car with short sides for hauling items like lumber, steel and scrap.
Goods – European term for general freight.
Governor – Device for maintaining a constant engine crankshaft speed over long periods during which the load on the engine may vary.
Grab Iron – The handhold on the side of cars.
Grade – Gradient slope to the horizontal, as a percentage, of rise or fall.
Grade Crossing - Where a street or highway crosses the railroad. Also where two tracks cross each other.
Gravity – Shunting American gravity or hump yard car sorting or train marshalling undertaken without the aid of a shunting locomotive or switcher.
Gravity Yard – A yard where gravity assists in the spotting and classifying of cars whereby they move along under their own momentum. Also called a Hump Yard.
Green Eye – Clear signal.
Ground Through - A mechanical device (usually done manually) which will change the position of a turnout, and simultaneously change the position of the signal mounted on top of the ground through.
Gypsum - Calcium sulfate used to make molding plaster, Hydrocal, and Plaster of paris.These products are commonly used in model railroad scenery projects.
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Hack – A caboose.
Halt – Stopping place, without normal station facilities, for local train services.
Hardshell – A scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster and laying them over a light support structure.
Head-End Cars - Any freight car which is coupled to the front of a passenger train.
Headshunt – A headshunt, or shunting neck, is a track running parallel with the main line, facing the yards. It is arranged so that shunting can take place without interfering with the main line.
Headway – the time interval between trains running in the same line.
Helix – A climbing or decending curve which turns around an axis like a corkscrew. Used on multilevel layouts to allow trains to go from one level to another in a relitively small space.
Helper – The second or added locomotive on a double-header.
HEP - (Head End Power) Electricity from the locomotives Generator which is used by another locomotive, or passenger cars for heating ,cooling, and lights.
Herald – Trademark or logo on locomotives and freight cars
Highball – To speed; a sign to go ahead; derived from old railroad ball signals.
High Iron – Main line; track on which travel is only by schedule or order.
Hog – Slang for a locomotive, yard switchers also called yard hogs.
Homasote – A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed.
Home Cars – Freight cars owned by the railroad.
Home Signal – The signal protecting the immediate block.
Hoop – A crane loop used to pass orders up to a moving train; the fireman puts his arm through the large hoop.
Hopper car – An open-top car for hauling items that don’t need protection from the weather like coal and gravel. Empties through doors in funnel-like bins in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs; They carry grain and other items that need protection from weather.
Horse – Power a unit of power equal to 75kg metres per sec, 33,000 ft per lb per min, or 746 watts.
Horsebox – car for the conveyance of horses.
Horsepower – The measuring unit of power; the power necessary to continuously raise 550 pounds one foot in one second.
Hostler – A roundhouse worker who cares for and moves the locomotives after each trip.
Hot-box – An overheated journal or bearing on a freight car wheel resulting from breakdown of lubricating film between bearing and journal.
Hot Shot – A fast through freight.
Hump – An elevated section of track down which freight cars can be coasted for classification in the yards below.
Hump Yard – Marshalling yard with artificial mound or hump over which cars are propelled and gravitate to correct siding and position in the yard.
Hydrocal - A US Gypsum product used in model railroading for the base of hard shell scenery.
H2O – A water train.
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IHC - "International Hobby Corporation" Model Railroad Manufacturer.
In The Hole - Train on a siding waiting for another train to pass.
Industrial Locomotive - A small locomotive used on an industrial railroad for switching.
Industrial Railroad - A small railroad usually operator within a factory or industrial complex. These railroads are also used to move freight between an industrial complex and a nearby common carrier.
Inspection Car - self propelled service vehicle used for inspecting track
Interchange – Point, where passengers or freight are exchanged between trains.
Interchange Point
– A location where cars switch from one road to another.
Interlocking - A system of electrical, and mechanical controls that allow only one train to move through a junction of two or more tracks at any one time.
Intermodal – Shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.
Intermodal Transport – Combination of rail transport with another form of transportation such as ships or overland vehicles.
Interurban - Short line railroad between two or more cities that provides passenger and freight service. These railroads usually use self propelled electric cars using overhead wires and catenary, or a third rail for power.
Iron – Rails.
Island Platform – An island platform is one with tracks on both sides.
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Jacket – American term for outer covering of thin sheet steel over the lagging material of a locomotive boiler, cylinder or other insulated heat radiating surface.
Johnson Bar – the reversing lever of a steam locomotive.
Journal – The part of a shaft or axle support by a bearing.
Journal Log – Compiled by the guard of the make-up and events of train/movement.
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Kadee - Brand name for precision couplers which are designed for model railroading.
Key – Wedge of hard wood or spring steel inserted between rail and chair to hold rail firmly in position at correct gauge.
Kingpin - A plastic pin or screw that attaches the truck of a model railroad car to the bolster on that car. A steel pin that conects the wheel set or bogie to the bolster at the pivot point on a real or prototype railroad car.
Kitbashing –Taking one or more model railroad kits and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.
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Ladder – American term for marshalling yard or siding layout where series of points on switches follow each other giving leads off a straight line to one side.
Ladder – Term sometimes given to rack rail of mountain railway system.
Ladder Track – A track connecting a number of parallel sidings or stubs in a yard or terminal.
LCL - "Less- than-Carload-lot" Small shipments that do not requirq an entire car.
Lead Track – Trackage connecting a yard with the main line.
Level Crossing – Crossing of two railways, or a railway and road, on the same level.
LGB - "Lehmann Gross Bahn" (The large train) German Manufacturer of high quality large scale Model railroading equipment.
Light Engine – Locomotive running without a train.
Limit of shunt – Board marking the point beyond which vehicles must not pass during shunting operations.
Lint – Surgical bandage useful in model railway scenic work, American Cast Gauge.
Line-haul railroad - A railroad that hauls passengers or freight between distant points, but does not provide delivery of passengers or switching of freight to local destinations.
Load Gauge – The limiting dimensions of height and width of rolling stock and loads carried to ensure adequate clearance with line side structures.
Load Limit - Weight limit established over a specific rout based on the weight or size of the rail, condition of the line, condition of bridges, the weather and many other factors.
Local Line – Line of track normally used by suburban or stopping passenger trains.
Loop – Continuous circular connection between up and down lines at terminal station or yard enabling trains to reverse direction without releasing locomotive.
Loose – Coupled vehicles of a train loosely coupled together with three link couplings.
Low Iron – Yard tracks; anything not on the main line.
Lubricating Oil – Viscous liquid introduced between moving surfaces to reduce friction.
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Main Line – (also Main Iron, Main Stem, Main Track, etc.) – Through trackage; restricted by rules to travel only by scheduled trains or those trains with train orders or on a schedule.
Maintenance-Of-Way - (MOW) Equipment used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
Mallet – An articulated steam locomotive named after the designer; sometimes used to describe any articulated locomotive.
Markers – Flags or lights used on trains to indicate special status or to warn of a following section.
Marklin - Marklin is a German manufacturer of high quality precision model trains. Marklin is the worlds largest manufacturer of model trains, and produces "Z" scale, "N" scale "HO" scale and #1 Gauge large scale trains.
Marshalling Yard – Area where cars are sorted, assembled and marshalled into trains.
MBSO – Motorbrake second open carriage car.
Meet - When two trains traveling in opposite directions pass each other. Usually used to describe a single mainline operation where none train waits on a siding for the other to pass.
Micro-Trains - Manufacturer of precision model railroading equipment in both "Z" scale and "N" scale.
Mike – Abbreviated term for a Mikado type locomotive.
Milk Car – Refrigerator car for milk.
Milk Train – A slow train.
Mixed Train - A train pulling both passengers and freight cars.
Module – A section of a layout that is built following a standard pattern or dimensions. Each module can be connected interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards. NMRA has developed standards for "HO" and Ntrak is an organization that has developed standards to N scale modules.
Monorail – A railroad in which the train runs on a single rail.
Mother Hubbard – A locomotive with the cab straddling the boiler like a saddle. (See Camelback)
Motion – A moving mechanism on a steam locomotive.
Motor Bridge – Bogie having driving wheels or motored axles.
Motorman – Driver of an electric train, railcar or multiple unit train.
Mountain Railway – Specialized form of railway for ascending mountains.
MOW – Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
MRIA - "Model Railroad Industry Association", An association of Model Railroad manufacturers.
MTH - "Mikes Train House" "O" gauge model railroad manufacturer.
Multiple Aspect Signaling – (MAS) A system of color light signaling, that could be provided either by multi-lens, or searchlight signals in which each signal unit can display more than two aspects.
Multiple Track – A section of railway track having more than just one up line and one down line.
Multiple Unit (MU) - Cars or locomotives which contain their own power but which can be controlled from the foremost car or locomotive; used on commuter trains and diesel locomotives.
Muzzle Loader – Any hand-fired steam locomotive.
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Narrow Gauge – Railway track of less than the standard gauge.
NMRA - "National Model Railroad Association" NMRA helps to promote the hobby, establish standards, reward modelers for their talents as Master Model Railroaders, and much more.
Normal – Usual position of points or signals before action initiated by signalman to allow a train movement.
Nose – Front end of locomotive.
Nose Suspended Motor – A traction motor mounted on bearings on an axle that is driven via a flexible connection attached to a cross member on the truck. The gear on the axle is in constant mesh with the pinion on the armature shaft.
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Observation Car – Passenger-carrying vehicle, usually at rear of train, with windows and seating arranged to give maximum view of passing scenery.
On The Ground - Used to describe a derailment.
Operation – Running trains on a layout in a way that stimulates real railroad activity.
OS – Means "entered on sheet, " often used as a verb to indicate the reporting of a train which has passed a tower.
- Catenary and contact wire of an overhead electrical distribution system.
Overhead Route - (Also called Bridge route or bridge traffic.) Freight which is delivered by one railroad to a second railroad for delivery to a third railroad.
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Packing – Maintaining the correct level of sleepers by adjustments in the amount of ballast beneath.
Panel Desk - Or board on which operating switches for points and signals are mounted.
Panorama – A background picture that gives a wide sweeping view in all directions when seen from a central point.
Pantograph – A collapsible and adjustable structure mounted on the roof of an electric locomotive or powered car which comes into contact with an overhead wire for picking up and transmitting electric power to the motors.
Parlor Car – Luxuriously fitted railway car.
Passing Siding – A siding specifically for passing of trains in the same or opposite direction; may be several miles long so that neither train is required to stop.
Peddler – A way freight.
Pendular Suspension – A suspension system allowing the body of the vehicle to tilt on curves allowing greater speed.
Per Diem - An amount paid to railroad employees for daily expenses when working away from their home base. Also an amount paid by one railroad to another for the rental of freight cars owned by the other.
Permanent Way – Term for track-bed and tracks in position.
Pick-Up – Electric current contact such as a roler or sliding pick up shoe.
Pick-Up Freight – Train which stops at intermediate points to pick up and drop off freight cars on an as required basis.
Pickup Shoe – A device for picking up electric current from a third-rail system.
Pier – A support for the center section of a bridge.
Piggyback – A system of carrying truck trailers or similar containers on flat cars.
Pike – A model railroad.
Pilot – Structure at the front of a locomotive for sweeping tracks, often called a cowcatcher; also an additional locomotive coupled to the front of the train locomotive to provide assistance over a heavy graded section of line.
Pilot Truck – The front or leading small trucks on a locomotive also referred to as a Pony Truck.
Piston – The head which moves inside the cylinders of a steam locomotive when pressured by steam.
Piston Rod – The rod attached to the piston which transmits the power to the connecting rods on the driving wheels.
Platelayer – Track maintenance man.
Platelayer’s Hut – Small shed for use of platelayers, section house.
Plug – A small passenger train.
Point – A tapered moveable rail by which a train is directed from one line to another.
Poling – Moving cars on an adjoining track by using a long spar which is placed in a socket of the car end beam and a socket on the locomotive pilot beam.
Power Supply - In model railroading this unit changes 110 volt house current into low voltage current used to run the trains and accesories. Sometimes called Transformer.
Power Unit – A device which converts high-voltage main current into low voltage currents, often with several outputs.
Prototype – A full-sized locomotive or car; the original unit from which the model has been patterned.
Pulse Power – The locomotive is fed intermittent pulses of current to facilitate slow starts.
Pullman Car – Rail car providing a high standard of comfort and service for which a premium fare must be paid.
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Rack Railroad - A railroad that can climb steep grades by using a toothed cog wheel between the driving wheels of the locomotive that meshes with the teeth of a rack rail that is mounted to the cross ties between the other rails. Also called Cog Railroad.
Radio Control – A method of operating and controlling locomotives by means of radio signals transmitted through the air or by means of a carrier control basis through the track.
Rail Car – Self-propelled passenger carrying vehicle.
Rail Joiner - A formed piece of metal that joins two rails together and helps to complete the electrical circut.
RPO - Railway Post Office.
Rat – Slang for a freight train.
Razor Saw - A fine toothed saw used by model railroaders that resembles a straight razor.
RCS – (Remote Control Section) – A type of Lionel track for unloading and uncoupling
Rectifier – A device for converting AC into DC.
Red Ball – A fast freight train.
Reefer – A refrigerator car. Similar to a boxcar but has ice or mechanical cooling equipment.
Reefer Block – A freight train consist of refrigerator cars.
Regional Railroad - A railroad which is smaller than a major railroad but larger than a short line railroad.
Reporting Marks - These are the letters or abbreviations that mark the sides of freight cars to identify what railroad owns the car. Also see Road Names.


Resistor – A device used to reduce the intensity of electricity.
Restricted Track – A track section where train speeds are reduced.
Retarder – A device used for decreasing speed; brakes.
Reversing – A station where train reverses direction of travel . May be at normal dead end or terminal station.
Right-of-Way – The land on which a railroad is built; also precedence given to one train to proceed before another.
Riprap – Large pieces of stone used to prevent washouts in roadbeds.
Rip-Track – An area of the maintenance yard where equipment is stored while waiting for repairs. In model railroading a few sections of track by a freight yard or on a shelf above the workbench.
Road Bed – A layer of earth or gravel which provides a foundation for ties and rail. In model railroading wood, cork, plywood, Homosote and other materials are used.
Road Engine – Locomotive used regularly for mainline service.
Road Names - Names of various railroad companies in the United States and Canada. Also see Reporting Marks.


Road Unit - A diesel locomotive built specifically for mainline service. the wheels and axles are of a more heavy duty design, and the gearing of the traction motors are more appropriate to the higher speeds.
Rolling stock – Freight and passenger cars.
Roundhouse – An Engine shed for the storage, service and repair of locomotives usually with a turntable.
Route-Mile - The actual distance traveled over the tracks between two points.
RTR - Ready to run. A model train that needs no assembly.
Rule G – The railroad rule against drinking.
Run-around - This is a maneuver in which the same locomotive is used to pull the train in the opposite direction for the return trip. the locomotive is uncoupled and then returned to the other end of the train on a different track.
Running Board – The walkway around the boiler of a steam engine: also a walkway along the roof or along sides of tank cars.
Running Gear – All the components involved in the movement of a railroad car, such as wheels, axles, axleboxes, springs and frames.
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Scale – The size of things on a model railroad relative to a real railroad. For example, in the most popular scale, HO, models are 1/87th full size.
Scenic Break – A scenic break is a deliberate barrier to disguise the fact that the main line links two sections of a layout which either clash or should, be widely separated. An example might be a rural landscape and a heavily populated city.
Scissor Crossing – Junction between two parallel railway tracks enabling trains to cross over from one to the other in either direction.
Scratchbuilding – Making a model from raw materials and parts, and not using kits.
Section Hand – A track worker.
Selective Compression - A modeling technique that gives the impression that there are more buildings in a scene than are really possible. This is acomplished by making the buildings in the background smaller to give the impression that they are further away.
– Type of fixed signal with a pivoted arm which can be raised or lowered as required.
Semi-Conductor – Material used in electric traction rectifiers, whose electrical resistance depends on the direction of the applied voltage. Silicon and Germanium are typical examples.
Seniority – Length of service relative to others.
Service Track – Track on which engines take on coal and water.
Shanty - A caboose, also a small building.
Shoo-fly Track – Temporary track used primarily for mainline service.
Shuffle – To switch cars.
Shunt – To switch to another path.
Shuttle – Train which gives a frequent return service over a short route.
Siding – A passing siding or temporary storage area, An auxiliary track turning out from the mainline and rejoining at another point along the main; can be used as a holding track; Sidings can also be used in the form of a branch or short line to service a small town and rejoin the mainline at a distant point.
Signal – Means of controlling the movement of trains by warning or advising the engineer of the occupational state of the line ahead or intention to divert to another line.
Signal Box – Tower or building housing equipment for operation of points and signals in a particular section of a route.
Silo – Sand storage tower for filling locomotive sand boxes.
Single Track System – Consists of a single track between two terminals.
Six-Footway – Area between parallel railway tracks.
Skew – Bridge spans obliquely and is therefore longer than the square gap.
Slab – Track rails laid on a continuous concrete or asphalt base instead of conventional sleepers and ballast, to minimize settlement and changes in alignment, this helps to reduce maintenance costs.
Sleeper – Steel, wood or precast concrete beam for holding the rails to correct gauge and distributing the load imposed by passing trains.The sleepers are usually set in crushed rock or ballast.
Slug - A locomotive which receives its electrical current to run the traction motors from another locomotive. They are not equipped with their own diesel and therefore must be operated with another locomotive.
Smoke Box – The section of a steam locomotive boiler at the forward end which houses the main steam pipes to the cylinders, exhaust pipe and stack.
Smoking a Meet – Sending a column of black smoke to signal any approaching train that another is present.
Snow Plough – Special vehicle propelled by, or attachment to, front of locomotive to remove snow from the track. The snow plough may be of simple wedge shape or rotary type.
Snow Shed – Substantially built shed along the side of a mountain with sloping roof erected over the railway to provide a path for avalanches without blocking the line.
Solebar –Longitudinal main frame, outer member of carriage or wagon under-frame, usually of channel section.
Soleplate - Longitudinal man frame member of a built up carriage bogie, usually of standard rolled steel section of pressings. Also a plate inserted between the chairs and the sleeper at a pair of points to maintain the correct gauge and prevent any spreading of the gauge that might occur from the gradual enlargement of the spike holes in the wooden sleepers.
Spar – The wooden rod used in poling operations.
Spark Arrester - A device, usually in the form of a mesh or baffle plate fitted in the smoke box to prevent the emission of live coals and sparks from the chimney or smoke stack.
SPDT - Single pole double through. A type of electrical switch used in model railroading.
Special – A train not shown in the working time table or pre-planned.
Spike – Square section heavy steel nail driven into wooden sleeper to affix flanged rail in position.
Spot –To marshall or shunt. To move a car to the desired location.
Spur – A divergent track having only one entry; a branch line over which irregular service is offered.
Stabling – Accommodation for a short period of time.
Staff – Wooden stick which must be carried by each train traveling on single line section of railway branch line to maintain absolute block working and prevent possibility of head-on collision.
Stagger – Interlacing of sleepers at switches and crossing or, making rail joints in one running rail not to coincide with those in other rail.
Standard Gauge – Most common distance between rails in a country. Also a three rail tin plate train manufactured by Lionel and others.
Starter Signal – Signal in British practice which gives authority to a train to proceed into a block section.
Station – Any stop along the mainline.
Station Way – A small station with a passing track only.
Steam Chest – A box containing the valve mechanism for the cylinders of a steam locomotive.
Stephenson Valve Gear – The mechanism that controls the movement of the steam distribution valve of a steam locomotive. Stephenson Valve Gear (link motion) – A valve gear in which the steam lead is greatest at mid-gear and greatest at full forward. Walschaert Valve Gear – A valve gear in which the lead is constant at any position of the reversing gear.
Stock Car – American term for vehicle used for the conveyance of cattle.
Stub – A short diverging track ending in a bumper; it has a switch only at one end
Stub Axle – Short non-revolving axle which supports only one wheel.
Stub Terminal – A dead end track with a bumping post; used in yards, industrial spurs, mining and logging areas.
Stud Contact – Similar to 3-rail, but the conductor rail is replaced by a row of energized studs along the center of the track. A long collector skate on the locomotive picks up current. Used by Marklin and in O gauge.
Styrene – Short for polystyrene, a plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thickness’ and sizes.
Superheater – A device for raising the temperature and volume of the steam after it leaves the boiler through the application of additional heat.
Superelevation – Amount by which one rail of a curved track is raised above the other. Superelevation is ‘positive’ when the outer rail is higher than the inner rail and ‘negative’ when the inner rail is higher than the outer. Also called Cant. Superelivation allows the train to maintain a faster speed.
Suspension – Connecting system, including springs, between vehicle wheel and body, designed to give best possible riding qualities by keeping unsprung weights to a minimum and reducing shock loadings on track. Switch device for opening and closing electrical circuit.
Switch – American term for points. Also called Turnout. A track section allowing the train to move from one track to another. Switch is also a term used to describe the sorting of freight cars.
Switchback - A method of climbing a steep grade in a confined area. This is accomplished with a series of switches requiring the train to change direction as it climbs up the side of a mountain on a series of switchbacks.
Switch Machine – A mechanical device which will change the position of a turnout; can be used manually or by remote control from a control panel.
Switch stand – A mechanical device (usually done manually) which will change the position of a turnout, and simultaneously change the position of the signal mounted on top of the switch stand.
Switching District - An area where shippers have access to many railroads through a terminal.
Switching railroad - Also called a terminal railroad. These railroads move freight in a limited area between shippers and a terminal where freight is transferred to long haul railroads.
– Electric motor whose speed varies in direct proportion to the frequency of the supply.
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Tank Locomotive -A locomotive which carries its fuel and water supplies on its own main frames.
Tank – Freight car designed to carry liquids or gases in a tank like container.
Tea Kettle – Old locomotive, especially a leaky steam locomotive.
Tender – The car attached immediately to a steam locomotive and which carries fuel and water ; Also the first locomotive running with tender leading in direction of travel.
Terminal – The end of the line (or departure point); The station, switches, associated buildings, towers and other equipment.
Terminal Railroad - Also called a Switching railroad. These railroads move freight in a limited area between shippers and a terminal where freight is transferred to long haul railroads.
Third Rail – A continuous track placed alongside the running tracks to supply electric current for trains on the running tracks.
Three Rail – Current is fed from a center or side conductor rail, return is through the insulated wheels and track.
Three-Way - Point or switch making connections to three alternative tracks.
Throat – Entrance tracks to a terminal or yard.
Tie – American term for sleeper; A cross member made of wood, steel or concrete placed between the rails to keep the rails at correct gauge and to distribute the weight of the load on the track.
Tie Plate – The steel shoes in which the rail sits when spiked to a wooden tie.
Timetable – A printed schedule of train movements.
Tin Hats – Prototype railroad V.I.P.’s.
Tin Plate – Comm only associated with toy trains that do not conform to a scale. The name ‘tin plate’ originated during the 1800's when many an early model, crude or otherwise, was fashioned out of tin.
Tipping – Freight car with facility for unloading contents by tilting the body.
Toe – Tip of switch rail at the end which fits against the stock rail.
Toe Boards – Walkway or runningboards on the roof of a car.
TOFC – A trailer on a flatcar system of intermodal transport on which truck trailers are carried.
Token – Authority for train to enter single line section. Of different forms including wooden staff, electric staff, tablet, key token. Used to show payment of fare such as on a subway system.
Tongue – Switch blade or rail.
Tower – Signal box. Control center. Electric locomotive; so called for its pivoting arrangement. Also a device such as a Pantograph.for making contact and drawing power from overhead trolley wires.
Trackage Rights - An agreement between two railroads allowing the use of the others tracks for a fee. This type of agreement dose not allow the pick up or delivery of freight along those tracks however.
Trailing Switch - One with the points facing in the opposite direction from the flow of traffic.
Trailer Truck – A rear locomotive truck with two or four small wheels.
Train Order – A written order on a form which gives directions for train movements not on the schedule; train orders usually come from the dispatcher.
Trainmaster – An employee who coordinates the work of the yardmaster and the roundhouse foreman; he reports directly to the superintendent.
Tramway – Light railway or rails for tram-cars.
Tramcar - Streetcar electrically operated public service passenger vehicle on rails in the street.
Transformer – A device for changing high voltage AC into low voltage AC. In model railroading now called a power supply
Transition Curve - A curve that gradualy increases or decreases. Also called an easement.
Trestle – A wooden bridge structure of regularly placed bents.
Trolley – Pole mounted on a roof of electric vehicle with a wheel attached to outer end to pick up electric current from overhead contact wire. Also a self propelled rail car used to transport passengers
Truck – A swiveling set of wheels mounted at either end of a rail car. Assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car. A wheelset is a pair of wheels connected by an axle.
Trunk – A main line or route of a railroad from which other lines branch off.
Turbine – A rotary engine consisting of blades or fans attached to a central shaft which are turned by hot, expanding gases.
Turnout – A switch; European term for switch. A piece of track that allows a train to go from one track to another. Referred to by number. For example, a no. 6 turnout spreads one foot for each six feet of forward travel measured from the frog.
Turntable – A rotating device that enables locomotives to turn completely around, or to spot them for roundhouse stalls.
Two-Rail – Current is fed along both rails of the track, the rails and wheels being insulated from one another.
Tyre – (American, Tire) Steel band forming the periphery of a wheel on which the flange and tread profile is formed.
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Uncoupling lever – Also called a cut lever. The device which raises the locking pin in a coupler to allow the knuckle to open for uncoupling.
Underbridge – Underline bridge carrying the railway over a gap, road, or river.
Underframe – Framework or structure which supports the body of a rail car.
Underpass – A roadway going beneath an overpass, scenic effect, bridge, etc.
Unit - A single locomotive or two or more locomotives that are coupled together and operated as a single unit with one engineer
Unit Train – A freight train consisting of one type of freight car, usually hopper cars for carrying coal or grain. Unit trains are seldom, broken up, and tend to operate continuously from loading to unloading point.
Up-Line – Line over which trains normally travel towards the headquarters of the railway company.
Up-Train – One which travels on or in the direction of the up line.
USRA – United States Railway Administration. The USRA took over and operated American Railroads during World War I; was responsible for certain long lasting and "standard" locomotive designs.
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Valve Gear – The mechanism that controls the movement of the steam distribution valve of a steam locomotive. Stephenson Valve Gear (link motion) – A valve gear in which the steam lead is greatest at mid-gear and greatest at full forward. Walschaert Valve Gear – A valve gear in which the lead is constant at any position of the reversing gear.
Van - Covered vehicle for conveyance of luggage or goods.
Vanderbilt Tender – A cylindrical-shaped tender featuring a partially squared-off front; used for either coal or oil.
Vestibule – Covered gangway giving access between cars.
Vestiblue Cab – Closed cab on steam locomotives to protect the engineer and fireman from inclement weather; includes doors and diaphragm connection to tender.
Volt – A unit of electrical pressure. Commonly, 0 - 9 volts of D.C. is used for "Z" scale model railroading,
0 - 14 volts D.C. is used for "HO" gauge, and 0 - 20 volts D.C. is used for large scale model railroading.
Voltage – Electromotive force (analogous to a pressure) measured in volts
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Wagon – European term for railway vehicle for the conveyance of goods.
Washout – Track ballast washed away by water action.
Way Car – A freight car carrying local shipments.
Weathering – Making shiny models look more realistic by painting them to show the effects of use.
Wheel Set - Pair of wheels secured to an axle.
Wildcat – A runaway locomotive.
Wing Rail –A continuous running rail that forms the obtuse angle of a diamond crossing. Also a running rail from switch heel towards nose which is then set to form check rail past nose of common crossing.
Worm Gear – A gear with slightly slanted or dished teeth to mesh with the worm. In model railroading the worm gear is usually mounted on the driving axle.
Wye – A track with three switches and three legs forming a large triangle which enables an entire train to turn around.
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Yard – A group of tracks where switching chores are performed for storage, classification, making and breaking up of trains, etc.
Yardmaster –A railroad employee in charge of a yard operation.
"Y" Switch – A switch that turns off at both sides, but not straight ahead.
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Zamac – Trade name for zinc-aluminum alloy die-casting metal used widely for pressure die-casting in model trains.
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