Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (L)
Lead (pronounced "leed"): A track which connects a group of tracks to a main line.
Light rail: A term referring to rail transit, it usually consists of a single powered car
or small consist with a single operator that uses overhead catenary
(electricity) for power. Normally this type of transit system if sound
in cities and towns (usually operating directly on the streets) and is very similar to the trolley systems of old.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (M)
Main line, or Main track: The principle railroad track that
connects two points it usually also includes sidings, spurs, and yards
at a number of different locations to serve train meets, customers,
and/or hold freight cars.
Maintenance of way: The repair and maintenance of a railroad right-of-way.
Movable-point frog: The "new" frog it allows for the wheel
flange to be constantly supported through a switch rather than the
opening that occurs in standard frogs to allow flanges to pass through
freely (i.e., the gap is eliminated). It also allows for higher speeds
through a crossing of at least 70 mph.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (N)
Narrow gauge: Any track gauge that is less than the Standard Gauge of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (O)
Operating rod: The manually or mechanically operated bar at a
switch which allows the switching points to be moved into either the
main route position or diverging route position.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (P)
Plant: A shortened version of the "interlocking plant" term,
which efficiently controls the movements and operations of all of the
switches, signals, and controlling mechanisms at a particular junction
of railroad tracks.
Pound (rail): The unit of measure of rail size is weight per
yard. For instance, 120-lb rail gets its weight designation because
every three feet of rail weighs roughly 120 lbs.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (R)
Rail: The standard steel-fabricated structure that railroads
use to operate over. Today the sctructure is known as "T"-rail as it is
formed in roughly an upside-down "T" shape to provide for maximum
support. Once made from standard 39-foot sections today rails are
fabricated in 1/4-mile sections (up to 1,500 feet) and then welded
together to form continuous welded rail (CWR) that is much stronger,
reliable, and cheaper to maintain than jointed rail.
Rail lubricator: Devices mounted along the rails in areas of
high curvature that apply lubricant to the flanges of locomotives and
cars of passing trains to reduce both flange- and rail-wear.
Receiving yard: The destination for arriving trains carrying cars to be sorted or classified.
Ribbon rail: Also known as continuous welded rail (CWR), rail
laid in lengths of 1,500 feet or so (roughly a 1/4-mile), rather than
39-foot pieces bolted together. Aside from saving railroads millions in
maintenance costs and derailments CWR does not buckle, because it
resists thermal expansion and contraction. It is also referred to as
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (S)
Shoofly: Temporary track constructed to allow trains to pass
around an obstacle that blocks movement on the main track, usually as a
result of maintenance or an accident/derailment.
Siding: An additional track found to the right or left of the
main line that allows for trains to operate more efficiently over a line
whereby they can "pull over" to allow another train to pass.
Slip switch: The combination of a diamond crossing of two tracks
including a connecting track that allows for the movement between the
two through tracks.
Split the switch: The result of a freight car's trucks following opposite rails (i.e., one follows the main line the other the diverging track), the car is said to have split, or "picked" the switch.
Spring switch: A spring-mounted track switch that automatically
returns to the normal position when the final car passes over it. This
type of switch saves time by not needing to be operated manually.
Spur: A short stretch of track splitting from the main line
which is normally used to serve either customers or store equipment.
Standard gauge: The track gauge used throughout North America
and most of Europe of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, which is the measurement
between the inside of the two rails.
Stock rail: The rail against which the point of a switch rests.
Stub switch: A track switch in which the rails of the single-track end of track move sideways to meet the two (sometimes three) pairs of rails from the other end. Stub switches are long since obsolete, replaced by the conventional switch with movable tapered rails called points.
Switch: As a noun the term that refers to track equipment that
allows for cars to move, or crossover, from one track to another. The
verb meaning of this term refers to shuffling or moving rail cars,
usually within a yard (also called marshaling).
Switchback: A track setup whereby a reserve move is made to
negotiate very steep grades that is usually performed by using
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (T)
Tangent: The term for straight track.
Team track: A historical term that carries on today as a rail
siding for general use by freight shippers. It was originally named for
the teams of horses that once pulled the wagons to pick up and deliver
Tell-tale: A device that was once placed along the track to warn
crew members operating a top freight cars of a moving train that a low
structure was eminent down the line. Once crew members no longer
operated on top of moving freight trains these were abolished.
Third rail: A rail that runs parallel to the main running tracks
whereby locomotives or powered rail cars pick up, via "shoes,"
electricity for power. Third rails are essentially the same as overhead
catenary in that it is a device for locomotives or powered rail cars to
pick up needed electricity.
Throwbar: A bar underneath the ties of a turnout to which the points are attached and which moves the points.
Tie: The component of railroad infrastructure that holds the rails
in place and supported by the surrounding ballast. Ties are usually
made of either wood, concrete, or newer composite materials.
Torpedo: A small explosive charge that can be clamped to the top
of the rail, which is used as a warning device to crews as it detonates
upon impact with the locomotive wheels.
Track gauge: The distance between the two rails. Here in the U.S. and North America the gauge, known as Standard Gauge, is 4 feet 8 1/2 inches.
Trestle: A structure that spans a short distance (usually a stream or overpass that uses timbers or steel for supports.
Turnout: Another term for a railroad track switch.
Turntable: A rotating structure that swivels in a 360 degree
radius that either turns locomotives in the opposite direction or
diverts them onto a different track.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (U)
Union station: A railroad station that was used by multiple
railroads which was typically also funded jointly by the railroads which
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (V)
Viaduct: Long bridge structures that span land areas, usually constructed of arches and heavy, reinforced concrete.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (W)
Wye: A triangular arrangement of tracks forming the letter "Y", typically used for turning railroad cars and locomotives.
Railroad Infrastructure and Property Terms (Y)
Yard: Usually a large series or groupings of tracks that allows for either the storage of railroad cars or to be held for a short time to build future trains.
Yard-limit board: A trackside sign which marks the boundary of yard territory and rules.
Yard ladder: An angled track which connects a grouping of tracks that make up the yard tracks.
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