TimberSurf’s Model Railway  

Modelling Tips, Links & Guides for Model Railways

Lumsdonia Railway

A web page for my indulgence and sharing ideas and irregular updates on my Model railway

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Glossary of Abbreviations and Terms



Association of American Railroads

This trade group establishes safety and equipment standards.


When a railroad ceases operation over a route with no intenttion of resuming service.



As opposed to ordinary styrene, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene is a harder and more scratch resistant form of plastic.


A foundation designed to hold back the pressure of solid ground, such as an end pier of a bridge.


Alternating Current

electric current which changes its direction of flow or movement back and forth through a wire.



Super glue, also called "CA".

Acceleration Delay

The delay between the locomotive being stationary and reaching the desired speed. Deceleration DelayThe delay of a locomotive slowing down to a standstill.


Any of a number of electrically operated items on the layout, other than the locomotives and track. Includes switch machines, lighting for buildings, small motors for animation, etc.

Accessory decoder or module

Used to control any accessories on a layout, such as signals, lighting, points and so on.


A local train which makes all stops.


American Car & Foundry Company.


A number identifying each individual locomotive and accessory decoder on a layout. When a controller is set to a particular address, only the decoder set to the corresponding address can read the instructions from the controller.


The frictional grip of the wheel to rail, it maintains the 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.

air brush

an air powered system for applying paint from a miniature spray gun. It allows extremely thin, smooth layers of paint to be applied to a model and can also be used for special effects such as weathering.


A clear track, usually in a yard.


Alternating Current

Electric current which changes polarity in a regular cycle. Usually 50 times a second (50Hz). 230V AC is the normal mains supply. 16V AC is transformed down from mains (but not rectified into DC)


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.

Analogue Control

Conventional track voltage control system, typically varying between 0 and 12 volts DC for speed control and polarity reversal for direction control.


Overlapping deck between the cab and a tender; Hinged covering above locomotive and tender connection.


Wheel axle


Spark created by passage of current across a gap; also a curve.


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.


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.


Commonly riding on a pair of driver sets, articulated steam locomotives typically feature a pivoting lead driver set (consisting of rods, cylinders, and drivers), which can swing from side to side as it negotiates curves, along with a separate rear driver set, which remains rigidly attached to the engine's boiler.

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.


One of the lighted positions of a signal light.


Automatic Simultaneous Train Control (General Electric)


(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.

Auto Train

An early form of multiple unit where a steam locomotive could be controlled by the driver sitting in the end carriage. Removed the need for the engine to run around the train at a terminus.

Auto Uncoupler

A system of automatic uncoupling where the rolling stock are pushed over an actuating mechanism which uncouples the locomotive/wagons.

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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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."

Back scene

Printed or photographic scene on the wall behind the layout. Creates an illusion of distance.

Back to back

The distance measured between the inside edges of the two wheels on an axle. This measurement is very important to see if your rolling stock will run through a piece of track that has check rails.


a photo, painting or relief model on a wall or partition continuing the background scenery to or above the horizon line; or sometimes the wall or partition behind a modeled scene upon which the photo, painting or relief model is or is to be applied.

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. A car for the carriage of passenger's baggage or express shipments in passenger trains. Usually with one to three large side doors and few if any windows.

Baggage Smasher

A baggage handler.


material placed under the track structure to facilitate drainage of water while supporting and cushioning the track on the prototype. Usually made of crushed rock, but can also be of any cheap locally available material such as oyster shells, burned clay, or locomotive cinders. Mostly for show on the model, but can also help to hold the track in position and cut down on noise transmission when used properly.


The prototype track is laid on a bed of loose rock chippings, to provide drainage and support for the sleepers. In the model version this may be simulated by a foam rubber inlay or to be much more realistic, loose chippings held together with a dilute PVA

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.


A Lightweight wood sometimes used in model railroading, however better suited for model airplanes because of its light weight.


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.

Base plate

The plate upon which flat bottom rail is laid so that it can be fastened down. Referred to as chairs in model railway parlance.


The board the railway model is fixed to. Also called the Train Board or Train Table.


Harder than balsa wood, basswood is a fairly light-weight, tight-grained wood that is often used in model construction.

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 or for unloading parcel vans. Sometimes used for stabling locomotives.

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.


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 steam 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.


To drain the air from the brake system of a car or cars.

Blind Drivers

Drivers without flanges which permit locomotives to take sharper 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 (electrical)

a section of track that is electrically isolated from the rest of the layout for control purposes.

block (signal)

on the prototype, a section of track into which only one train may be allowed to enter at a time.

Block Signal

Indicates whether block is occupied or not.


A fixed signal or marker.

Board and Batten Siding

Structural siding that consists of wide, butt jointed, vertical wood planking, with joints that have been covered by wooden strips (battens).

Bob Tail Haul

An early slang expression indicating that a loco was only pulling a few cars and a bobber caboose; a short train.


A short four-wheeled caboose.


A diesel wheel arrangement indicated two four-wheeled driving bogies.

Body Shell

Basic body section of vehicle without internal fittings.


Movable wheel chassis on rolling stock connected to the under frame by means of a pivot. Enables far greater weight to be carried on even short wheel based rolling stock.


A wheeled chassis found beneath rolling stock, especially long wagons or carriages. Normally found at either end of the carriage, these assist in navigating corners and points and also improve suspension. Known in the US as a truck.


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.


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.


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.


A person who works for the railroad but changes jobs frequently. also called a drifter.


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.

Booster (DCC)

Additional power source for command station

Box Cab

Electric or diesel loco with a cab shaped like a box.

Box Car

American term for covered van or freight vehicle.

Bracket signal

A semaphore signal array with two or more arms indicating different routes ahead. Often termed a junction signal.

Brake Van

Also called a Guard's Van, the brake van is the rearmost part of a train and is equipped with a brake for the guard to use in order to assist in the stopping of the train. Early trains only had brakes in the locomotive at the front of the train.


A member of a freight or passenger train crew. His duties are to assist the conductor in any way.


ine - Minor line acting as a feeder to main trunk lines.


A track turning off the trunk line.

branch line

a secondary track leading off the main line which proceeds to towns of lesser importance.

Brass Hat

Top railroad executive; A V.I.P; President or boss of the line.

Brick paper

Paper that has been printed to make it look like brickwork, roofing tiles etc. Very useful for scratch building or creating scenic details such as arches etc.

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.

Broad Gauge

A descriptive term for any railway who's track is wider than the standard gauge of 4 foot 8-1/2inches.


Demerits issued by the superintendent for an infraction of the rules; a certain number means suspension and a greater number may mean dismissal.

brush (electrical)

a short, usually carbon based rod in a motor used to transfer electricity from the static wires to the moving commutator.

brush (paint)

a tool used to apply paint to a model consisting of a long round handle with bristles at one end. Generally speaking you should buy the best brushes you can afford as they will last a life-time when properly taken care of. Good quality brushes will also do a better job.


Modern automatic coupling hook. G shaped.


A Telegraph key.



Buggy Track

Caboose track.

Building Papers

Paper that has been printed to make it look like brickwork, roofing tiles etc. Very useful for scratch building or creating scenic details such as arches etc.

Bullhead Rail

This is rail having the same profile for upper and lower portions of the rail.


To exercise seniority in replacing a man in his position.


Positioned at the end of track sidings, these devices prevent cars and locomotives from running off of the end the track.

Bumper or Bumping Post

Device that stops cars at end of a stub track.


A bin, usually elevated, for storing coal.


Technical term for wires that carry electrical signals around a model layout.

Butt Joint

Material surfaces that have been joined end to end without any overlapping.



Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on wood, metal and styrene plastic.


The section of the locomotive in which the controls are located and where the engineer and fireman rides.

cab (electrical)

the electric equipment necessary for one operator to control one train.

cab (locomotive)

the enclosed area from which a locomotive is controlled

Cab Control

A means of wiring a layout to enable track sections to be switched between two or more speed controllers.

Cab Forward

Articulated type steam engine, popular on Southern Pacific RR. Engines were reversed; cylinders toward the back, cab and smoke stack at front.

Cab Signals

Lights on a control panel in front of operator which indicate condition of track ahead of his train


Similar to a brake van, these were used in America on freight trains. They include sleeping quarters for the crew and an office for the conductor as, in the US, a trip can take a week or more for transcontinental service.

Caboose Way Car

A caboose with a section for freight.


A precision, calibrated measuring tool that is used to measure thicknesses or distances between surfaces.

Call Boys, Caller

A boy, or man, whose duty is to summon the crews.


A steam locomotive with the cab astride the boiler, the fireman riding under a hood at the rear; also called a "Mother Hubbard."

Campbell kit

an older well known brand of wood structure kits.

Can Motor

A motor with a sealed motor casing (i.e., an unexposed motor armature).  Can motors typically draw less amperage, and run cooler and smoother than their open frame counterparts.


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.


A torpedo put on the tracks for signaling purposes.


Capacitor Discharge Unit

An electrical storage devise for solenoid point motors. Giving a very short but intense burst of power to the motor when switched.


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.


A generic term for laminated paper sheet material.

carpenter's glue

see yellow glue


The part of a train that passengers travel inside.


Produced from a mold, a copy of an original part that is fabricated out of molten metal, molten plastic, plaster, or polyurethane.

Catch Point

A single trailing point blade set into an ascending track to derail wagons which have come uncoupled and are running back down the hill. This prevents runaway collisions.


The overhead wires that provide the power used to propel non-third rail pickup equipped electric locomotives, interurbans, and trolleys.

Centre Third

A system of current collection using a central third rail. Now virtually obsolete.

chair car

a passenger car which does not provide lounge, dining or sleeping accommodations. Usually used to refer to coach, but may be used by some when referring to parlor cars.


Framework or underbody of a locomotive, or cars.

Check rails

The short sections of '[' shaped rail next to the normal or 'running' rail, which serve to prevent, or reduce the effects of, derailments at points.

Chemically Blackened

Chemically blackened metal is bathed in a chemical solution, which produces an off-black or dark brown finish.  For improved realism, railway models that are equipped with metal wheels are often fitted with chemically blackened wheel sets.


a brand of tool manufactured by Northwest Shortline used to cut stripwood into pieces of the same exact length.

Cinder Pit

As ash pit.


About or around (e.g., A manufacturing date and/or a product or subject's era).


The path of an electrical current.

circuit breaker

a device used to halt the flow of electricity in a circuit in the event of an overload or short circuit.


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..

clearance gauge

a tool used to determine that there is sufficient space around the track to clear the equipment in a moving train. The NMRA makes clearance gauges in most scales that also test for a number of track and wheel relationships.

Clerestory Roof

Typical of certain passenger coaches featuring raised center sections and "clerestory windows" along the sides.


An ill conceived 1970's innovation, which made a rather short appearance in the marketplace due to fragility, Kadee® Micro-Trains® clip-on-trucks were attached to a freight car chassis by integrated plastic mounting ears, rather than conventional truck bolster pins.

Closure Rail

The piece of fixed rail between the points and the "frog" of a turnout (point).


Another name for carriage.

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.

Coaling Tower

A tall structure where coal is hoisted up to elevated storage bins and dumped through chutes into a steam locomotive's tender.

Coaling Trestle

An elevated structure where coal is dumped into storage bins from railroad cars or trucks.

code (rail)

the height of a rail measured in one thousandths of an inch without the decimal point. The same code rail may be used in different scales to represent rail of different weights. For instance, code 100 rail represents the very heaviest weight of rail used only on the mainlines of a very few railroads in HO scale, while it can represent the light rail used on a branch line in O scale.


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.


a passenger car with more than one section used for different purposes. The most common combine had both baggage and coach sections, but there have also been postal-baggage combines, postal-coach combines, etc.

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.

Command Station

The Command Station is the ‘brains’ of a DCC system.A Command Station is in essence a micro-computer/controller that communicates with the decoders that are located either in a locomotive or connected accessory. The computer transmits signals to the decoders instructing them what to do,such as accelerate,decelerate,brake or switch lights on or off.

Common Carrier

A railroad or other carrier that carries any passengers or frieight and not just contract passengers or freight from one customer.

common rail wiring

track wiring in which only one rail is divided into blocks. The other rail is used as a common return from all blocks. This system greatly simplifies conventional wiring and can result in a significant saving in money for electrical switches and wire. It may not work with certain types of power packs having controls for more than one loco or with some electronic control systems.

Common Return

A conductor which is common to more than one part of an electrical circuit and which forms the return path for the current from these parts of the circuit. Normally one rail of all sections or circuits of a layout is chosen as the common rail and current


the rotating part of a motor to which the drive shaft is attached which converts electric current to motion.

Compound Curve

two or more simple curves of similar radius.

Compound Engine

A steam engine in which the exhausted steam is directed into a second set of cylinders.


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.


Configuration Variable

A technical term referring to the operating information of the particular locomotive or accessory that is stored on the specific decoder.This information will remain “set” until changed using the Command Station.


Consist is an American term,but in the UK it is known by Double or Triple Heading.This is where two or more locomotives are brought together and function as one. There are three types of Consisting (1) Basic consisting where the locomotive decoders in the Consist have the same address.(2) Universal Consisting where the Consist information is stored in the Command Station. (3) Advanced Consisting is where the Consist information is stored inside the decoder.

contact cement

an adhesive which is applied to both surfaces to be joined and then allowed to dry completely. When the surfaces are bought into contact the adhesive grabs instantly forming a strong and tight bond. May be water-based or solvent-based. Solvent based adhesives should be used with care as their fumes can be harmful.


a box of standard dimensions used to transport freight from shipper to consignee without having to "break bulk" (load and unload) at each change of transport method. Most containers are designed to be carried by rail, truck and water (intermodal).

container car

a car used to carry intermodal containers.

Container on Flat Car (COFC)

A freight system in which a container is carried on a flat car.


A mechanism used to control the models on the railway, at basic level controlling the speed and direction. More advanced models also look after the points and signals, and computer-controlled versions can instruct the engines to undertake a wide variety of tasks.


A devise for converting electric power from alternating current to direct current or vice versa.

cookie cutter benchwork

a flat table top that is cut alongside the roadbed so that the track may be raised or lowered.

cork roadbed

a cork product placed under the track to (1) represent the shape of the ballast roadbed and (2) cushion and deaden the sound generated by the trains and their motors.

Corn Field Meet

Slang for head-on collision.


The device used to connect and disconnect locomotives and cars.


the hardware which is used to join the cars in a train. The couplers transmit the pulling force of the locomotive between the cars and through the train.


Couplings, or couplers, connect the different items of rolling stock together in order to form a train. Different railway model companies often use different forms of coupling, which can affect model railway compatibility, although it is often possible to change the couplers on any individual item of rolling stock.


An early term for the pointed device used on the front of the locomotive to remove deer, cows and buffalo off the track.


Designed for the experienced model builders, these multi-media kits often include detailed drawings, plans, and/or templates, along with unpainted wood, polyurethane, plastic, and/or metal parts.

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.


Pin or screw attached to driving wheels hold side rods in place yet permits them to turn.


Distilled from coal tar, creosote is an oily liquid that is primarily used as an exterior  wood preservative.  


The men and women who run a train.


A layered  lattice of concrete, logs, steel, or timber that is often filled with earth or stones, cribbing is used in the construction of bridge abutments, dams, foundations, retaining walls, etcetera.


A place where railroad tracks intersect or roadways cross railways.

Crossing, Grade

An intersection between a highway and railroad tracks on the same level.


Two turnouts and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.


Slang for caboose; also called a doghouse.


A passage way under tracks for drainage of water.


Small cabin atop the caboose.


Rate of flow of electricity within an electrical circuit.


Simple - one radius throughout.


A trench that has been blasted or excavated through a hill or mountain to maintain a level railroad right of way.


A protective device built into an electrical circuit for the purpose of switching off the current when the load reaches a predetermined number of amps. All Gaugemaster controllers and cased transformers are fitted with these devices on all outputs.They reset automatically when the cause of the overload is removed.


This is where the track cuts through steep terrain to maintain a smoother gradient, so it is like an open-top tunnel.

Cyanoacrylate (ACC) Glue

Also called ACC (alphacyanoacrylate), this extremely fast-setting (in minutes or seconds) glue is available in various viscosities.  The thinner the viscosity, the faster the set time.  As ACC is readily able to bond a user's eyes or skin instantly, extreme caution must always be used with this type of adhesive.

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DC current

electrical current that flows continuously in one direction only


Digital Command Control - the NMRA sponsored command control system that has become the most commonly used command control system in model railroading world-wide. An alternating current of constant voltage is placed on the track with a control signal of varying frequency impressed upon it. The DCC signal is actually an alternating DC waveform, containing the digital information. The basic system is required to produce results as set forth in the NMRA Standard so that equipment produced by differ

Dead end

Short section running line terminating at buffer stops.

Dead Frog

Where the crossing V of a model turnout (point) is moulded of plastic so as to keep the two track circuits through the turnout entirely separate. Also referred to as insulfrog

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.


An empty car; a passenger riding on a pass; a locomotive traveling without cars.


American term for cab floor or footplate.


Circuit board used for operating Digital models. Any locomotive or accessory to be used on a digital system requires a decoder, which receives and interprets the Digital information sent by the Controller. Many decoders offer added functions such as lights etc.

Departure Yard

An arrangement of yard tracks from which cars are forwarded.


To leave the rails. Also a fixture that is placed on a siding or spur line to prevent cars from rolling onto the mainline.


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.


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.


A casting process used to manufacture some products for model railroading, where molten metal is forced into the mold under pressure.


Compression ignition, internal combustion engine.


Diesel Multiple Unit

A piece of rolling stock that is self powered and carries passengers or parcels. Each outward coach has a cab at the outer end which enables the driver to drive the unit in both directions without having to turn the unit. Very useful


Digital Command Control

Digital Command Control. The latest digital operating system for model railways and becoming increasingly popular.

Digital Control

A train command system, fast gaining ground on older Analogue systems in terms of popularity. Whereas analogue systems work by providing a regulated supply of power to the track that increases or decreases according to user input, Digital systems supply a

dining car

a restaurant car providing tables and chairs for patrons and usually a full kitchen in the same car.


Any small, undersized locomotive.


A solid state device which allows electric current to flow in one direction only.


A small scene with great detail. Can be used to set off your models or to photograph a particular model. Can be scenes which are added to your model railway as they are completed.



D.C. current flows constantly in the same direction along its conductors which are termed positive and negative. The polarity of the conductors can be reversed and the current flows in the opposite direction.

Direct Drive

A system of power transmission in which there is a direct connection between the engine or motor and the driving wheels.

Directional Lighting

Headlamps that are lit in the direction of travel.  In some cases, red taillights may also be visible at the tail end of a model.


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.


That portion of a railroad managed by a superintendent.

Dog bone

Model railroad arrangement consisting of two reversing loops connected together. Also known as" Dumb Bell".


A round protrusion on the boiler of a locomotive that houses the steam controls or sand.

Double header

A train pulled by two locomotives.


To take a train up a hill one half at a time.

Double heading

Often known as consisting or multi-traction, a means whereby two or more locomotives can be run together under the same address.


Double Pole Double Throw

A two pole change over switch. Used on reversing loops and triangular junctions, for reversing DC,etc.

Double Slip

In effect, this is four points and a crossover compressed into a very small space. Very useful if modelling a yard in limited space and where a head shunt is required.

Double slip

An x-shaped or diamond crossing, on which it is possible for a train to either pass over or change routes.

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.


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.

DPDT switch

double pole-double throw switch - an electrical switch allowing the current from two circuits to be simultaneously switched back and forth from one set of wires to another set. May be provided with a center off position in which case it is abbreviated DPDT(CO). May also be wired to serve as a reversing switch.


Design Preservation Models - a manufacturer of mostly brick structure kits.        

draft gear

the box which holds the couplers on a car and transmits the pulling forces between the couplers and the car's frame.

Draft Gear

The pocket or box where the coupler is mounted on model railroad equipment.


The bar that connects the locomotive and its tender.


To switch cars in a yard.


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.

Dropper Wire

Feed wires soldered to the side or base of the rail and which then pass beneath the baseboard.

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.

Dry Brushing

A weathering technique where paint is lightly applied to a material's raised surfaces using a nearly "dry brush," which has been wiped off, after having been dipped in a very minute amount of paint.  Dry brushing is often used to emphasize fine details.

dual cab control

(see cab control)

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.


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".


A tool manufactured by Northwest Shortline used to cut sheets of wood or plastic into strips

Dynamic Braking

A system that uses a locomotives traction motors as a generator which acts as an additional braking system.

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Electrical connection to complete a circuit; Also called Ground.


a curve of decreasing radius introduced before a regular curve to ease a train into the curve providing a gradual transition from straight track to curved. On the real railroads a very precise hyperbolic curve is calculated. On the model it is sufficient to introduce a larger curve first before your regular curve. Easements make trains look better when entering and leaving the curve and cut down on derailments.

Easy Build

Requiring very basic modeling tools, these simple, "easily assembled" kits are often pre-colored.


Electrical Multiple Unit

A train consisting entirely of coaches, the outer of which have a cab enabling the train to be independently driven in both directions. An EMU is powered from an outside power source such as the overhead catenary or a third running rail


In electrofrog turnouts the frog is full metal and is always live. It needs insulated rail joiners to be fitted at certain track positions. Reffered to as Live frog


On a drawing or set of plans, a single side view of a structure, or the vertical rise above a given level or grade.


Ridge of earth or rock to raise the natural ground level.


The type of layout where your train starting at one end will eventually have to stop before it can be returned to its starting point. This is where the "fiddle yard" comes in.


See Locomotive.


Commonly referred to as the locomotive; is actually the cylinders and their drivers.

Engine Yard

The yard in which engines are stored and serviced.


the train crew member who actually drives the engine.


A crew member who controls the locomotive; he is in charge of the train while it is moving.


Available in a number of different set times, this two-part (hardener and resin) adhesive is durable, and appropriate for porous and non-porous materials.


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.

express car

a baggage car or box car assigned to express company service. The express companies were the UPS of the pre-1970 world.


A train not shown on schedules; it operates on train orders.

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Facing Crossover

A crossover arranged so that trains can pass from one track to the other while travelling forwards.

Facing Switch

A turnout or switch with the points facing traffic.


The place where a connection is made to supply power to the track. In model railway terms we refer to the feed as the positive.


Feedback controllers create a closed loop between the controller and the locomotive which senses the load in the circuit and constantly adjusts the output. This will maintain the locomotive at an even speed up and down gradients and around curves without altering the regulator of the controller. Feedback controllers are not suitable for Portescap or other coreless motors or for poor quality mechanisms particularly in ‘N’ and other small gauges.


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

This is an out of sight, non scenery part of the layout where your trains go to when they have vanished from sight beneath a road over bridge, through a tunnel or behind a building somewhere, the choice is yours. The trains can be turned here, either by hand or by mechanical means, for their return journey.

Figure Eight

The kind of layout where the continuous run crosses over itself in the shape of a figure eight.


Earth or rock is used to make a level roadbed across a valley or depression.

fine scale

Modelers in the far distant past sometimes made their models for practical reasons with some of the dimensions of certain parts of a model to a coarser scale than an exact reduction would require. These parts are therefor not to exact scale. Therefore some of the dimensions in the NMRA Standards are coarser than may be absolutely necessary with today's state-of- the-art modeling. Fine scale modelers tighten up those dimensions, though they do not necessarily use exact measure. (see also Proto87)


Found in steam engines, a fire-box is like a home fireplace, having a grating to support the fire, a flue to remove the gas and hot air and ducts to provide fresh air to keep the fire burning. It is insulated to prevent its melting and to help direct the heat.


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.


Also known as rail joiners. Metal clips used to join track together to provide an unbroken electrical circuit.


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.


he thin or projecting rim on a wheel which fits down below the rail and keeps the wheel on the track.


To be removed from finished parts, flash is excess casting material that has leaked out from the gaps between mold sections.

Flat bottom Rail

The standard rail section in use on all modern systems. The rail has a wide base and, originally, was spiked directly to the sleeper. With increasing train loadings, base plates were introduced to spread the load and on all but lightly laid track now has the rail secured either by bolts and clips or patent clips.

flat car

a freight car with an unenclosed flat deck.


track which may be laid straight or custom curved by the modeler to virtually any radius. The track comes with rails fastened to realistic ties. Usually sold in three foot or meter lengths.


When incorporated in model train locomotives, these circular metal weights improve low speed operation, while allowing a train to coast, rather than abruptly slow down, or stop, when the throttle speed is reduced, or switched off.


Deck, Cab floor, operating platform of steam locomotive.


See tracktive effort.

Foreign Car

One that belongs to some other railroad other than the one it runs on.


Federal Railroad Administration - the main Federal Government railroad regulatory agency in modern times.


The foundation of chassis on which a locomotive is constructed.


Modeling that does not closely follow a prototype railroad; Also called "scratch building".


flashing rear end device - equipment which has been used to eliminate the caboose. FREDs not only flash a warning light to the rear of the train, they also transmit the brake pipe air pressure at the end of the train to the engineer so that he knows that his train remains together.


A refrigerator car; also referred to as a "reefer".

freight car

any of a number of types of railroad cars designed for the carriage of freight. Freight cars include: box cars, flat cars, tank cars, hopper cars, gondola cars, container cars, etc.

freight container

see container

Freight Yard

A group of tracks used for storage of freight cars.


the number of times per second an alternating current reverses its direction.


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.

Funicular Railway

A railway on which trains ascend and descend a steep incline in pairs. One ascends while the other descends and, driven by ropes1 or cables, they act to counterbalance each other.

G Gauge

a system operating model trains on rails 64 mm (2.519") apart. There are several different scales representing real track gauges of from 24" to 4-8-1/2" that use G Gauge. The most common scale used with G gauge track is 1:22.5 or .533" to the foot.

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Gandy Dancer

Member of a section gang.


The space between the locomotive and the tender through which the crew enters and leaves.

Gantry Signal

A lightweight bridge structure crossing several tracks carrying many signal posts or colour light heads.


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.

gap (rail)

a cut made through a piece of rail to isolate two electrical blocks from each other. Gaps are best filled with a bit of plastic when in the middle of a piece of track or an insulated rail joiner can be used at the end of a piece of piece of track. In either case this will keep the rails from accidentally closing the space and causing a short circuit.


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.

Garden Railway

A model railway that runs exclusively outside, often on a larger gauge than indoor railways.

Gas Turbine

A rotary internal combustion engine driven by expanding gases exerting force against vanes or similar structures mounted on a common shaft.




The distance between the two running rails on a single piece of track. In 4mm 00 that is 16.5mm. "standard gauge" is 4 foot 8-1/2 inches


The distance between the two rails a train runs on.


Nickname for early General moters Diesel Locomotives.


A device that changes mechanical energy to electrical energy.

glad hand

the metal fitting on the brake hose on the end of a car which is used to connect the air brake system from one car to the next. The curved metal wires that hang down from model couplers to activate magnetic uncoupling are sometimes also referred to as "glad hands."


String of empty freight cars.


Slang expression for a locomotive, usually a small yard switcher.


A long, open, flat, car with short sides for hauling items like lumber, steel and scrap.


European term for general freight.


Device for maintaining a constant engine crankshaft speed over long periods during which the load on the engine may vary.

Grab Iron

Steel hand rails found on the sides, ends, and roofs of locomotives and rolling stock.


trackage which rises from one level to another. In this country, usually expressed as a percentage of rise - that is a rise of 1" in every 100" (or any other unit) is equal to a 1% grade; 2 in 100 = 2%, and so forth. In many foreign countries, rise is expressed in rise of one per a number of units: that is a 1 in 100 rise is the same as a 1% grade; a 1 in 50 is equivalent to a 2% grade, and so forth.

Grade Crossing

Where a street or highway crosses the railroad. Also where two tracks cross each other.


The pattern, direction, and/or arrangement of fibers in a piece of card stock or wood.


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 foam

foam rubber that has been dyed and then ground for use in simulating various kinds of foliage in model scenery.

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.

ground throw

a manual apparatus used to change the position of a switch or turnout.

guard rail

bridge - rails laid across a bridge between the regular running rails to restrain the wheels of a derailed car so that it does not go completely off the track while on the bridge.

guard rail

turnout - the short pieces of rail located across from the switch frog which pull the wheels away from the frog and guide them through the switch or turnout.


Calcium sulfate used to make molding plaster, Hydrocal, and Plaster of paris.These products are commonly used in model railroad scenery projects.


a box car with a higher than normal inside height providing more cubic capacity for the carriage of light weight, high volume freight.

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A water train.


A caboose.

half wave current

alternating current that has had one half or side of the alterations removed so that what remains are a series of humps all of the same polarity. Used to help break the inertia of a direct current motor and get a model locomotive moving smoothly from stop.


Stopping place, without normal station facilities, for local train services.

hard shell

a system for building very thin but extremely strong plaster scenery base using a proprietary gypsum plaster called Hydrocal.


A scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster and laying them over a light support structure.

Head End Cars

Normally attached to the front of a passenger train, baggage, mail, railway post office, and express refrigerator cars are examples of head end cars.


A length of track which feeds any number of sidings and that allows those sidings to be shunted without blocking the main line.


the time interval between trains running in the same line.


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.


The second or added locomotive on a double-header.

Helper Engine

An additional locomotive called a "helper engine" may be added to a train consist in order to provide the extra power needed to surmount steep grades


(Head End Power) Electricity from the locomotives Generator which is used by another locomotive, or passenger cars for heating ,cooling, and lights.


Trademark or logo on locomotives and freight cars

High Iron

Main line; track on which travel is only by schedule or order.


To speed; a sign to go ahead; derived from old railroad ball signals.


An overheated journal or bearing on a freight car wheel resulting from breakdown of lubricating film between bearing and journal.

HO scale

a reduction of size of 1:87.1 in the model which is equal to 3.5 mm to one foot. HO standard gauge uses a track gauge of 16.5 mm (.649"). When the scale for HO was set many years ago, O scale models were built to a scale of 7 mm to the foot. So HO was "Half O" or 3.5 mm to the foot.


A relaxing activity engaged in during a person's spare time, normally not taken seriously. Model railways often begin as a hobby before becoming a calling.


Slang for a locomotive, yard switchers also called yard hogs.


a proprietary system of track bed consisting of Homosote which has been cut to the outline of the ballast cross-section of track and milled to an exact thickness. See also Homosote.


A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed.

Home Cars

Freight cars owned by the railroad.

Home signal

The semaphore signal controlling entry into a block section.


a brand name of paper based sound deadening and insulating board intended for house construction, usually sold in 4'x8' sheets in various thicknesses. Used by model railroaders as a base for track because of its sound deadening properties and because it is both soft enough to make it easy to drive spikes into it while being hard enough to hold them.


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.

hornby hook coupler

a type of coupler sometimes erroneously referred to as an "NMRA coupler" that is used on the cars in most train sets as well as on cars intended for sale to beginners. They were designed by an NMRA committee, but were never adopted by the NMRA as a Standard.


The dominant name in British model railways. Train sets are sometimes called 'Hornby railways' in a similar fashion to how every slot-car racetrack is known as 'Scalextric'.


Power a unit of power equal to 75kg metres per sec, 33,000 ft per lb per min, or 746 watts.


car for the conveyance of horses.


The measuring unit of power; the power necessary to continuously raise 550 pounds one foot in one second.


A roundhouse worker who cares for and moves the locomotives after each trip.

Hot Knife

Used for cutting polystyrene tiles. Just a piece of wire held in a special tool handle. It plugs into the electric mains, gets hot and melts the polystyrene tile as you move it through the material.

Hot Shot

A fast through freight.


A journal bearing box that has overheated due to the excessive friction generated by foreign matter or inadequate lubrication.


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.


a proprietary brand of gypsum plaster noted for its quick drying and high strength. Used by model railroaders as a strong, thin scenery base.


A diesel hydraulic locomotive produced for the Western region of British Rail that were designated Class 35.

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"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.


See Simulator

Inspection Car

self propelled service vehicle used for inspecting track


Insulated Rail Joiner

To be used when rails need to be connected to each other mechanically but isolated from each other electrically.


As the name suggests these turnouts have an insulated tip to the frog, in other words, electrically dead. This keeps the two electrical circuits through the turnout completely separated and only requires insulated rail joiners to be fitted under certain circumstances.


Point, where passengers or freight are exchanged between trains.

Interchange Point

A location where cars switch from one road to another.


Junction tracks that permit trains or rolling stock to reciprocally travel from one railroad to another.


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.

Interlocking Tower

Often called signal or switch towers, these elevated railroad structures house mechanical or electrical signal and turnout control equipment.


equipment designed to be used by more than one mode of transportation, most commonly rail, water and road.

Intermodal Transport

Combination of rail transport with another form of transportation such as ships or overland vehicles.


Drawing power from overhead lines, or a third rail that is located alongside the track, these self propelled, electric passenger railcars connected cities or towns.


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.



Island Platform

An island platform is one with tracks on both sides.

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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.


The portion of an axle that is contained by a bearing.

Journal Box

Found on railway trucks, these housings contain a journals and bearings.

Journal Log

Compiled by the guard of the make-up and events of train/movement.

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Brand name for precision couplers which are designed for model railroading.

Kadee couplers

a proprietary system of couplers in several scales allowing automatic coupling by pushing cars together and magnetic uncoupling. Micro Trains produces the same couplers in N scale. These have been the couplers of choice of most serious modelers for many years. Since Kadee's patents ran out recently, there have been a number of imitators or clones on the market.


Wedge of hard wood or spring steel inserted between rail and chair to hold rail firmly in position at correct gauge.


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.

Kit Bashed

This is when you take a kit of some model and so alter or add to it that the model takes on your own personal stamp or may even become a totally different model.

Kit Built

A model built entirely from the parts supplied. An obvious one really but relevant to what follows.


altering the parts of a kit to produce a car or structure that is unique, or combining parts from two or more kits to produce the same result.


An new model that is constructed from the parts of two or more existing kits.


aking one or more model railroad kits and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.

Knuckle Coupler

Designed to look like prototypical railway couplers, both operational (e.g., Accurail® Accumate, Kato, and Micro-Trains® Line Magne-Matic®) and non-operational dummy (e.g., Intermountain Railway Co. and Model Die Casting Inc. Roundhouse Products®) versions can be found on N scale models.

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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.


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.

Lap Joint

Typically used to produce a flush or continuous surface, lap joints are created by joining the overlapping the ends of two boards of wood.



The design of a model railway. The sum of the track, scenery, buildings, locomotives and cars of a model railroad.


"Less- than-Carload-lot" Small shipments that do not requirq an entire car.

Lead Track

Trackage connecting a yard with the main line.

left hand turnout (or switch)

a turnout which directs a train to the left of the straight line of travel.


German Company that makes train controls, mainly known for PH100 range of DCC controllers

Less than Carload (LCL)

Freight shipments that are smaller than the volume of a full car load.

Level Crossing

Crossing of two railways, or a railway and road, on the same level.


"Lehmann Gross Bahn" (The large train) German Manufacturer of high quality large scale Model railroading equipment.


Light Emitting Diode

Short for light-emitting diode. An electronic semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current passes through it. They are considerably more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and rarely burn out.

Light Engine

Locomotive running without a train.

Limit of shunt

Board marking the point beyond which vehicles must not pass during shunting operations.

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.

Linear Power Supply

AC to DC power adapter that transforms AC and then rectifies low voltage AC to DC (Usually type used in wall adapters)


Surgical bandage useful in model railway scenic work, American Cast Gauge.


Fashioned out of concrete, stone, or wood, these horizontal structural members are located above door and window openings.

Liquid Nails

a proprietary brand of panel adhesive sold in tubes to be used with a caulking gun.

Live Steam

Model railways that run on steam-power rather than electricity.

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.

Loading Gauge

The space either side and above the track so that locomotives and rolling stock can pass by without coming into contact with anything.

Local Line

Line of track normally used by suburban or stopping passenger trains.


The unit that provides the power for the train. The locomotive's role is purely to pull or push the carriages or wagons that make up the train.

Locomotive Decoder

A small PC board which contains a ‘chip’ that stores control information;normally fitted in locomotives. The Command Station sends coded information to the decoder which can then control the locomotives speed, direction and any operating functions that the locomotive may have e.g lights. Locomotive Decoders can be fitted to accessories that have a motor as a drive for example the R8131 Hornby Operating Conveyor or the R813 Hornby Tipper set.


Continuous circular connection between up and down lines at terminal station or yard enabling trains to reverse direction without releasing locomotive.


Coupled vehicles of a train loosely coupled together with three link couplings.

Low Iron

Yard tracks; anything not on the main line.

Low Relief

A term usually applied to buildings close to the back edge of a model railway that have been modelled to a less than full depth. This helps to give the appearance that the layout extends much further than it really does.

Lower-quadrant Semaphores

Semaphores where the arm is horizontal to indicate 'stop', and lowered 45 degrees to indicate 'all clear'. Largely superseded by Upper-quadrant semaphores as accidents had been caused by broken signals dropping to indicate 'all clear' when the signal should have indicated 'stop'.

Lubricating Oil

Viscous liquid introduced between moving surfaces to reduce friction.

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main line

the primary route or most heavily used tracks of a railroad.

Maintenance of Way (MOW)

Rolling stock or structures utilized in maintaining a railroad, and/or repairing and/or salvaging wrecked trains.


An articulated steam locomotive named after the designer; sometimes used to describe any articulated locomotive.


Flags or lights used on trains to indicate special status or to warn of a following section.


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.


Motorbrake second open carriage car.


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.


electric - a gauge used to measure the flow of electric current. Most commonly found on a model railroad are volt meters and ampere (or amp) meters.


Manufacturer of precision model railroading equipment in both "Z" scale and "N" scale.


Abbreviated term for a Mikado type locomotive.

Milk Car

Refrigerator car for milk.

Milk Train

A slow train.

Miniature Railway

A small-scale railway that can carry passengers.

Mixed Train

A train pulling both passengers and freight cars.


Master Model Railroader. One who has completed the requirements established by the NMRA by obtaining certificates in the Achievement Program as a "Master" of at least seven areas of model railroading.

Model Railway

A scaled-down version of a real (or fictitious) railway that is too small to transport a person.


Model Rectifier Corporation

U.S. Company that makes RC models and controls but also train controls, mainly known for Prodigy range of DCC controllers

Modern Image

A term introduced in the 1960s to describe the then new diesel hauled and electrified trains on British Rail. The object was to distinguish between current practice and the steam hauled system. Over the past few years it has become necessary to distinguish between current practice and Historic Modern Image.


A roll of plaster-coated bandage similar to the stuff used for making plaster casts around broken limbs. Modellers use this to sculpt hills, valleys and undulations to give their layout added realism.


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.


Portable sections that can be joined to others to form a complete operating model train layout.


See Simulator


A railroad in which the train runs on a single rail.

Mortise and Tenon Joint

Joints that are formed by cutting a hole, grooving, notching, or slotting a piece of wood (mortise) to receive another piece of wood that has a protrusion on one end (tenon)

Mother Hubbard

A locomotive with the cab straddling the boiler like a saddle. (See Camelback)


A moving mechanism on a steam locomotive.

Motor Bridge

Bogie having driving wheels or motored axles.

Motor Tool

A battery or AC powered hand-held motorized tool mounted with an interchangeable collet that can be fitted with drill bits, or other kinds of cutting, grinding, milling, and polishing tools.


Driver of an electric train, railcar or multiple unit train.

Mountain Railway

Specialized form of railway for ascending mountains.


Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.


"Model Railroad Industry Association", An association of Model Railroad manufacturers.


"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.

Muntin (Glazing Bar)

A strip of metal or wood that retains the glass panes within a window.

Muzzle Loader

Any hand-fired steam locomotive.

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N scale

models built to a scale of 1:160. The letter "N" was chosen because N standard gauge track has the rails laid 9 mm apart and since the scale originated in Germany, the N signifies "nine" in German, English and several other languages. The gauge has since been changed to 8.97 mm or .353". One foot in N scale = 1.90 mm (.075").

narrow gauge

track whose rails are laid to a gauge of less than that of "standard gauge" or 4 feet 8 and one half inches. The most common narrow gauges in this country have been 3 foot gauge and 24 inch gauge. In the rest of the world, the British colonial gauge of 42 inches and meter (39.34") gauge have also been popular.


National Model Railroad Association

NMRA helps to promote the hobby, establish standards, reward modelers for their talents as Master Model Railroaders, and much more.

NMRA Gauge

a track gauge that also has a number of other uses for checking wheel and track relationships. In most gauges it can also serve as a clearance gauge.


Usual position of points or signals before action initiated by signalman to allow a train movement.


North Coast Engineering

U.S. Company that makes train controls, mainly known for PowerPro and ProCab range of DCC controllers


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.


Run by volunteers, the N Scale Collector Society is devoted to preserving the history of N Scale Model Railroading.


Run by volunteers, the nonprofit N-TRAK Modular Railroading Society developed the wildly popular modular standard that is globally used by numerous groups and individuals to promote N scale model railroading.

Nut, Bolt, and Washer Casting (NBW)

Castings that are meant to simulate the end of a rod, with an attached washer and nut.

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O Gauge

14 volts D.C. is used for "HO" gauge, and 0 - 20 volts D.C. is used for large scale model railroading.

O scale

models built to a scale of 1:48 or ¼"=1'0. At one time O scale was the most popular size for modelers, but it was surpassed by HO scale during World War II. It has a rather small, but fiercely partisan group of followers who sometimes refer to it as the "King of Gauges." O standard gauge is set at 1.250".

Observation Car

Passenger-carrying vehicle, usually at rear of train, with windows and seating arranged to give maximum view of passing scenery.

Occupancy Decoder

A unit that can detect the presence of a locomotive on a specific section of track and can provide the appropriate information as ‘return’ data.

On The Ground

Used to describe a derailment.

OO scale

models built to a scale of 1:76.2 or 4mm to the foot. At one time this scale was in contention with HO for a place as the most popular among modelers, but now it is a minority scale with very few (but very devoted) fans. Track gauge is .750" or 19.0 mm.

Open Frame Motor

A motor with an open casing (i.e., an exposed motor armature).  Older open frame motors typically draw more amperage, tend to run hotter, and are not as smooth (due in part to few and often non-skewed armature segments) as their modern sealed can counterparts.

open framework benchwork

benchwork that is completely open except in level areas so that scenery may be built both above and below track level.


Running trains on a layout in a way that stimulates real railroad activity.


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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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.


A background picture that gives a wide sweeping view in all directions when seen from a central point.


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.

Parting LIne

The residual mark or ridge that is produced by the joining of mold halves.

passenger car

a railroad car designed for the carriage of passengers, or for service to passengers (such as a dining car or lounge car), or for use in a passenger train (such as baggage or postal car).

Passing Contact Switch

A changeover switch which only connects momentarily as the switch is thrown. Used for solenoid type turnout motors.

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.


A way freight.

Pedler Freight Train

A freight train that switches cars at most of the towns along its route.

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.

percent (grade)

see grade

Permanent Way

Term for track-bed and tracks in position.

piano wire

a very strong, stiff, flexible wire intended for the strings in a piano but usable for many purposes in model railroading.


Electric current contact such as a roler or sliding pick up shoe.

Pickup 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.


A support for the center section of a bridge.


A system of carrying truck trailers or similar containers on flat cars.


A model train layout or a railway scene.


A rectangular, non-load-bearing, decorative column or pillar, which typically has a base and capital.


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.

pin vice

a handheld device used to hold very small drill bits, files and other very small tools while working on a model.


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.


Track maintenance man.

Platelayer’s Hut

Small shed for use of platelayers, section house.


A small passenger train.


A tapered moveable rail by which a train is directed from one line to another.

Point Blades

The thin section of rail which can be moved to change the selected route on a set of points, held the correct distance apart by a tiebar. Known in America as Switch Rails.


The points are a junction where trains are able to move from one track to another. Known in America as Switches.


The two directions of current flow, positive (+) and negative (-), or potential in an electrical circuit.


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.

Polyurethane or Urethane Castings

Molded castings manufactured from liquid two-part (hardener and resin) organic or synthetic chemicals.

postal car

a railroad car designed for the carriage of the U.S. Mails. Until the mid-1970s, there was usually a provision for picking up mail bags from smaller stations while the train was in motion, sorting the mail enroute by Railway Postal Clerks, and dropping bags of mail off at stations along the train's route.

Power Booster/Power Station

A Power Booster or Power Station is as the name implies, there to provide a boost of power to the track. This can occur if a larger than normal quantity of locomotives are required to be running on the track at the same time. If the transformer already fitted cannot handle this number then it will be necessary to section the layout and fit a Power Booster. This Booster will not only provide more ampage to drive the locomotives but also boost the signals to the Decoders. All Boosters fitted must still be connected to the Power Station.

Power Bus

Copper strip or wires that can relay power from a Power Booster to the track.

power pack

a commercially manufactured, usually sealed, complete unit for powering model trains consisting of a transformer to reduce house voltage to that required for operating the trains, a rectifier to change alternating current to direct current, a rheostat to vary the voltage applied to the track, and a reversing switch. May also have additional switches, indicator lamps, etc.

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 Supply Unit

A mains fed unit that supplies low voltage out. Often refferd to as a an adapter or power pack. Often wall mounted by the plug pins (often reffered to as a Wall wart in the U.S.)

Power Unit

A device which converts high-voltage main current into low voltage currents, often with several outputs.

Primary winding

This is the winding of a transformer which is connected to the source of supply, normally the mains.


The action of setting the internal parameters of decoders and other control equipment. During programming, values are set for CVs to determine the characteristics of locomotives, decoders and other programmable Digital devices.


a group that models track and wheels to exact scale in HO. NMRA Standards are somewhat oversized to allow for more reliable operation of model trains on track that is built to less exacting standards.


A full-sized locomotive or car; the original unit from which the model has been patterned.


Owned and operated by the Pullman Car Company, these passenger cars typically consisted of diners,  parlors, and sleepers.

Pullman Car

Rail car providing a high standard of comfort and service for which a premium fare must be paid.

Pulse Power

The locomotive is fed intermittent pulses of current to facilitate slow starts.

Push Pull

A type of train where the train's carriages are kept permanently coupled to the locomotive which pulls them in one direction then pushes them in the other. On most layouts the locomotive would be of the tank variety.

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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

any of a number of systems using a wireless hand held device to control the speed and direction of a train. May use constant voltage on the track with a device on the engine receiving a radio signal from the controller telling it how much voltage to use and which direction to go. Or it may use a conventional cab system and just control the voltage produced by a fixed power pack through signals transmitted by radio.


A railway track or railway line is a smooth, flat metal surface which trains run along. In America, a length of railway line makes up a Railroad, and in the UK the length of railway line is known as a Railway.A "T" shaped steel shape designed to be laid end-to-end in two parallel lines on cross ties or similar supporting materials to form track to support railway cars. In the prototype, rail size is measured in pounds per yard. In the model in 1/1000's of an inch (see "code")

Rail Car

Self-propelled passenger carrying vehicle.

rail code

see Code rail

rail joiner

a metal or plastic piece folded into a flattened "C" shape which slides onto the web of each of two pieces of model rail to join and hold them in end to end alignment.

Rail Joiners

On model railways, track is joined by sliding metal connectors called rail joiners over the rail ends.


railway post office

a car built by the railroad to standard postal designs and leased to the United States Post Office in which one or more postal clerks picked up, sorted and delivered mail while the car was enroute between two cities.

Rapido Coupler

An industry standard (like HO scale's NMRA horn hook X2F coupler) N scale hook style coupler that was originally developed by the now defunct, German manufacturer, Arnold Rapido.the original couplers used on N-scale cars named for the company that first produced them. From the top they look like the letter "C". Many N-scale cars are still produced with these couplers.


Slang for a freight train.

Razor Saw

A miniaturized, stiff backed, fine toothed, type of hacksaw that is used to make straight or angular cuts.


(Remote Control Section) - A type of Lionel track for unloading and uncoupling

Ready to Run (also RTR)

Completely assembled and ready for use.


Abbreviated to RTR, ready-to-run model railways require no assembly before use.

Recommended Practice

a practice not absolutely essential to interchange of models between modelers and their layouts which is recommended by the NMRA for use by all modelers and manufacturers.


An electronic device which converts AC to DC. (Usualy consists of a bridge of 4 diodes)

Red Ball

A fast freight train.


A refrigerator car. Similar to a boxcar but has ice or mechanical cooling equipment.

Reefer (Refrigerator Car)

Cooled by ice loaded through roof hatches, or by mechanical means, in modern times,  these insulated freight cars are used to transport frozen goods.

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.


a usually plastic device built into a piece of track that will cause a derailed truck to run back onto the rails. Most are disguised as a RR crossing.

Resistance Soldering

Designed to concentrate intense heat at a specific point of contact, resistance soldering equipment is commonly used to assemble brass models.


A device used to reduce the intensity of electricity.

Restricted Track

A track section where train speeds are reduced.


A device used for decreasing speed; brakes.


The place where a connection is made to the track to allow current to flow back to the controller. In model railway terms this is called the negative.

Reverse Curve

A compound curve of opposite directions.

Reverse Loop

A reverse loop is created where a track leaves a circuit and then rejoins it with the train going in the oA reverse loop is created where a track leaves a circuit and then rejoins it with the train going in the opposite direction. This will result in a short circuit unless the section is isolated from the rest of the circuit. A DPDT switch is then used to reverse the polarity of the circuit concerned.


A station where train reverses direction of travel . May be at normal dead end or terminal station.


a device used to add resistance to an electric circuit with the result of reducing the voltage applied to the track.

right hand turnout (or switch)

a turnout which directs a train to the right of the straight line of travel.

Right of Way

Land that has been acquired by a railroad for erecting structures and laying down tracks.


Large pieces of stone used to prevent washouts in roadbeds.


a wood piece extending from the benchwork to the underside of the track to support it at a specific height.

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.


in model railroading the material laid under the track to support it, deaden sound, and represent the contour of the ballast. Most often made of cork, but may also be made of paper (Homosote) or rubber.

rolling stock

freight, passenger and MOW cars. Equipment designed to roll on the track.


An Engine shed for the storage, service and repair of locomotives usually with a turntable.


The actual distance traveled over the tracks between two points.

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.

rubber cement

a glue formed of rubber dissolved in a solvent to form a cement most useful for joining light porous materials such as paper and wood. Can also be used as a contact cement by applying to both surfaces to be joined and allowing to dry to the touch before joining the materials.

Rule G

The railroad rule against drinking.

Ruling Gradient

The steepest incline on the model.

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.

Running Stock

The running stock include all the components of your railway that are capable of self-propulsion; all of the rest that have to be pulled or pushed from place to place are the rolling stock.

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S scale

a scale of 1:64 or 3/16" (.188"/4.76 mm) to the foot. S standard gauge is .875" (22.2 mm).


the ratio of size of a model to the size of the real thing. Usually expressed as the number of units of measure in the prototype that one of the same units of measure equals in the model. Expressed as a mathematical ratio of the prototypical dimensions (Z = 1:220 - 1.38mm to 1', N = 1:160 - 1.9mm to 1', TT = 1:120 - 1/10" to 1', HO = 1:87 - 3.5mm to 1', S = 1:64 - 3/16" to 1', O = 1:48 - 1/4" to 1', I = 1:32 - 3/8" to 1', G = 1:24 - 1/2" to 1').

Scale Lumber

Wood that has been cut to the precise scale proportions of commonly sized commercial building materials.

scale mile

a real mile scaled down in the same proportion as the model. Some common scale miles equal: N = 33.0 feet; HO = 60.7 feet; S = 82.5 feet; and O = 110.0 feet.

scale rule

a special ruler showing scale feet and inches for one or more modeling scales.


A fine coloured powder which is used to represent grass, gravel, sand, cinders on a path, mud, and various other types of ground cover and foliage (with a little ingenuity).

Scatter materials

These are purchased or ready made ground up materials which are scattered on a sticky surface to represent grass, earth or foliage. Made from sawdust or different kinds of foam usually. Available in many colours and grades from various manufacturers. Also reffered to as flock.


material used on the model layout to represent the land, trees, crops, grass, weeds, water, etc of real life.        Structures are also considered scenery.

Scenic break

A way of dividing up a model railway to make it look as if two or more sections are further apart than is the fact. This effect can be achieved by making your train disappear through a cutting, or under a bridge or a tunnel.


An officially published timetable of railway departures and arrivals.

Scissor Crossing

Junction between two parallel railway tracks enabling trains to cross over from one to the other in either direction.

scratch build

a model that is completely builder constructed without the use of any commercial parts except for motor, gears, couplers, light bulbs, and wood and metal shapes.


Making a model from raw materials and parts, and not using kits.


The model is built from parts that you have made, or mostly made, yourself.


To etch or scratch a mark or line into a piece of material.  Scribed materials are meant to resemble a series of individual boards.


This is a method of marking out planking, brick or stonework etc on the material of your choice by using a pointed instrument or blade to indent or cut into the material so as to give the effect of relief. When colour is applied to the whole the cuts or indentations stand out.

Secondary winding

This is the output winding of a transformer and is usually isolated from primary winding. Many transformers have two secondary windings.

Section Hand

A track worker.

sectional track

track usually sold to beginners in fairly short standardized lengths and curves of fixed diameter.

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.


onductor - Material used in electric traction rectifiers, whose electrical resistance depends on the direction of the applied voltage. Silicon and Germanium are typical examples.


Type of fixed signal with a pivoted arm which can be raised or lowered as required.


These signals pass messages to train drivers depending on the position of their arms. Many semaphores contain coloured lenses known as spectacles, which change the colour of a light depending on the position of the arm.


Length of service relative to others.

Service Track

Track on which engines take on coal and water.


Rigid, pre-formed pieces of track.

shakE The box kiT

a kit designed for the beginner that has relatively little for the modeler to do. Hence "shake the box" and it is assembled.


A caboose, also a small building.


To switch cars.


To switch to another path.


Known in America as switching, shunting is the act of sorting items of rolling stock. This is usually done with the aim of forming a train of interlocked carriages or wagons heading to the same destination, or to break up a train into individual wagons and carriages on the completion of a journey.


Train which gives a frequent return service over a short route.


the prototype railroads consider a siding to be a track auxiliary to the main track where trains can meet or pass. A siding may be either single ended with a turnout at one end only, or double ended with turnouts at both ends. Modelers extend the meaning to also include the track at industries used for the storage of freight cars while being loaded and discharged.


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.


a device used to tell an engineer the condition of the track ahead of his train. Information communicated includes whether the track is clear or occupied by another train, and often also the route over which his train will travel.


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

A raised building containing a series of levers which, when manipulated, control the points and signals in a local area. These are built on sites with an excellent view of the railway, so that a signalman can ensure there are no obstructions or other problems on the line.


Devices used to communicate with an engine driver travelling along the railway line. These usually inform whether or not it is safe to proceed, and come in the form of semaphore or light signals.


Sand storage tower for filling locomotive sand boxes.


This is sometimes called "inertia" or "momentum". It allows controllers so fitted to automatically accelerate a train, allow it to coast or be braked to a standstill. This is achieved by two controls, a regulator and a brake and gives more realistic acceleration and braking.


Single Pole Double Throw

A single-pole changeover switch. Used to switch feed wires from one circuit to the next, as in Cab Control. May have a centre off position.

Single Track System

Consists of a single track between two terminals.


Bridge spans obliquely and is therefore longer than the square gap.


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.


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.


The series of horizontal planks at right angles to the rails that the rails rest on.

sleeping car

a passenger car equipped with sleeping accommodations. The beds are usually arranged to fold away during daylight hours.


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.

Snap Saw

a proprietary brand of razor saw specifically designed for cutting track

Snap Switch

a proprietary brand of turnout designed to work well with sectional track

Snap Track

a proprietary brand of sectional track.

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.


Alloys that are melted in order to join two metal surfaces with higher melting points.


ongitudinal main frame, outer member of carriage or wagon under-frame, usually of channel section.


A coil of wire wound around a hollow core which creates a magnetic field within the core when electricity is passed through it.


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.

solid state

term for electronic relays and circuits provided on or in a solid chip or other such device.


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.


Single pole double through. A type of electrical switch used in model railroading.


A train not shown in the working time table or pre-planned.

Speed Steps

A variable voltage increase used to control motor speeds. Decoders can set the output power for each speed step.


An L shaped Square section heavy steel nail driven into wooden sleeper to affix flanged rail in position.


To position a railroad car at a specific location.


o marshall or shunt. To move a car to the desired location.


The rod or frame that secures an unassembled model's molded parts.


single pole single throw switch. A simple on/off switch to be located in one line of an electric circuit.


A divergent track having only one entry; a branch line over which irregular service is offered.


Accommodation for a short period of time.


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.


Interlacing of sleepers at switches and crossing or, making rail joints in one running rail not to coincide with those in other rail.


trackage - usually hidden - used to store complete trains out of or away from the layout, from which they can be run into the operating area and to which they can be returned and stored when they are no longer needed. Staging usually represents places well outside of the layout's depicted area so that trains may be considered to run from some place well beyond the basement onto the layout and then to continue on to someplace else beyond the basement.

Stall Current

Stall Current is the maximum current draw in amperes that a locomotive is capable of when stalled.If the armature of a motor is prevented from turning and the maximum voltage is applied the current draw of the motor is known as the "Stall Current". Throttle NotchesDetermines whether a locomotive is controlled with 8,14, or 18 speed steps.


a measurement, ratio, value or relationship that is required in order to allow the interchange of cars and locomotives between track of different manufacturers and layouts of different modelers.

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.

Static Model

A model purely for decoration that does not move.


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.

stock rail

the continuous rails of a turnout - that is an extension of the original two rails in front of and continuing down the outside on either side of the turnout.

Street Furniture

Phone boxes, postboxes and benches. Models of these add extra realism to a model railway.


asswood or another very fine-grained wood cut into strips usually of scale dimensions for use in the construction of fine scale models.


Wood that has been cut to precise dimensions.  Scale lumber is categorized as stripwood.


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.


Typically used in injection molding, this common form of plastic is available in a wide variety of extrusions, sheets, and strips.  Modelers often choose styrene because it is easily cut, is durable, can be worked with basic tools, and is easily painted.


Short for polystyrene, a plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thickness’ and sizes.

Super Glue

See Cyanoacrylate glue


Refining a model railway in order to provide an extra degree of realism that captures the attention of onlookers.

Superelevation (Cant)

Designed to facilitate higher railway speeds, superelevation entails banking tracks in curves to minimize car sway, reduce rail and wheel wear, and redistribute loads across both rails.


A device for raising the temperature and volume of the steam after it leaves the boiler through the application of additional heat.


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.


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.

Switch (electrical)

a device used to turn on and off or divert electrical current.

switch (track)

a device allowing the rails to split or diverge into two or more routes. Model railroaders usually refer to these as "turnouts."

switch machine

an electrical device used to change the position of a switch or turnout.

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.


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.


Switched-Mode Power Supply

AC to DC power adapter that rectifies AC and switches at high frequency through a transformer deliver low voltage rectified DC  (Usually type used in PC PSU's)

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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table top benchwork

a flat table-like top fastened to a stiffening framework upon which the track is laid all at one level.

Tag Strip

A means of joining several wires to a common conductor, such as in a common return system. The wires must be soldered to the tag strip.

Talgo Truck

A model railroad truck frame with an attached coupler.  Although Talgo trucks will permit railway models to negotiate tighter radius curves, they are more prone to derailments when trains are pushed, rather than pulled.


track that is straight, not curved.


Freight car designed to carry liquids or gases in a tank like container.

tank car

a car for the carriage of liquids. Modern tank cars usually have a horizontal tank but early ones had one or more vertical tubs mounted on a flat car. Tank cars may be insulated or uninsulated, lined for the carriage of various chemicals, or designed to carry commodities under pressure. The tank may be divided into discrete sections to allow the carriage of several different liquids in the same car.

Tank Engine

A steam engine that carries its water on board in tanks, rather than pulled behind the engine in a tender. Coal is usually also carried on the engine, in a bunker.

Tank Locomotive

Most commonly used for switching rolling-stock, these small steam locomotives carried their own fuel and water, thereby waiving the need for an attached tender.

Tea Kettle

Old locomotive, especially a leaky steam locomotive.


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.

Tender Engine

A locomotive that uses a tender is called a tender engine rather than a tank engine.


The end of the line (or departure point); The station, switches, associated buildings, towers and other equipment.

Terminal Block

A means of joining two wires with screw terminals, useful to avoid soldering. Also reffered to as Choc block.

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 way point

or switch making connections to three alternative tracks.

Three Rail

Current is fed from a center or side conductor rail, return is through the insulated wheels and track.


Entrance tracks to a terminal or yard.


an electrical device used to control the speed of a train. Most often this is a rheostat which wastes electric current by turning it into heat in order to vary the voltage applied to the track. The lower the voltage, the slower the train will run.

throw bar

the narrow bar which joins the rails at the points of a turnout which allows the switch to be "thrown" from one side to the other. Normally has an extension which allows a ground throw or switch machine to be attached at the side and a hole at the middle for an under-table mounted switch machine.


the cross members to which the rails are fastened. Ties keep the rails in gauge, cushion the rails and transmit the forces of a moving train to the ballast. Traditionally, ties were made of wood - in modern times creosoted wood. In the most modern installations on high speed track, concrete ties are being substituted for wood.


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.Ties keep the rails in gauge, cushion the rails and transmit the forces of a moving train to the ballast. Traditionally, ties were made of wood - in modern times creosoted wood. In the most modern installations on high speed track, concrete ties are being substituted for wood.

Tie Plate

The steel shoes in which the rail sits when spiked to a wooden tie.


The bar that ties the two rails at the points together so that they move at the same time.


A printed schedule of train movements.

Tin Hats

Prototype railroad V.I.P.’s.

tin plate

equipment once designed to be sold to children, most often running on 3 rail track. Cars and locomotives are often shortened to allow them to negotiate sharp curves. Originally pressed from thin sheet steel (ie: tinplate). Detail is usually coarser than scale and often exaggerated. In modern times most often sold to collectors.

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.


Freight car with facility for unloading contents by tilting the body.


Tip of switch rail at the end which fits against the stock rail.

Toe Boards

Walkway or runningboards on the roof of a car.


A trailer on a flatcar system of intermodal transport on which truck trailers are carried.


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.


Switch blade or rail.


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.


the structure of parallel rails and cross ties that support the train while transmitting its forces to the ballast and roadbed.

track gauge

a device used to set and maintain the proper distance or gauge between the rails.

Track isolation

Track isolation is particularly important with modern controllers. You should always ensure it is not possible for more than one controlled output to be connected to the same circuit or section at the same time. You should similarly ensure that A.C. and uncontrolled outputs are not connected to a controlled circuit.

track nail

small nails provided to fasten sectional track to its base.

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.


The generic term for electrically powered locomotives and self-propelled railcars like Interurbans and trolleys, which drew their electricity from third rail or overhead power lines.

Trailer Truck

A rear locomotive truck with two or four small wheels.

Trailing Switch

One with the points facing in the opposite direction from the flow of traffic.


A series of wagons or carriages coupled together on a railway form a Train, and are moved along the rail by one or more locomotive.

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.

train set

a set provided (usually by a single manufacturer) for beginners that contains an engine, an assortment of cars of various types, track and usually a power pack. Although some train sets are quite inexpensive, caution should be used when buying them as often the components are of poor quality.


An employee who coordinates the work of the yardmaster and the roundhouse foreman; he reports directly to the superintendent.


Streetcar electrically operated public service passenger vehicle on rails in the street.


Light railway or rails for tram-cars.


A device designed to change the voltage of an A.C. supply. All transformers deliver A.C. current and this can then be converted to D.C. Transformers are often used to power accessories on a layout (e.g. Point Motors).

Transition Curve

A curve that gradualy increases or decreases. Also called an easement.


A wooden bridge structure of regularly placed bents.


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


In the UK a Truck is another word for wagon, but in the US a Truck is used to describe a Bogie.


the assembly of wheels, axles, bolster and side frames that provides the rolling portion of a car or diesel locomotive.


A main line or route of a railroad from which other lines branch off.

TT scale

a scale of 1:120 or 1/10" to the foot. TT from "table top." The track gauge is .471" (12.0 mm).


A rotary engine consisting of blades or fans attached to a central shaft which are turned by hot, expanding gases.


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.

turnout number

the ratio of the number of units along the center line of a switch frog traversed for each unit the frog spreads to the sides. A No. 4 frog diverges 1 unit for every 4 it moves ahead; a No. 6, 1 for every 6 units. Although we usually refer to a turnout or switch number, in reality the measurement is for the frog.


Another word for track points (American) and the one most commonly used by modellers.


A rotation device to allow steam engines to be turned to face the opposite direction.


ail - Current is fed along both rails of the track, the rails and wheels being insulated from one another.


(American, Tire) Steel band forming the periphery of a wheel on which the flange and tread profile is formed.

Up train

One which travels on or in the direction of the up line.

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.


Underline bridge carrying the railway over a gap, road, or river.


Framework or structure which supports the body of a rail car.


A roadway going beneath an overpass, scenic effect, bridge, etc.


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.

Upper-quadrant Semaphores

In these, the arm is horizontal to indicate 'stop', and raised 45 degrees to indicate 'all clear'. Should the signal be broken, such as due to the pressure of snow, gravity ensures that the semaphore's arm is dropped to indicate 'stop'.


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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European term for railway vehicle for the conveyance of goods.

Wagon Tippler

A mechanical device which is able to lift up a whole wagon and tip out its contents.

Wagon Turntable

A short-length turntable consisting of a round plate on which two tracks at right angles to each other are located. These devices are used for manoeuvring individual wagons between tracks which are at too obtuse an angle to each other to be connected with

Waist (Panel)

The area of a carriage body about half-way up the body-side; specifically the narrow panels below the windows on a traditionally panelled coach.


Track ballast washed away by water action.

Water Column

A standpipe adjacent to the track and connected to a water supply for filling steam locomotive tenders.

Water Crane

A water column on top of which an additional hinged horizontal pipe is attached.

Water Scoop

To save having to stop to take on more water, many steam locomotives were fitted with water scoops which could pick up water with out stopping from long troughs laid along the track between the rails.

Water Tower

An elevated water-storage tank.

Water Troughs

Longitudinal troughs of water laid between the rails of a train track, for the purpose of a locomotive picking up water without stopping.

Way Car

A freight car carrying local shipments.


Making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up to simulate road grime, the action of sun and rain, and general evidence of use.

Weathering Powder

A means of selectively dirtying the model to make it seem as if the model has seen years of active service!

Welded Rail

Real rail sections that have been welded together to eliminate track joints. Also called continuous rail.

Well Tank

Some steam locomotive carry their water supply in a tank set between the locomotive frames. As this greatly restricts the tank size, many locomotives with well tanks also had small side tanks.

Well Wagon

A goods wagon in which the portion between the two axles or bogies is lowered so as to provide room within the loading- gauge for a high load.

Wheel Base

The distance between the centres of the first and last axles of a vehicle.

Wheel Set

An axle and a pair of wheels.

white glue

any of a number of water based casine glues, almost all of which are white (hence the name). White glues are used for joining porous materials such as paper and wood. The original and best known brand is Elmer's Glue. They are inexpensive and reasonably strong but when dry they are not waterproof.

White Glue (PVA)

An adhesive primarily for joining wood, paper and card materials.


A runaway locomotive.

Wing Rail

 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.

Wireless Cab

A handheld cab that has no cable connection to the layout. Wireless cabs use infrared or radio waves as a method of transmitting information.

Working Timetable

A time table used by railway operators, which includes the times of all regularly-run trains (not just passenger trains).

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.


Type of turnout where the two legs curve away equilaterally, forming a Y. Also a triangular track configuration for turning a locomotive or a train or for joining a branch to a main line for operation in both directions.


Up train

One which travels on or in the direction of the up line.

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.


Underline bridge carrying the railway over a gap, road, or river.


Framework or structure which supports the body of a rail car.


A roadway going beneath an overpass, scenic effect, bridge, etc.


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.

Upper-quadrant Semaphores

In these, the arm is horizontal to indicate 'stop', and raised 45 degrees to indicate 'all clear'. Should the signal be broken, such as due to the pressure of snow, gravity ensures that the semaphore's arm is dropped to indicate 'stop'.


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.


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.


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.

vertical curve

the curve assumed by the track as it changes from level to a grade or vice versa. For good operation, this needs to be a very large radius.

Vestiblue Cab

Closed cab on steam locomotives to protect the engineer and fireman from inclement weather; includes doors and diaphragm connection to tender.


The area at the end of corridor and saloon coaches, from which access may be gained to the side corridor or central passageway, outside doors, W.C. (if any), and corridor connection to the next coach (if any).


A railway structure which is used to carry railway tracks above the general level of the ground and is usually made up of a continuous series of bridges or trestles.


A long bridge consisting of a series of several small spans, often used by railways over rivers and areas of uneven ground.


A unit of electrical pressure. Commonly, 0 to 9 volts of DC are used for Z scale model railroading, 0 to 14 volts DC for N, HO and 00 scale, and 0 to 20 volts DC for large-scale model railroading.


A unit of electrical pressure. Commonly, 0 - 9 volts of D.C. is used for "Z" scale model railroading,


Electromotive force (analogous to a pressure) measured in volts



cto knife - a popular brand of hobby knife using interchangeable knife blades of different shapes.


A high-speed communication protocol used for connecting Digital input devices together.

XpressNet (XBUS) Input Devices

Devices using the XpressNet protocol to control a digital layout.



an assembly of tracks within defined limits used for the purpose of breaking down arriving trains, storing cars, and making up departing trains. There may also be tracks for special purposes such as cleaning cars, repairing them, and servicing locomotives.         


 railroad employee in charge of a yard operation.

yellow glue

any of a number of water based resin glues useful for joining porous materials such as paper and wood. These glues are water proof when dry and are generally yellow in color (hence the name). Their joint is stronger than that obtained from white glues but they cost more. Also called Carpenter's Glue.


Z scale

models built to a scale of 1:220. These are the smallest practical models in mass production at the time of this writing. .055" (1.39 mm) = one foot and the track gauge is approximately ¼".


Trade name for zinc-aluminum alloy die-casting metal used widely for pressure die-casting in model trains.

Zona saw

a brand name of a modeler's saw designed for very thin straight cuts in metals.

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