Glossary of Railway Terminology

This is a small glossary of railway terms to help explain terms used in this site.

Term Meaning
Ballast This is the term for the stone chippings upon which the permanent way rests.
Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) This is a series of carriages (usually 3) which are equiped with diesel engines slung under the bodies of the carriages. DMUs can be coupled together to produce longer trains.
Down Away from London. This designation is often artificial. This is used to distinguish the two directions on a railway line.
ElectroStar A modern Electric Multiple Unit train.
Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) This is a series of carriages (usually 3) which are equiped with electric motors and either pick up power from overhead wires or from a third rail. EMUs may be coupled together to produce longer trains.
Hump shunting This is a method of shunting wagons which does not require the use of a locomotive. Wagons are taken to an inclined section of track (either by locomotive, stationary engine with a rope or with a horse) and then held there (either using the wagon's own brakes or retarders). At the lower end of the track there will be a series of sorting sidings fanning out. The points can be set for the siding that a wagon should go to and the wagon is allowed to run down the inclined track into the siding.
Marshalling yard This describes a large set of sidings used to marshall trains, i.e. put together wagons which are all going to the sme destination into one train. Often such a yard will have an Up side and a Down side. Before entering the main set of sorting sidings there will probably be reception sidings - these are used to hold an arriving train until the yard is ready to split it up and combine it with other wagons for dispatch.
Permanent Way This describes the sleepers and the rails laid on the trackbed of the railway line. It is called "Permanent" because often temporary tracks were laid along the course of a railway to aid the construction stage of the line. This line would be very primative, having no ballast and often having short steep sections. These tracks were removed as the line neared completion and the new track laid. The temporary line did not always follow exactly the same course as the one being constructed.
Retarders These are rail-based brakes used to stop or hold wagons without the use of the wagon's or a train's own brakes.
Reversing spur This is often the means of access to a goods yard. It will usually consist of a dead-end siding branching of the nearby railway - trains drive onto this spur and then a set of point at the rear of the train is thrown and the train can reverse into the goods yard sidings
Sprinter This is a Diesel Multiple Unit. Most are approximately 10 years old.
Super Sprinter This is an improved version of a Sprinter. Most are approximately 10 years old.
Trackbed This is the ground immediately beneath the permanent way.  When the rails and sleepers have been removed the route of the line is only represented by the trackbed - the name is often used for the route of a closed railway.
TOC Train operating company. A company which runs passenger or freight trains on Britain's railway network. The trains are often leased and the trackwork belongs to Railtrack.
TurboStar This is a modern Diesel Multiple Unit.
Up Towards London. This designation is often artificial. This is used to distinguish the two directions on a railway line.

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