If you feel like the rail industry has its own language, you’re right — and it’s not always easy to navigate.
To make things a little easier, we’ve defined and decoded some of the most commonly used railroad terms and organized them by degree of difficulty.
Let’s start simple with the beginner’s level. Read on to see how you fare…
Degree of Difficulty: Beginner
|The Word||Its “Official” Definition||What That Really Means|
The quantity of freight required for the application of a carload rate.
A car loaded to its weight or space-carrying capacity.
|When people use the word “carload,” they usually mean the amount of cargo that fits in a rail car.|
|Carrier||An individual, partnership or corporation engaged in the business of transporting goods or persons.||A transportation company (e.g., a railroad). Or, literally, the company that “carries” your stuff.|
|Consignee||The individual or organization to which freight is shipped.||The receiver.|
|Consignor||The individual or organization shipping freight to a consignee.||The shipper.|
|Consignment||Collection of goods transported under cover of the same transport document in accordance with regulations or tariffs in force where they exist.||A shipment.|
|Cosine||The trigonometric function that is equal to the ratio of the side adjacent to an acute angle (in a right-angled triangle) to the hypotenuse.||Not a rail term…but equally difficult. (Just making sure you were paying attention.)|
|Main Line||That part of the railway, exclusive of switch tracks, branches, yards, and terminals.||If railroad tracks were a roadway, the main line would be a highway…and your freight would ride it all night long.|
|Yard||A system of tracks within defined limits, whether or not part of a terminal, designed for switching services, over which movements not authorized by time-tables or by train order may be made, subject to prescribed signals, rules and regulations.||A waiting room for rail cars (without the free coffee and dog-eared magazines). A yard is where rail cars chill until they’re connected to a train and shipped out.|
Ready to Learn More?
See if you can master the intermediate and expert levels -- or get serious and check out one of these glossaries.
Have questions? Get in touch and we'll be glad to answer them!
- The Top Railroad Terms and Their Definitions: Intermediate Edition
- The Top Railroad Terms and Their Definitions: Expert Edition