Railroad Terminology




Cabbage Car.  From Greg Peet... "Amtrak took some of their old F40's and removed the engine. That left a big empty space so they added a "garage door" on each side so they could haul baggage. These are used on the opposite end of the train from the engine. Going one way the locomotive leads the train.  Going the other way the F40 is in the lead, providing a cab with controls, but the train never has to be turned, It's just push-pull.  Anyway, these units are a "cab" and a "baggage" unit. Hence they are often called "cab-bage" cars. Amtrak has some official name for them, but I don't even remember it."  The official Amtrak name is either an APCU, short for Auxiliary Power Control Unit, or a NPCU, short for Non Powered Control Unit.

Chicken Head:  A chicken head in the railroad signal world is a certain type of connection used for signal wires that terminate on the tracks (track wires).  A chicken head is a short piece of stranded wire about 5 inches in length that is either welded or drilled onto the web of the rail at one end.   At the other end of the wire is a sleeve for crimping the track wire from the signal bungalow to the chicken head which is now connected to the rail.  When a construction crew uses these, the signal maintainer eliminates them and welds the track wire directly to the rail.  Over time the sleeve in the chicken head will become resistant and give the maintainer problems.  One signal maintainer suggested that it is "...better to eliminate them on my terms in the middle of the day instead of the middle of the night".  Rumor has it that they got their name because the older type that is drilled into the rail looks like a chicken head before being installed.  From the Bluewater Chapter, NRHS.

Hotbox.  A hot box is an overheated wheel journal.  The journal is located in a box which protrudes slightly from the wheel assembly.  The box, which normally has a cover over it, is filled with "waste", which is oil-soaked to keep the journal cool.  An overheated journal is a serious situation, because a hot axle can fail, and break.  Hotboxes often caught fire, and smoked or sparked.


Railroad Class.  Railroads are categorized by the United States Surface Transportation Board.  In 1999, the STB used the following rules in classifying railroads:

  • Class I - Operating revenues of at least $258.5 million.

  • Regional - Non Class-I operating 350 or more miles of road and/or revenues of at least $40 million.

  • Local Railroad - A railroad which is neither a Class I nor a Regional Railroad, and is engaged primarily in line-haul service.

  • Switching & Terminal Railroad - A non-Class I railroad engaged primarily in switching and/or terminal services for other railroads.

Three Point Protection.  Around 2000, railroads established the concept of "Three Point Protection" to secure a train before conductors, brakemen and car men go underneath the train or between cars to couple an air hose.  The three points in the process are:

  • Independent brake in the FULL APPLICATION position; and, if
    necessary, make a brake pipe reduction sufficient to hold equipment.

  • Reverse lever in the CENTER position.

  • Generator field switch in the OFF position.

The 3-point protection can only be removed after the employee who requested 3-protection has cleared the equipment and has personally requested removal of the 3-step protection.

Torpedo A torpedo is a device which is strapped to the top of a rail.  When a train drives over the torpedo, it emits a very loud "bang" which can be heard over the noise of the engine, and signals the engineer to stop immediately.  Torpedo's are generally placed by the flagman when protecting a train ahead.  Torpedo's are about 2" x 2", red, about 3/4" high, and have two lead straps attached which hold it to a rail.  The torpedo has discs inside and are filled with detonating powder.  The Torpedo was invented about 1874. 


Useful Information Menu  |  MichiganRailroads.com