US-UK Terminology

An attempt to answer all those questions which arise on the Internet about the differences between US and UK railway terminology.  In this era of the "global village" and international travel, many terms are now used universally around the world so you may hear or see US and UK English used together in the international context.

Table 1: US-UK Terminology
US Term UK Term Comments
Add Couple Couple vehicles to a train
Alley no equivalent a (empty) siding in a freight yard
Bad Order Cripple Defective train
Bail Release of brakes
Barn Shed for rolling stock
Bi-Level Double Deck type of passenger vehicle
Brake stand Brake controller in cab
Bump stop Buffer Stop see also 'Stubbing Post'. Sometimes called 'bumper' in the US
Caboose Brake Van Name for separate vehicle
Car Barn Carriage Shed
Catenary Overhead Line also used in the UK.
Check Valve Clack Valve Steam loco boiler feed valve
Conductor Guard The term 'conductor' is now often used in the UK if the guard collects fares.
Consist Rake or Formation of train
Cornfield meet Head-on Collision (under clear, open country conditions)
Cut Uncouple vehicles from a train
Dark territory Unsignalled line
Deadhead Empty stock or light engine In US, sometimes refers to a crew travelling passenger.
Depressed closed Cut and Cover tunnel construction
Dispatcher Controller of route or area
Division Area section of line under control
Draft gear Draw Gear
Drill track Shunt Neck
Dummy Shunt Signal also called 'dwarf signal' (US and UK)
Dynamite Emergency Application of brakes
Engineer Driver
Extra Special train
Freight car Goods wagon
Flare not used in UK
Grade Gradient The US 'at grade' means level gradient. UK also uses 'bank' for grade'.
Grade Crossing Level Crossing
Grade Separated Flyover at junction
Head end Front of train
Helper Pilot (at front), Banker (at rear) extra locomotive
Highball Clear signal
Hooking up Notching up of power on locomotive
Hostler Shunter driver who works in loco shed
Interlocking Controlled area as opposed to an area with automatic signals
Johnson Bar Reverser lever reverser type used on steam locos
Knuckle coupler Buckeye coupling Originally patented by the Ohio Brass Co. In the US, Ohio is called the "Buckeye" state.
Maintainer Fitter
Maintenance facility Depot
Maintenance of way Permanent Way Maintenance
Meet Pass of train at a loop on a single line section
One way Single Type of ticket
Pilot Cowcatcher US 'pilot' often used to mean headstock or buffer beam
Pocket track Reversing Siding or Bay Road
Power rail Conductor Rail
Retainer Empty/Load valve
Round trip Return Type of ticket
Segregated Reserved of LRT tracks using a street route separated from traffic
Set Apply of brakes
Schedule Timetable pronounced 'skedule' in the US
Shop Workshop
Signalman Signal Lineman
Skates Scotch block
Slack action movement between vehicles without sprung buffers or drawgear.
Sill Solebar
Siding Loop On single line. A UK siding is usually a dead end.
Special trackwork Point and Crossing Work (P & C) or, in UK, switch and crossing (S&C) work
Spiral Transition Curve trackwork
Stack Chimney on steam locomotive
Stinger Overhead lead shore supply in depot of third rail electric railway
Stubbing post Buffer Stop see also 'Bump Stop'
Subway Underground railway or metro
Superelevation Cant of track
Switch Points See also 'turnout'
Switcher Shunter yard locomotive
Tag Balise or beacon Passive transponder used in non-continuous automatic train protection systems.
Throttle Regulator in steam locomotives
Tie Sleeper Tie is short for Crosstie
Torpedo Detonator explosive warning device
Tower Signal Box
Towerman Signalman
Track pan Water Trough
Trackage rights Running Powers
Train line Brake Pipe London Underground uses 'train line'.
Train station Railway Station The word 'depot' was often used in older US applications.
Transfer table Traverser
Trolley or streetcar Tram Now often call a Light Rail Vehicle (LRV)
Truck Bogie
Turnout Points see also "switch"
Water plug Water Column
Wayside Lineside
Wye Triangle for turning locomotives

© The Railway Technical Website 2023