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S.A.S.O. See Stand-Alone-Strike-Output System.
Saddle First stop of freight car, under the lowest grab iron.
Safety Cab Contemporary design for USA made current-generation loco cabs. Adopted by GE, following CN's "Draper Taper" cowl design.
Sandbox, Sand Dome Reservoir for traction sand on a locomotive.
Sandhog Laborer who works in a caisson tunneling under a river, boring either a railroad tunnel, subway, or highway tunnel.
Sap Same as brake club; also called the staff of ignorance. To set hand brakes is to sap up some binders.
Sawbones Company doctor.
Saw-by, Double Saw-by Maneuver used by two trains at meeting point, when train on siding is too long for the siding. Double saw-by is complicated maneuver allowing two trains that are both longer than the siding at meeting point to pass one another at that siding.
SBU Sense and Brake Unit.
Scab Non union member doing work usually contracted by railroads for railway union labor contracts.
Scale The size of things on a model railroad relative to a real railroad. For example in HO models are 1/87th full size. For a full listing of scales and their sizes, refer to the NMRA Standards page here.
Scenic Break A scenic break is a deliberate barrier to disguise the fact that the main line links two sections of a layout which either clash or should be widely separated. An example might be a rural landscape and a heavily populated city.
Schedule The part of the Timetable that prescribes class, direction, number, frequency, and times for movement of designated trains.
Scheduled Train A train designated by Timetable schedule.
Scissor Crossing Junction between two parallel railway tracks enabling trains to cross over from one to the other in either direction.
Scizzor-Bill Uncomplimentary term referring to yard or road brakemen and students in train service
Scoop Fireman's shovel. Also the step on front and rear ends of switch engines.
Scoot Shuttle train.
Scrap Iron Broken knuckle due to uncontrolled slack action in train or overly aggressive starting technique.
Scrap Pile Worn-out locomotive that is still in service.
Scratchbuilding Making a model from raw materials and parts, and not using kits.
Seashore Sand used in sand dome. Also applied to coal that is mixed with sand.
Seat Hog Passenger who monopolizes more than one seat in a car or station waiting room while others are standing. Such pests usually spread luggage, packages, or lunch over adjacent seats.
Second Person [AU] The second driver on the engine crew, or offsider. Performs duties similar to the brakeman in the US, but is also usually a qualified driver.  With generic craft structure, one can be assigned as either the driver or second person (offsider), depending upon qualifications.
Secret Works 1) Automatic air-brake application. 2) The draft timbers and drawbar of a car, when extracted by force. If only the drawbar is pulled out, you say, "We got a lung," but if the draft timbers come with it, you say, "We got the whole damn secret works".
Section One of two or more trains running on the same schedule, displaying signals or for which signals are displayed.
Section Hand A track worker.
Selective Compression When a larger building is modeled in a "short' form, by removing repetitive elements within a model to capture the original character in a smaller footprint.
Semaphore A movable blade or arm mounted on a mast used to signal trains whether the track ahead is clear.
Semi-Automatic Switch A hand-operated switch that is designed to be trailed through in either position. The switch points stay in the position last used.
Semi-Conductor Material used in electric traction rectifiers, whose electrical resistance depends on the direction of the applied voltage. Silicon and Germanium are typical examples.
Seniority Length of service relative to others.
Seniority Grabber Railroad employee who is glad when someone above him dies, gets killed, is fired, or resigns, so he can move up the seniority list to a better job.
Separation The sorting of mail sacks and parcels within the storage car before transferring to trucks
Service application Gradual speed reduction via air brakes.
Service Track Track on which engines take on coal and water.
Setting Up Loading a baggage car with mail and parcels according to a prearranged plan to facilitate rapid unloading at various stations along the line.
Setup Four to six hand trucks placed in formation beside the door of a storage car to facilitate the separation of the mail and parcels being unloaded.
Shack Brakeman, occupant of caboose. Shacks master is a conductor.
Shake 'Em Up Switching.
Shaking The Train Putting on air brakes in emergency.
Shanty 1) A caboose. 2) A small building.
Shay A type of geared steam locomotive used extensively in logging. The Shay had three cylinders driving a crankshaft geared to all the axles.
Shiner Brakeman's or switchman's lantern.
Shining Time Starting time.
Shock The effect of a sudden change in speed of a car, locomotive or train, or part of a train.
Shoo-fly Temporary track used to avoid an obstacle that blocks movement on the normal track section.
Shop Count Number of bad order railcars (loads/ empties) at a repair facility awaiting repair, or number of locomotives at a shop for repairs.
Short Flagging Protecting the rear of the train from an insufficient distance.
Short Line A small railroad, generally Class II.
Short Loads Cars consigned to points between division points and set out on sidings at their destinations. Also called shorts.
Short-Time Crew Crew working overtime but not yet affected by the sixteen-hour law. (See dogcatchers)
Shuffle To switch cars.
Shuffle The Deck Switch cars onto house tracks at every station you pass on your run.
Shunt 1) To switch to another track. 2) A track signaling system that uses the rail car wheels and axle to complete an electrical circuit between one rail and the other. The completion of this circuit is used as a signal that the train is present. The signal may be used to activate crossing arms or other train signals (also see Loss of Shunt).
Shunter [UK] Switch engine.
Shunting Boiler Switch engine.
Shuttle Train which gives a frequent return service over a short route.
Side Track An auxiliary to the main track.
Side-Door Pullman Boxcar used by hobos in stealing rides.
Siding An auxiliary track for storage, servicing of industries and lineside customers, or for trains to meet each other. A parallel siding that diverges from the main and rejoins it one train length or greater is called a Passing Siding. Single ended sidings are also called Spurs.
Sidings Blocked Auxiliary tracks normally used to meet or pass trains now used to hold trains or cuts of cars for spacing or staging at terminals.
Signal 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 Aspect The appearance of a fixed signal conveying an indication as viewed from the direction of an approaching train, or the appearance of a cab signal conveying an indication as viewed by an observer in the cab.
Signal Box Tower or building housing equipment for operation of points and signals in a particular section of a route.
Signal Dolly Train that delivers supplies to towers.
Signal Indication The information conveyed by the signal aspect.
Signal Junction Box A wooden or metal box where power lines are connected to supply electricity to a crossing signal.
Signalman The man who controls the signals and authorizes the movements of trains on running lines.
Silo Sand storage tower for filling locomotive sand boxes.
Single Track A main track upon which trains are operated in both directions.
Single Track System Consists of a single track between two terminals.
Single-Car Test Device Is used to test the air brake equipment on car that is sent to a repair track.
Six-Footway Area between parallel railway tracks.
Skate A device for blocking car wheels.
Skew Bridge spans obliquely and is therefore longer than the square gap.
Skin Your Eye Engineer's warning to man on left side of cab when approaching curve.
Skipper The conductor.
Skyline Casing Sheet metal shroud on a steam locomotive covering the boiler top fittings.
Skyrockets Red-hot cinders from smokestack.
Slab 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.
Slack Action The motion, forward or back, that one or more cars, locomotives, or parts of a train has without moving other coupled cars, locomotives, or parts of the train. Loose slack is the free movement or lost motion between parts of a train. Spring slack is the movement beyond the free or lost motion brought about through compressing the draft gear springs. Slack is necessary so as to start one car at a time and so that the train may be operated around curves and over high and low places.
Slave Driver 1) Yardmaster. 2) Any rawhider
Sleeper 1) Passenger car with sleeping accommodation. 2) [UK/EU] Crosstie. Wood, steel or pre-cast 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.
Slide Fence A fence which is placed along trackage to warn of rock slides. If the fence is activated, it changes the aspect of the signals governing that block to Stop.
Sling Morse Work as telegraph operator.
Slip Coach [UK] A passenger car that was dropped from the rear of a through train, and coasted into a platform under control of a brakeman.
Slip Switch A piece of track-work that combines a crossing and four turnouts to permit trains to move from one track to the other, or to stay on the same track.
Slippery Track A highly greased track near the roundhouse or back shop where a newly rebuilt locomotive could be run in without going anywhere, and without calling an engine crew or pilot.
Slips Car or train of bananas.
Slow Board See Board.
Slug A weighted locomotive unit with traction motors but no diesel engine or generator. Generally used in yard duty where the switcher has enough horsepower, but not enough tractive force to push long strings of cars up a hump.
Slugs A shipment of magazines, catalogues, or automobile-license plates in small mail sacks weighing approximately 100 pounds each.
Smart Aleck Passenger conductor.
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.
Smoke or Smoke Agent Locomotive fireman. Smoker is engine or firebox. Smoking 'em or running on smoke orders is a dangerous method, now obsolete, of running a train from one station or siding to another without orders from the dispatcher. You moved cautiously, continually watching for the smoke of any train that might be approaching you on the same track.
Smokejack A chimney on a car or building.
Smoking to a Meet In steam service, pre-radio, making smoke to alert awaiting opposing train that you were approaching meeting point.
Smoke Lifters Deflectors mounted on a steam locomotive to force exhaust smoke up and away from the cab. Often called "elephant ears"; they were widely used outside North America.
Smoke Signals Early US term for a RR that had no signalling system. Therefore, the only warning of an opposing train was its smoke.
Snake A switchman belonging to the SUNA, the Switchman's Union of North America.
Snakehead A rail that comes loose from the ties and pierces the floor of a car. A fairly common accident with the strap-iron rails of the early 19th century.
Snap Push or pull with another engine. Snapper is the engine that does the pulling.
Snipe 1) One who builds or repairs railroad track. 2) The title of a track laborer or Gandy dancer. His boss is a king snipe.
Snoozer Pullman sleeping car.
Snow Plow Special vehicle propelled by, or attachment to, front of locomotive to remove snow from the track. The snow plow 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.
Snuff Dippers Coal-burning engines that burn lignite (which, on the Missouri Pacific at least, is the same color as snuff).
Soak Saturated locomotive.
Soda Jerker Locomotive fireman.
Soft Bellies Wooden frame cars.
Soft Plug Fusible plug in crown sheet of locomotive that is supposed to drop when water gets below top of sheet.
Soft-Diamond Special Coal train.
Solebar Longitudinal main frame, outer member of carriage or wagon under-frame, usually of channel section.
Soleplate 1) Longitudinal man frame member of a built up carriage bogie, usually of standard rolled steel section of pressings. 2) 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 Car A completely filled storage car containing sixty feet of mail and parcels, equal to a 100 per cent load.
Solid Track Track full of cars.
Spanish Girl [SL] Class 644 A1A-A1A GM/Macosa diesels. So called because of the land of their origin, Spain.
Spar The wooden pole used to shove cars into the clear when switching. (See stake).
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.
SPDT Single pole double throw. A type of electrical switch used in model railroading.
Special A train not shown in the working time table or pre-planned.
Speed Control A device on an engine which will cause a penalty application of the brakes if the engineer fails to reduce the train's speed to the speed required by the cab signal indication.
Speed Gauger Locomotive engineer.
Speeder Same as pop car.
Speedy Callboy.
Sperry Car Railroad car used by Sperry Rail Service to detect weakened or cracked rails.
Spike Square section heavy steel nail driven into wooden sleeper to affix flanged rail in position.
Spiked Switch A turnout permanently secured against movement by spiking the movable rails to the ties.
Spike A Torch Throw a fusee
Split Switch One or more car wheels follows one switch path while the others follow the other, generally resulting in a derailment.
Spot 1) To place a car in a designated position. 2) Sleep, rest or lunch period on company time. To be "on the spot" means an opportunity for railroad men to chew the rag or swap experiences.
Spotboard Guide used by section men in surfacing or ballasting track in order to obtain an even bed.
Spotter Spy, company man assigned to snoop around and check on employees.
Spring Switch A switch held in one position by a spring so that facing-point traffic always takes the same route but trailing-point traffic can run through the turnout from either track. The switch is equipped with a spring mechanism to restore the switch points to their original position after having been trailed through.
Spur Short, usually dead-end section of track used to access a facility or loading/ unloading ramp. It can also be used to temporarily store equipment or be a branch line over which irregular service is offered. As distinguished from the side track, a spur track is of indefinite length, extending out from the main line.
Squeezers See Retarder.
Squirreling Climbing a car.
Stabling Accommodation for a short period of time.
Stack O' Rust A locomotive that has seen better days.
Staff Wooden stick or metal rod which was carried by a train traveling on a single-track block. In 20th century practice, the staff had to be inserted into a locked cabinet on exiting a block, to clear the signals for other traffic.
Stagger Interlacing of sleepers at switches and crossing or, making rail joints in one running rail not to coincide with those in other rail.
Stake 1) Pole used in dangerous and now rare method of switching. A cut of cars was shoved by a stake attached to the car immediately in front of the engine. This method was supposed to be superior to the ordinary method of "batting them out" because there was less wear and tear on drawbars and less damage to freight; but the human casualties that resulted gave more than one yard the nickname "slaughterhouse." 2) The money a boomer saved on a job so he could resign and continue eating regularly while looking for another job.
Stake Driver Any engineering-department man.
Stall 1) A space for a locomotive in a roundhouse. 2) Space inside a mail or baggage car containing mail or parcels consigned to a certain destination and separated from other shipments by removable steel posts.
Train detecting system that is independent of other signaling systems on the track, and is designed to verify that a train has cleared a section of track, typically a highway crossing. The system then generates a signal to allow the crossing arms to rise.
Standard Gauge 1) Most common distance between rails in a country. 2) A three rail tin plate train manufactured by Lionel and others.
Standing Cut A term for making a cut of cars by walking to the cut to be made rather than pulling the cut to you.
Stargazer Brakeman who fails to see signals.
Starter Signal Signal in British practice which gives authority to a train to proceed into a block section.
Starvation Diet See board.
Station A place designated on the station pages of the Timetable by name.
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.
Stem Track or right-of-way.
Stem Winder 1) A staff brake which consists of a vertical rod and a wheel at the top of the rod for the leverage to wrap the brake chain around the vertical rod to stop or secure the car. A pawl was provided to hold the brake applied. 2) A Climax type of geared locomotive. 3) Applied to trolley car without brakes because of the motion of its brake handle.
Stephenson Valve Gear The mechanism that controls the movement of the steam distribution valve of a steam locomotive. Stephenson Valve Gear (link motion) is a valve gear in which the steam lead is greatest at mid-gear and greatest at full forward. Walschaert Valve Gear is a valve gear in which the lead is constant at any position of the reversing gear.
Stick See Staff
Stiff Buggy Specially designed four-wheel truck used for transferring coffins and rough boxes inside a station.
Stinger Brakeman. Derived from initial B(ee) of Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, or perhaps from some brakemen's habit of arousing hobos by applying a brake club to the soles of their shoes.
Stink Buggy Bus.
Stinker Hotbox.
Stirrup First step of freight car, under the lowest grab iron.
Stock Car American term for vehicle used for the conveyance of cattle.
Stock Pen Yard office.
Stockholder Any employee who is always looking out for the company's interests.
Stopper Puller Member of the crew that follows the engine in switching.
Storage Car Baggage car or (in rush periods) Railway Express car containing a mixed shipment of parcels and mail sacks consigned to a certain terminal for sorting and rerouting to various destinations via other trains.
Straw Boss Foreman of small gang or acting foreman.
Strawberry Patch 1) Rear end of caboose by night. 2) A railroad yard studded with red lights.
Straw-Hat Boys Railroad men who work only in pleasant weather.
Streamlining In steam locomotives, the practice of shrouding all or part of the loco with sheet metal. Gave rise to the term "Streamliner", meaning a fast, luxurious passenger train.
Stretch 'Em Out Take out slack in couplings and drawbars of train.
Strike-in, Strike-out A signaling system that warns of an approaching train (to a road crossing, for instance), which also determines when the train has completely cleared the crossing (passed through).
String 1) Several cars coupled together. 2) A telegraph wire.
Struggle For Life Existence in railroad boardinghouse.
Stub 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.
Stud Contact In model railroading it is 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.
Student Learner in either telegraph, train, or engine service; an apprentice.
Student Tallow Student fireman.
Styrene Short for polystyrene, a plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thickness and sizes.
Subdivision A portion of a division designated by timetable.
Subsidiary A company owned by another company that controls a majority of its stock.
Suck It By Make a flying switch.
Sugar Sand.
Sun Kink A section of rail that elongates and bends out of alignment due to heat expansion.
SUNA Initials of Switchmen's Union of North America.
Super Superintendent.
Superelevation Amount by which one rail of a curved track is raised above the other. Superelevation is 'positive' when the outer rail is higher than the inner rail and 'negative' when the inner rail is higher than the outer.
Superheater A device for raising the temperature and volume of the steam after it leaves the boiler through the application of additional heat.
Superintendent A chief executive officer, who supervises and directs operations over an entire division. He is responsible for the supply and maintenance of rolling stock, equipment, the right of way, and for the prompt handling of traffic.
Superior Train A train having precedence over another train.
Suspension 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.
Swellhead Conductor or locomotive engineer.
Swing A brakeman who has responsibility for breaking up the train by setting out cars or sections of cars in the center position of a freight train.
Swing A Bug Make a good job of braking. (See bug)
Swing Man Supplementary brakemen added to a crew for all or part of a trip, perhaps to give more hand brake capacity in mountainous territory, or for other reasons.
Switch 1) Track switch, turnout: a device to diverge cars/trains to another track. Consists of point rails, frog, closure rails (between points and frog), and stock (outside) rails. Point rails are operated by a switch stand, ground throw, or switch machine. 2) A device for opening and closing an electrical circuit.
Switch List 1) A yard crew's list of cars and their intended tracks. 2) Bill of fare at railroad eating house. See Beanery.
Switch Machine A mechanical device which will change the position of a turnout. It can be used manually or by remote control from a control panel.
Switch Monkey Switchman.
Switch Point Indicator A light type indicator used in connection with facing point movement over certain switches to indicate switch points fit properly.
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.
Switchback 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.
Switching Movement of freight cars between two nearby locations or trains.
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.
Swizzle Valve Automatic compression-relief valve on steam cylinders which opens the cylinder to atmosphere when throttle is shut off, preventing a leaky throttle from causing a parked engine to creep. Engine crew can also manually open the valve by stepping on it.
Synchronous Motor AC electric motor whose speed varies in direct proportion to the frequency of the supply.