Model Railroading Terms


These terms are most used or found in model railroading.


Airbrush
Miniature paint sprayer. Uses compressed air to spray thinned paint.

Backdrop
Painted or photographic back ground for a layout.

Ballast
Crushed rock placed between the ties on real railroads to keep the ties from moving. Also drains water off.

Balsa
A very lightweight wood that is easily cut.

Benchwork
Frame that makes up the foundation of a train layout.

Block
Electrically isolated section of track, used for multi train operation, signaling systems, or to avoid short circuits.

Bolster
Part of a railroad car body underneath that connects the truck's pivot to the body. Also refers to the cross members. On trucks, the piece between the side frames.

 

Branch
A short section of track that diverges from the mainline to serve a town or industry.

Bumper
At the end of a spur or branch line to keep cars from running over the edge.

CA (Cyanoacrylate)
"Super Glue." Bonds metal and plastic.

Cab control
One power pack per train, running on blocks, so each train is controlled individually.

Casting
Process for duplicating parts.

Catenary
Overhead wires for electrical locomotives.

Code
Height of rail in thousandths of an inch. Code 83 rail is .083" tall.

Command control
Sends signals through the rails, decoded by locomotives. On the same tracks, but running independent of one another.

Consist
List of cars that make up a train.

Craze
When glues ruin the surface of incompatible plastic.

Crossover
Two parallel turnouts that allow a train to move from one track to the other.

Cut
A string of cars, OR a chunk taken out of a hillside. (see 'fill')

Dry brushing
Very little paint of the tip of a brush used to highlight details when weathering.

Duckunder
Bend down under some benchwork to get to another area of the layout.

Epoxy
A two part glue.

Fascia
Boards for decoration on the front of a layout.

Fiddle yard
Hidden tracks where you can move cars around, often by hand.

Fill
Add in dirt or 'fill' to bring a grade up to level.

Flash
Thin pieces of plastic or metal left on a casting.

Flextrack
Flexible, when you lay them, pieces of track. Rigid when nailed down.

Free-lance
Make up your own design.

Frog
The point where the track's rails cross the turnout's rails in a switch.

Gauge
Distance between the rails. Prototype in America is 4' 8.5"

Gondola
Long, short open topped car for hauling steel and scrap metals.

Grab iron (Grab)
Handles on the sides of cars or equipment.

Grade
Angle or rise or fall of tracks as they follow the land.

Grain
The direction in wood of the fibers.

Ground Foam
Synthetic rubber ground and dyed to resemble ground cover.

Hardshell
Making scenery, like mountains and hills, using plaster dipped paper towels. Laid over a light frame.

Helix
A spiral of tracks, raising or lowering. Used on multilevel layouts.

Helper
Additional locomotive used to help a train get over a difficult or steep spot.

Hook & Horn
A term used for the NMRA standard couplers. You usually find these on most of the cars purchased today.

Hostler
Person that moves locomotives around.

Homasote
Paperboard often used for roadbed.

Hopper car
Open top car, tall sides. Coal and gravel, emptied through chutes at the base.

Intermodal
Shipments combining more than one method of transportation, such as carrying tractor-trailers on the rails, and then switching them to ships, and then back to the trucks.

Interurban
Self-propelled trains in cities, such as a trolley.

Journal
Load bearing part of an axle that rides in the support bearing or sideframe.

Kadee
A type of coupler called the Knuckle. Made by Kadee and is preferred by serious modelers over the hook and horn type.

Kingpin
Pivot point of a truck that connects it to the bolster.

Kitbashing (Kitmingling)
Mixing parts of kits to make your own creation.

Main line
Portion where travel is heaviest.

Module
A section built to dimensions and standards, to be included with other modules in a large layout. N-Trak is one.

MOW Maintenance of Way
Used by railroads to maintain the tracks.

NMRA
National Model Railroad Association NMRA.ORG

Narrow gauge
Rails spaced smaller than standard gauge; often used in mines and logging areas.

Operation
Running model trains to simulate the prototype.

Points
Portions of a turnout or switch that move.

Prototype
The actual, real life, full-sized object that is modeled.

Rail joiner
A part of folded metal used to connect a butt joint between two rails.

Reefer
Refrigerator box car used to haul foods. No air conditioner or ice.

Resin
Material used for casting.

Roadbed
Foundations of tracks.

Rolling stock
The cars on a train.

Scale
Proportion to the prototype a model is built.

Scratchbuilding
Not using kits to build models.

Scribe
Score a cut, not all the way through.

Solder
Metal that melts at low temperatures. Joins brass model pieces, and electrical wires.

Styrene (Polystyrene)
Versatile plastic used in modeling. Many sizes and shapes. Metallic sound when struck.

Superelevation
Banking tracks on a curve to allow for higher speeds.

Switch
A track that allows trains to swap routes.

Talgo trucks
Often on toy trains, couplers attached on the trucks. Allows for tighter curves, but prone to derailments when backed up.

Tender
Carries fuel and water for steam engines.

Throat
Point in a yard where all the tracks converge or diverge.

Traction
Electrically run trains in cities.

Truck
Wheel assembly a train car rides on.

Turnout
Allows movement from one track to another. Modeler's term for switch, so as not to confuse it with an electrical switch.

Weathering
Simulating years of abuse on models by washing them in chalks, etc.

Wye
A turnout or switch track that curves both left and right.

Yard
A group of tracks where trains are sorted out, staged, and then recombined.
Printer-friendly version