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This page contains a list of terms, jargon, and slang used to varying degrees by railroad enthusiasts / railfans and railroad employees in the United States and Canada. Although not exhaustive, many of the entries in this list appear from time to time in specialist, rail-related publications. Inclusion of a term in this list does not necessarily imply its universal adoption by all railfans and railroad employees, and there may be significant regional variation in usage.

This list does not include nicknames for railroad companies; those can be found at Railroad nicknames.


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


  • ALCOhaulic: Nickname for the DH643 diesel-hydraulic locomotive built by American Locomotive Company (ALCO).[1] Also a nickname for railfans who are "addicted" to ALCO locomotives.
  • Amcan: An Amfleet passenger car; the car shape is a rounded stainless steel tube.[5][6]
  • Amshack: A small shelter that serves as a train station for Amtrak trains in a small town. There are normally no manned services offered at these small stations.[7]


  • B-Boat: GE B23-7, B30-7 or B36-7 locomotive. By analogy with U-boat, since with the Dash 7 line, the "B" or "C" moved to the beginning of the designation.[8]
  • Bandit: Nickname for Milwaukee Road engines after the railroad was sold to the Soo Line Railroad. The Soo covered up the Milwaukee Road name and logo on the orange locomotives with black paint, causing them to resemble bandits.[12][13][14]
A Guilford Rail System locomotive showing the Big G paint scheme
  • Billboard: Santa Fe locomotive in the pre-1972 blue and yellow scheme.[4]
  • Bloody Nose: Southern Pacific locomotive (post-1959 grey and red paint scheme where the nose of the diesel locomotive was painted in scarlet red).[4][8][14]
  • Bluebonnet: one of two Santa Fe paint schemes. The standard freight scheme from 1972 until the BNSF merger was dark blue with yellow on the front, with the same color division as the warbonnet scheme. It is also known as Yellowbonnet. Bluebonnet can also mean a warbonnet unit with only the red painted over, resulting in a silver and blue locomotive; this was used on passenger engines transferred to freight service after the formation of Amtrak.[4]
  • Bright Future: The middle CSX tricolor paint scheme (also known as Yellow Nose 2 or YN2).[28][29]
  • Bull: a railroad police officer.[4][19]


  • Cabbage: Former F40PH locos with the diesel engine removed, and a roll-up baggage door installed in the center of the carbody; used as cab/baggage cars in Amtrak push-pull service.[31]
An EMD TR1, one of several models of cow-calf locomotives
  • Can Opener: Conrail's herald.[34]
  • Centennials: Name given to Union Pacific's EMD DDA40X locomotives. World's most powerful diesel locomotives, delivered in 1969, the year of Union Pacific's centennial.[36]
  • Ches-C: Chessie System's kitten logo; the profile of the Chesapeake and Ohio's sleeping kitten mascot "Chessie" appears inside the corporate C logo.[37][38]
  • Circus loading: Loading trailers on flatcars sequentially from the end; the standard method of loading in early piggyback service.[39]
  • Coffin car: Nickname for a passenger car with an engineer's cab. Also known as a cab car or control car. [44]
  • CPLs: Color Position Lights, PRR style signal heads with new color lenses installed.[46]
  • Critter: A small industrial locomotive.[47][48]
  • Crummy: A caboose.[49]


  • Dark Future: The current CSX paint scheme, also known as Yellow Nose 3 (YN3) or Gold Nose 1 (GN1).[14][35]
  • Darth Vader: Term used to describe the lens hood on a modern style of railroad signals, due to its visual resemblance to the helmet of Darth Vader from Star Wars.[50]
"Darth Vaders" in Washington, D.C.
  • Draper-Taper: Nickname for certain Canadian locomotives that feature a full-width carbody with improved rear visibility, designed by William L. Draper, an employee of Canadian National Railway. [53]


  • Elephant-style: A lashup of multiple locomotives with all units facing forward; resembling the nose-to-tail train of elephants in a circus parade.[56]


  • Fallen flag: a railroad company that no longer operates, or has been merged with (or acquired by) another railroad company.[57][58]
  • Flares: Refers to the EMD SD45, with its dynamic brake blisters and radiators that distinctively flare from the top of the unit. Also Flare 45. Both forms distinguish the SD45 from the SD45-2 and SD45T-2, which lack flared radiators. [59]
  • Wings/Flags/Flares (W/F/F): Characteristics used to designate Union Pacific's paint scheme and engine type. Wings = "Wing" Decal on the engine nose, Flags = "American Flag" Decal on engine body, Flares = "Flared Radiators" of certain SD70Ms on the long hood. Some UP engines have one or more of these characteristics.[14][35]
  • Flatback: Industry slang for trailer-on-flatcar service in the 1970s, especially in the trade journal Railway Age.[60]
  • Foamer: a railfan, particularly one whose enthusiasm appears excessive.[61]
A FRED mounted on a container train
  • FRN: an acronym for "fucking rail nut", a derogatory term used by some railroaders to describe railfans.[64]


  • Geep: Nickname for EMD's GP series of locomotives.[8][66]
  • Genset: A locomotive that uses multiple high-speed diesel engines and generators (generator sets), rather than a single medium-speed diesel engine and a single generator. Sometimes confused with Green Goat locomotives; the only similarities between the two types are their outward appearance and that both are designed to reduce air pollution and fuel consumption.[68]
  • GN1: Gold Nose 1, the current CSX paint scheme. Another term for YN3.[70]
  • Green Goat: A type of "hybrid" switching locomotive utilizing a small diesel engine and a large bank of rechargeable batteries.[71]
A demonstrator Green Goat locomotive


  • Hammerhead: A GE locomotive with "winged" radiators, when running long hood forward.[72]
  • High Ball: Another term for a clear signal, derived from the days of steam where a station operator would hoist a ball up the scaffold, signalling the engineer he was authorized to proceed.[19][42][73][74][75]
  • Hot box: Overheated wheel bearing. This comes from the era before the widespread use of roller bearings where friction bearings (copper jackets) wrapped around the axle of the car and were housed in a journal box filled with oil. An overheated axle led to a hot journal box.[75][79][80]



A preserved refrigerator car that was used on the Juice Train


  • Kodachrome: Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad's red, yellow and black paint scheme, which resembled the packaging of Kodachrome color transparency film. This was the scheme instituted when the merger between Southern Pacific and Santa Fe was assumed to be approved. Hundreds of locomotives were painted in Kodachrome colors before the merger was denied.[8][29]



  • Manifest: A freight train with a mixture of car types and cargoes.[84][85]
A westbound SP manifest train west of Chicago
  • Meatball/Swedish Meatball: Amtrak EMD AEM-7 / ABB ALP-44 electric locomotives; so named for their design being based on the Swedish Rc4.[86]
  • Miniquad: Four ore cars (jennies) permanently coupled.[87][88]
  • Minuteman: The name given to the tuscan red and gold paint scheme applied to Boston & Maine diesel-electric locomotives from the 1950-early-1960s era. The road's herald bearing the famous Revolutionary-inspired Minute Man statue.
  • Mother: The locomotive that is paired with a slug.[27]


  • Patch: (also patch job) A locomotive wearing a new reporting mark and/or number on a "patch" over existing paint, usually of the former owner's.[14][90]
UP 588, formerly owned by SP, showing a "patch" paint job to apply the new owner's reporting marks
  • Pepsi Can: An Amtrak GE Dash 8-32BWH, in reference to the units' original paint scheme with large red and blue stripes.[8]
  • Pig train: a train devoted exclusively to intermodal (piggyback) traffic, generally trailers on flatcars (TOFC) or containers on flatcars (COFC).[93]
  • Private varnish/PV: privately owned passenger cars.[94][95]


  • Racetrack: Nickname for a stretch of Metra Commuter Rail line and BNSF freight line between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois where commuter trains and freight trains commonly attain high speeds[99]. Also used to refer to the parallel tracks of the O&W and DL&W north of Norwich[100].
  • Raccoon: Norfolk Southern locomotives that have the entire area around the cab windows painted white, resembling the face of a raccoon.[14]
  • Rare Mileage: A passenger train traveling over track that does not have regular passenger service.[101]
  • Rent-a-Wreck: Locomotive owned by a leasing company.[102]
  • Roster Shooter: Someone interested in photographing every locomotive road number they can.[103]


  • Screamer or Screaming thunderbox: EMD F40PH locomotive, in reference to it operating in a constant state of full throttle (in order to provide head-end power to passenger cars).[35] Coined by MBTA railfans.
  • Sergeant Stripes: a Canadian National locomotive in the 1970s-1980s paint scheme featuring light grey stripes on the locomotive's long hood.[14][104]
CN 5500 shows the sergeant stripes paint scheme
  • Slug: A locomotive, with or without an operator's cab, which lacks a diesel engine, and draws power for its traction motors from a normal locomotive, known as a "mate" or "mother."[20][27][22]
  • Speeder: a small, motorized track inspection vehicle. Also called motorcar, trackcar, putt-putt, or golf cart.[105]
  • Stacks: Nickname for double-stack cars or trains.[106]
  • Stealth Unit: The early CSX grey & blue paint scheme. So named for their virtual invisibility in poor light. Also used to describe NS D9-40CWs in light gray primer paint, and a scheme used on some Metro-North locomotives.[8][29]


  • Toaster: Amtrak AEM-7/ALP-44 or GE P42DC locomotives. Also used to refer to any GE locomotive, due both to their tendency to shoot flames out of the exhaust stack during Turbo Lag and to General Electric's historic involvement in the manufacture of household appliances.[8][35]
An Amtrak AEM-7, sometimes called a "toaster"
  • Tunnel Motor: Southern Pacific EMD SD40T-2 / EMD SD45T-2. Named for the lower-located air intakes to prevent the locomotive from pulling diesel exhaust in with the clean air while traveling through a tunnel.[109][110]
  • Turbo Lag: Characteristic of Alco and GE diesel locomotives, where the turbocharger lags behind the throttle-up of the engine, shooting dense clouds of black smoke and/or flames from the exhaust stack when initially throttling up.[111]



  • Vomit Bonnet: BNSF's first attempt at a paint scheme. [113]


Santa Fe Dash 8 #881 is sitting at CN's Battle Creek fueling depot, displaying the modern interpretation of the company's classic red and silver "warbonnet" livery
The combined Super Chief/El Capitan passenger train at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in 1966 shows the red and silver warbonnet livery
  • Warpumpkin: Name given to the BNSF orange and black update of the classic Sante Fe Warbonnet scheme.[8]
  • Washboards: name given to M.U. cars, subway cars, and other equipment made with corrugated side panels that resembled washboards.[114]


  • Yellowbonnet: one of two Santa Fe paint schemes. The standard freight scheme from 1972 until the BNSF merger was dark blue with yellow on the front, with the same color division as the warbonnet scheme. It is also known as Bluebonnet. Yellowbonnet can also mean a warbonnet unit with only the red painted over, resulting in a silver and yellow locomotive; this was used on passenger engines transferred to freight service after the formation of Amtrak.[14][29][117]
  • YN1: CSX's first yellow-nose paint scheme; gray overall with dark blue on the top half of the cab and yellow on the front of the nose; blue "CSX" lettering.[14][29]
A CSX unit wearing the YN2 paint scheme
  • YN2: CSX's second yellow-nose paint scheme; more yellow on the nose; the whole cab is dark blue, along with a stripe on the side; blue or yellow "CSX" lettering.[14]
  • YN3: CSX's third yellow-nose paint scheme; dark blue overall with a yellow nose; yellow "CSX" lettering.[14]


  • Zebra Stripes: A Santa Fe locomotive in the early black scheme with white warning stripes.[117]

See also


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Published - March 2009

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