Glossary of Rail Terms

Glossary of Rail Terms

Are you new to shipping by railroad? Or maybe just need a refresher? Here is a robust list of definitions for all of the terms that are used in the railroad industry. Are we missing something? Please email your ideas to

Flat Car

A freight car having a floor without any housing or body above. Frequently used to carry car trailers (TOFC) or oversized/odd-shaped commodities


An individual responsible for the direction of the switching functions performed in a yard.


A system of tracks within defined limits, whether or not part of a terminal, designed for switching services, over which movements not authorized by time-tables or by train order may be made, subject to prescribed signals, rules and regulations


A document covering a shipment and showing the forwarding and receiving station, the names of consignor and consignee, the car initials and number, the routing, the description and weight of the commodity, instructions for special services, the rate, total charges, advances and waybill reference for previous services, and the amount prepaid.

Unit Trains

Unit trains are freight trains moving large tonnages of single bulk products between two points. Unloaded on arrival and returned promptly for another load, such trains cut costs by eliminating intermediate yarding and switching


To physically transfer product from one transportation vehicle to another

Train Block

Trains are made up of train blocks each with a unique destination on the route of the train and having one or more pick up locations

Trackage Rights

The purchase, for a fee, of the right for one railroad to run on tracks owned by another.


The rails and ties over which engines and cars move.

Through Rate

A rate applicable through from point of origin to destination.


Facilities provided by a railway at a terminal or at an intermediate point on its line for the handling of passengers or freight; and for the breaking up, making up, forwarding and servicing trains, and interchanging with other carriers.

Team Track

A track on which cars are placed for the use of the public in loading or unloading freight. Track is owned by the railroad


A legal listing of rates used when moving regulated traffic by rail.

Tank Car

A car, the body of which consists of a tank for carrying liquids.

Switch Road

A carrier that has operating rights within one terminal only.


To move cars from one track to another at the customer’s request for which there may or may not be a tariff charge.


A charge made on property stored


Standard Transportation Commodity Codes. – The STCC system is a 7-digit coding structure designed to classify all commodities or articles which move or may move in freight transportation.


A place designated in the timetable by name, at which a train may stop for traffic; or to enter or leave the main track; or from which fixed signals are operated.

Spotting Cars

the placing of cars where required for loading or unloading.


Short, usually dead-end section of track used to access a facility or loading/unloading ramp. It also can be used to temporarily store equipment


A track parallel to a main track, having switches at both ends, used for meeting and passing trains.


The planned times of movement between two locations.
(a) The time which is supposed to be consumed in a movement between two points.
(b) A list of prices or other information, such as a freight tariff, is often called a freight schedule

Round House

A building used for repairing locomotives.

Rip Track

Location within a yard where cars are placed for major repairs or for major cleaning, conditioning or upgrading

Reciprocal Switching

A switching service performed for another railroad on loaded cars on which the other railroad receives a road haul. The switching railroad is paid by the road haul carrier for performing the service.

Private Car

Cars whose ownership is vested in a person or company that is not engaged in the service of common carriage.


An assigned group of cars used to satisfy the requirements of a particular customer at a specific location, a particular customer at no designated location, an agent at a specific location or a particular commodity at no specific location.

Piggy Back

Transportation of a highway trailer on a railroad flat car.

Per Diem Charge

A charge based on a fixed rate per day which one carrier makes against another for the use of its cars.

Net Weight

(a) The weight of an article clear of packing and container.
(b) As applied to car/trailer the weight of the entire Contents of the equipment.

Mixed Carload

A carload of different articles in a single consignment.

Maintenance of Way

The process of maintaining roadbed (rail, ties, ballast, bridges etc.) These materials are hauled in special maintenance of way cars, which also include cars that are equipped with heavy equipment, such as cranes and tie replacing machines.

Local Move

A railroad movement in which only one road haul carrier participates. The one carrier serves both the origin and destination station.

Line Haul

The movement of freight over the routes of a carrier from one town or city to another town or city.

Last Contained

A term referring to an empty car that still has residue of the previous commodity it carried. This is significant if the commodity was hazardous


That which constitutes a load. The freight in or on a rail car, trailer or container.

Junction Point

(a) A point where two or more transportation lines meet.
(b) A point at which a branch line track connects with the main line track.

Issuing Carrier

The carrier by which a tariff is published or Bill of Lading or other documents are issued.

Intra-Terminal Switching

A switching move performed by one railroad, by moving equipment from one industry to another industry within the same switching limits of a terminal.

Intra-Plant Switching

A switching move performed by moving equipment from one location to another location within the same industry.

Intermediate Switching

Switching service which includes all the elements of switching performed by a carrier which neither originates nor terminates the shipment nor receives a line haul on that shipment.

Intermediate Carrier

A transportation line over which a shipment moves but on which neither the point of origin nor destination is located.

Interline Waybill

A waybill covering freight which moves over two or more carriers.

Interline Freight

Freight moving from point of origin to destination over the lines of two or more transportation lines.


Between two or more transportation lines.

Interchange Points

A terminal at which freight in the course of transportation is delivered by one transportation line to another.


Transfer of freight from one carrier to another.

Individual Tariff

One issued by a transportation line.


A car (covered or open top) with a floor that slopes from the ends and sides and discharges its contents by gravity through doors at the bottom.

Hazardous STCC

A commodity code for materials which are explosive, flammable, radioactive, or corrosive. Because they can be extremely dangerous in the event of an accident, their movement is highly regulated. Any commodities officially classified as hazardous are assigned a STCC number that begins with 49.


A legal agreement between two rail partners. The owner of the agreement is referred to as the ‘Haulage Rights Carrier’. The other partner is referred to as the ‘Haulage Movement Carrier’. With this agreement, the ‘rights carrier’ requests the ‘movement carrier’ to move equipment over an agreed segment of track, but to outside parties it appears as if the ‘rights carrier’ is doing the work.

Gross Weight

(a) the weight of an article together with the weight of its container and the material used is packing.
(b) As applied to a car or trailer the weight of the equipment together with the weight of the entire Contents.

Gross Ton

2,240 pounds.

Grain Door

Boards placed against the door of a car to prevent leakage of grain.


A car used to haul bulk commodities and heavy metals. This car type has sides and ends and a level floor. It is usually without a top covering, although there are also covered gondolas.

General Order

A fixed rule that import goods will be stored in a bonded warehouse unless cleared through customs within forty-eight hours after the time the ship reports to the Collector of Customs.

Freight Rate

A figure representing the amount charged for a given unit of weight between two points.

Freight Charge

The charge assessed for transporting freight.

Freight Bill

Statements containing commodity and payment information.


Goods or property transported.

Free Time

The period allowed the owner to accept delivery before storage or detention charges begin to accrue.


Federal Railroad Administration – The FRA deals specifically with transportation policy as it affects the nation’s railroads and is responsible for enforcement of rail safety laws.


A group of cars defined by a customer or in-house user. The CLM Fleet System provides car movement information, usually to a customer, on this group of cars. In many instances, in-house users maintain fleets to monitor traffic movement over certain sections of the railroad for certain types of cars.

Estimated Weight

The weight specifically stated in tariffs for goods shipped in certain packages, or in a certain manner.


The rolling stock of a carrier


A term frequently used in referring to a locomotive. A unit propelled by any form of energy, or a combination of such units operated from a single control, used in a train or yard service

En Route

On the way.


To resist or prohibit the acceptance and handling of freight.


Electronic Data Interchange. The process of sending and retrieving information electronically, ie Bills of Lading and Freight Bills.


A charge made on cars or other equipment held by or for consignor or consignee for loading or unloading, for forwarding directions or for any other purpose each month.

Delivery Switch Road

The road that delivers cars to a customer when the final road haul road does not serve the customer.

Delivering Carrier

The transportation line by which a shipment is delivered to the consignee.

Contract Carrier

Carriers who transport passengers or property under special and individual contracts or agreements.


A receptacle that resembles a truck trailer without wheel (chassis) that is lifted on to flat cars

Constructive Placement

When, due to some inability on the part of the consignor or consignee, a car cannot be placed for loading or unloading at a point previously designated by the consignor or consignee it is placed elsewhere. It is then considered as being under Constructive Placement and subject to demurrage, rules and charges, the same as if it were actually placed at the designated point.


The individual or organization shipping freight to a consignee


The individual or organization to which freight is shipped.

Connecting Carrier

A carrier which has a direct physical connection with another or forming a connecting link between two or more carriers.


A receptacle that resembles a truck trailer without wheel (chassis) that is lifted on to flat cars.

Competitive Rate

Rate published to meet the competition of another carrier.


Any article of commerce. Goods shipped.

Clean Bill of Lading

A bill of Lading receipted by carrier for merchandise in good condition (no damage, loss etc., apparent), and which does not bear such notation as “Shipper’s Load and Count.

Class 3 Railroads

Railroads with an annual revenue other than Class 1 or Class 2

Class 2 Railroads

Railroads with annual revenue from $100,000 to $999,999.

Class 1 Railroads

Railroads with annual revenue above $1,000,000.


An individual, partnership or corporation engaged in the business of transporting goods or persons.

Carload Rate

The rate applicable to a shipment which equals, exceeds or is charged for the carload minimum weight.

Carload Minimum Weight

The least weight which a shipment is charged to obtain the carload rate.


(a) The quantity of freight required for the application of a carload rate.
(b) A car loaded to its weight or space-carrying capacity.

Car Hire Allowance

A charge issued by the owner of a rail car.


Amount of freight which can be carried in a railcar or trailer expressed in terms of weight and measurement.


Train made up of a single “bulk” commodity and car type. Bulk commodities include coal, grain, soda ash and ore.

Building Trains

Assembling sorted cars in proper sequence for outbound departure.

Bridge Move

A railroad movement involving at least three roadhaul carriers at which the UP is neither the first or the last carrier.


Beltline Railroad of Chicago (Chicago Shortline Railroad)

Box Car

A car with sides enclosed and having a roof; doors being placed in the sides or sides and ends.

Blocking or Bracing

Wood or metal supports to keep shipments in place in or on railcars and trailers.

Bill of Lading

A shipping form which is both a receipt for property and a contract for delivery of goods by a carrier. The principal bills of lading are: Straight A non-negotiable document. Surrender of the original is not required upon delivery of the freight unless necessary to identify consignee. Order A negotiable document. Surrender of the original property endorsed is required by transportation lines upon delivery of the freight, in accordance with its terms. Clean Either a Straight or Order Bill of Lading in which the transportation company acknowledges receipt of the property without noting any exceptions as to shortage or damage to the property received. Exchange A bill of lading which is given in exchange for another. Export One given to cover a shipment consigned to some foreign country. Government A special form of bill of lading which is used in making shipments for the account of the United States Government.

Billed Weight

The weight shown in a freight bill.

Bad Order

A freight car loaded improperly, mechanically defective, or has safety violations.

Back Haul

To handle a shipment in the direction of the light flow of traffic.

Application of Tariff

The territory, or points within a territory, from, to, or between which the provisions and rates shown in the tariff apply.

Application of Rates

The points from, to, or between, which the rates and routes shown in the tariff apply.

Anticipated Consist (Inbound)

A list requested prior to the receipt of a Detail Advance Consist that is customized to show all the cars scheduled to arrive at a given location.


A change, correction or alteration.

Agreed Weight

The weight prescribed by agreement between carrier and shipper for goods shipped in certain packages or in a certain manner in order to circumvent weighing.


A person authorized to transact business for and in the name of another

Advance Notice

Notification to the customer of intended action or an approaching event.

Act of God

An irresistible superhuman cause, such as no reasonable human foresight, prudence, diligence and care can anticipate and/or prevent

Accessorial Service

A service rendered by a carrier in addition to a transportation service, such as stopping in transit to complete loading or to partially unload, heating, storage

AAR Pool Number

A seven digit numeric code assigned to pools reported to the Association of American Railroads

AAR Car Type

Standard coding scheme for classifying cars, composed of leading alpha character to describe general type of car (e.g., box car) and 3 numeric digits, each describing a separate characteristic of the car.


Association of American Railroads