Op/Ed: I Hate Misused Railroad Jargon!

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Sean R Das

Hello. I bet I'm not the only railfan who is embarrased or offended when people with no knowledge of railroading whatsoever misuse railroad jargon. Here are some examples:

The Term "Train"
In its true definition, the term "railroad train" refers to a series of cars (note the plural!) pulled by a locomotive (or self-propelled railcar). As far as the railroad itself is concerned, a true "train" is a locomotive and cars in service. In fact, in the "classic" era of railroading, a train was not even considered a real train unless it had a caboose or carried red marker lamps on the rear car.

However, when most people say train, they're using the term to loosely (and incorrectly) refer to anything that runs on rails--even if what they are describing is a single locomotive or car. I don't know about the rest of you, but this misuse has annoyed me till kingdom come! The only exception applies to self-propelled railcars--Doodlebugs, Budd RDC's, DMU's and such--while a single railcar itself is not a true "train," if nit is providing passenger service it still counts as a true "train" as it is in service.

Engineer vs. Conductor
There seems to be some confusion among average joes between the terms "engineer" and "conductor." In their true definitions, an engineer drives a locomotive; while a conductor is part fare enforcement officer, part customer-service worker, part office-worker, and part security guard--the fact that the conductor is a train's security guard makes perfect sense since the term for a conductor on UK and UK-influenced rail systems is "guard."

However, to the lay person, the term "train conductor" would suggest a locomotive driver rather than a guard, possibly misleading some passengers into thinking their train's driver is the man walking down the aisles and inspecting tickets, leaving nobody at the controls or keeping a llokout at the track ahead!


Photo Critiques Welcome
In the literal a train is plural, a series of something. But with movements on the railroad the General Code is more correct in a practical usage.

If you know much about trains the misunderstanding and Hollywood creative license are always there. How many times has a train kept rolling at speed when the cars uncouple and the air hoses part?

But we are not alone. I watched The River once with a couple people who grew up farming. It was Mel Gibson fighting the bank and a flood to save his farm. These guys howled about the incorrect farms details.


New Member
What I love is when reporters use "driver of the train" instead of engineer. I've polietly emailed a number of reporters and their reply indicates that they don't care. Today's news gatghering opertions are more concerned about the joint Miley Cyrus smoked, rather than being accurate and correct. As a long-time radio news person, mis-use of language pisses me off. It's getting to the point where I cannot stand to listen, watch or read the news any longer. We are living in a dumbed down nation that's getting dumber by the day.


5th Generation Texian
what really gets me is people starving in Africa, babies that die of curable diseases and children that get hurt by stupid adults.

That little stuff, not so much.

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