Glossary of United Kingdom railway terms

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This page contains a list of jargon used to varying degrees by railway enthusiasts / railfans and trainspotters in the United Kingdom, including nicknames for various locomotives and multiple units. 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 enthusiasts, and there may be significant regional variation in usage.

Words in italics indicate terms defined elsewhere in this list.

For general railway terminology, see Rail terminology
For terminology specific to the types of lines used for passenger trains, see passenger rail terminology
For terminology specific to North America, see Glossary of North American railway terms
For terminology specific to New Zealand, see Glossary of New Zealand railway terms
For terminology specific to Australia, see Glossary of Australian railway terms


A First ScotRail Class 170 DMU in Barbie livery
The Blue Flash seat moquette inside a Class 319 EMU operated by Network SouthEast
  • Baby Deltic: D5900 class Bo-Bo diesel-electric locomotives constructed by the English Electric company. They used a single Napier Deltic engine/generator combination, as opposed to the two engines/generators layout and Co-Co wheel arrangement of the much longer Deltic locomotives from the same manufacturer, to which they bore a very strong family resemblance.[1]
  • Baby Warship: North British D6300 class locomotives which used one diesel engine coupled to a hydraulic transmission, making them effectively half a D600 Warship or D800 Warship, each of which had two engines.[2]
  • Bagpipes: British Rail Class 33/1 locomotives, specifically those fitted for push-pull working with 4TC stock.[3]
  • Barbie: Livery of First Group's bus and rail companies up until February 2006 – the name comes from the purple and pink packaging of Barbie dolls. First Group are now favouring Neon schemes[4]
  • Bed pan: a name used for the service that used to operate between Bedford and London St. Pancras; this service has subsequently been replaced by cross-London service on the Thameslink route. It is sometimes used when referring to the line from Bedford to St Pancras, and not any service in particular.[5][6]
  • Bicycling Lion: The British Railways emblem used from 1949 to 1956, featuring a lion standing astride a wheel on a bar featuring the legend 'British Railways'. This name is derived from the fact the lion is standing astride the wheel like a cyclist - hence the nickname. This was replaced with the Ferret and Dartboard logo (see below) in 1956 as the British Railways logo.
  • Black Five: LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0. Class of steam locomotive built in the UK, named from their black 'mixed-traffic' livery and 'Class 5' power rating.[7]
  • Blood and Custard: Name applied to the Crimson and Cream livery used on BR's coaches during the 1950s and 60s.[8]
  • Blue Flash: The seat moquette used by Network SouthEast, which has also been used by Silverlink, Connex South Eastern, Connex South Central, London Overground, Southern, London Midland, National Express East Anglia, Thames Trains, First Great Western Link, South West Trains, South Eastern Trains and Southeastern. With South West Trains and National Express East Anglia, a variation of the moquette was used as well. The moquette was dark blue with short light blue stripes in a zig-zag pattern, though in the South West Trains/NXEA alternative version the stripes were pink.
  • Bodysnatcher: British Rail Class 57 diesel-electric locomotives – made by transplanting a General Motors reconditioned power unit and alternator into a Class 47 bodyshell.[9]
  • Boiler ticket: the safety certificate issued for a steam (locomotive) boiler on passing a thorough formal inspection and generally covering a period of ten years. The formal inspection usually requires the removal of the boiler from the locomotive and renewal of some parts such as the tubes. Additional annual safety inspections must also be undertaken, which may result in the locomotive being withdrawn from service until any faults are rectified. When the boiler ticket "expires" the locomotive cannot be used until the boiler has been reinspected and a new ticket obtained.[10]
  • Bone: British Rail Class 58 diesel-electric locomotive – from the shape: the body is narrow with wide cabs. (Also called egg timer.) Ironically, one of the final workings of this class was a railfan special called the Bone Breaker which ended in a bufferstop collision and a passenger breaking his leg.[11]
  • Bone Shaker: London Underground A60 and A62 Stock, due to the shakey ride of the old trains. The nickname was coined by an ITV News reporter during a report on the A Stock's last day of service on the Metropolitan Line.[12]
  • Brush: British Rail Class 47 diesel-electric locomotive, also known as the "Brush Type 4". Followers of this type are often known as "Brush bashers".
  • Bubble car:[13] British Rail Class 121[14] or 122[15] single railcar


  • Cattle: Passengers (particularly commuters, who often complain that they are treated "like cattle")[16]
  • Cess: The area either side of the railway immediately off the ballast shoulder. This usually provides a safe area for workers to stand in when trains approach.
    A cess along the London Underground
  • Chopper: British Rail Class 20 diesel-electric locomotive[17]
  • Clag: Originally used to describe the exhaust of steam locomotives, "clag" is a term describing the often spectacular (particularly blackened, as in Class 37, or whitesmoked, as in Class 55) exhaust emissions of many older British diesel locomotives, especially, Classes 52 and 55.[18]
  • Coffee pot : Applied to the shape of SR Q1 class steam locomotives[19]
  • Crompton: British Rail Class 33 diesel-electric locomotive (fitted with Crompton Parkinson electrical equipment). (Also see Hastings Unit and Slim Jim).[20]


First Great Western 166218 at Paddington in Dynamic Lines livery.
A Class 321 "Dusty Bin"



HST power car in FGW "fag packet" livery
British Railways "ferret and dartboard" logo, as used on locomotives from 1956 to 1965
  • Fag packet livery: the original livery of the First Great Western HSTs – a basically green colour scheme, fading to ivory, with shiny gold stripe, below the windows,[24][25] so called because it resembles the packaging of a brand of cigarettes ('fags').
  • Ferret and Dartboard: The second British Railways emblem introduced in 1956, featuring a lion rampant holding a wheel. From a distance the wheel has a passing resemblance to a dartboard.[26]


  • God's Wonderful Railway: Made from the initials of GWR.
  • Gricer: - an old-fashioned name for a rail enthusiast. The derivation is much disputed; one theory is that it comes from Richard Grice, a trainspotter who became legendary for having travelled the entire British Rail network.[31]


A Class 365 "Happy Train"
A Class 323 "Hyper-networker"



Preserved Class 50 50 049 Defiance, in large logo livery
  • Large Logo livery: one of the first new British Rail locomotive liveries applied after many years of all-over rail blue. For this livery, the loco cabs were entirely 'warning yellow', with black window surrounds (the yellow usually wrapping round behind the cab doors); the main bodysides were still rail blue but featured very large running numbers with a large white British Rail 'double arrow' logo in the middle, the full height of the body. It was applied to refurbished Class 50 locomotives, among others.[40]
  • Lightsaber the cutter's torch, coined by Modern Railways magazine as a pun on the Class 460 'Darth Vaders' having their front ends cut off as part of the amalgamation with the Class 458s.[41][not in citation given]


  • MTVal An High Speed Train consisting of one MTU engined power car, and one Valenta engined power car in the formation.


  • Networker Clubman: A British Rail Class 168 Clubman unit with original front end, so called because it resembles the front end of a Networker.
  • Normal: A non-enthusiast.[44]
  • Nodding Donkeys: A name for the British Rail Pacer Unit because of their bouncing up and down (nodding), and the donkey-like sound such units make on tight corners due to their lack of bogies.[citation needed]


A Class 442 Plastic pig
  • Plastics/Pigs: British Rail Class 442, "Wessex Electrics" (electric multiple units): so-named for being mostly made out of plastics in construction.[46]


  • Rat: British Rail Class 25 diesel-electric locomotives – and related classes – reputedly originating from a term used on the LMR of British Rail in the 1960s where 25s were as common as "rats";[47] the Scottish-based Class 26 and 27 were sometimes known as "MacRats". (See also Splut).[48]
  • Roarer: Early British Rail 25 kV AC electric locomotive of types 'AL1'–'AL5' (later Classes 81, 82, 83, 84, 85), due to the loud whine made by the traction motor cooling fans when the locomotive is at rest. The name originated with the AL3 type. Although the other types exhibit a less noticeable noise, the name is applied equally to any of them.[49]


The roof-shape on Class 66 diesel locos resembles that of a garden Shed
  • Shed: A Canadian-built Class 66 diesel-electric locomotive (from the roof shape and also the corrugated bodysides).[50]
  • Slam-door Trains: Any diesel or electric multiple unit with manually opening hinged doors, mostly the British rail classes 423 and 421. So-called after the noise made by passengers slamming the doors shut.
  • Slim Jim: Narrow-bodied version of the British Rail Class 33 diesel-electric locomotive (identified as sub-class 33/2) – built for the confined loading gauge on the Hastings line. (Also see Crompton and Hastings Unit).[29]
  • Splut: Another nickname for the British Rail Class 25, referring to their habit of spluttering when their engines cut out and failed, which they often did. (See also Rat).[29]
  • Stop and examine: A former British Railways rule which is now defunct,[53] this required train crew to stop the train and examine the cause of an unexpected noise, vibration, etc. Section TW of the Network Rail rulebook covers the requirements when working a modern train.
  • Super 60: A rebuilt class 60, Upgraded by DBS. Mainly seen in an overall red livery, with half-yellow fronts, but a couple can be seen in the original Sector livery.


A preserved Southern A1 Class "Terrier".
A class 465 in Network SouthEast Toothpaste livery
  • Tadpole: 3R DEMUs. Named due to having two vehicles 8 ft 2½ in wide and one vehicle 9 ft 3 in wide.[54]
  • Teddy Bear: British Rail Class 14 diesel-hydraulic locomotives for shunting and trip-working.[50] Coined by Swindon Works' foreman George Cole who quipped "We've built the Great Bear, now we're going to build a Teddy Bear!".[55]
  • Terrier: The LB&SCR A1 Class 0-6-0 steam locomotive, on account of its distinctive "bark" when running.[56]
  • Thousands: Class 52 diesel-hydraulic locomotives (the "Westerns") given the number range beginning with D1000.[57]
  • Thumper: Southern DEMU (BR Classes 201207) – unlike conventional DMUs these used a single, comparatively large diesel engine and electric generator mounted immediately behind one driving cab. The power units made a distinctive "thumping" noise when working hard.[58][citation needed]
  • Thunderbird: a locomotive kept on standby at a strategic location, ready to rescue a failed train. (From Thunderbirds)[59]
  • Tractor: British Rail Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive, possibly from the engine sound, also because they could be found hauling almost anything as a mixed-traffic design.[60]
  • Toothpaste: The livery used by Network SouthEast. So called due to the red, white and blue colours resembling the colours of striped toothpaste.[61]
  • Tug: British Rail Class 60 diesel-electric locomotive, as named because of their tremendous pulling power, size and sluggish nature. Class 60s upgraded by DB Schenker are called 'Super Tugs'.[62]



  • Warship: D600 or D800 class diesel-hydraulic locomotives, most of which were named after Royal Navy vessels.[64]
  • Western: British Rail Class 52 - diesel hydraulic type 4 locomotive, 74 of which ran on BR between 1961 and 1977. All were named in a series beginning "Western...". Seven of the class have been preserved.[66]


  • Yeoman: Early name for a Class 59 diesel-electric locomotive, the first privately owned (by Foster Yeoman) locomotives to operate on British Rail, owing to their name being "Yeoman -----" such as 59 001 Yeoman Endeavour.[71]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Recognition and Equipment information – Class 23". The Railway Centre .com. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  2. ^ "British Railways Western Region diesel-hydraulic locomotives: D6300 index". 
  3. ^ Blackburn, Ian. "Waterloo-Weymouth push-pull trains". Railway Modeller (Peco Publications) (March 2012): 226–31. ISSN 0033-8931. 
  4. ^ Omnibuses Blog article on Barbie from a bus viewpoint
  5. ^ Gourvish, Terence Richard (2002). British Rail, 1974-97: From Integration to Privatisation. Oxford University Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-19-926909-2. 
  6. ^ Green-Hughes, Evan (November 2007). "Rogart 127 to head south". Railways Illustrated: page 38. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Cliff (July 2005). "Alderman A E Draper name back on 'Black Five'". The Railway Magazine 151 (1251): p64. 
  8. ^ "South Devon Railway Ex GWR Coach 276". 
  9. ^ Renown Repulse Restoration Group. "Nicknames". Archived from the original on 2008-02-06. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  10. ^ "Bluebell's locomotive problems" (PDF). Bluebell Railway. (BRPS) AGM, 13 May 2006. Retrieved 2 October 2009.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ a b Class 58 Loco Group
  12. ^ "Saying goodbye to oldest tube train". London Tonight - ITV London. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  13. ^ Milner, Chris (July 2005). "SWT 'bubble' named". The Railway Magazine 151 (1251): p77. 
  14. ^ "Our Trains - Chiltern Railways". 
  15. ^ Green-Hughes, Evan (November 2007). "McDonald sells his four DMU cars". Railways Illustrated: page 36. 
  16. ^ a b Daily Mail
  17. ^ "'At least 20 20s' for Barrow Hill diesel jubilee". The Railway Magazine: page 9. July 2007. 
  18. ^ Llangollen Diesels
  19. ^ "Kent Rail: Bulleid Class Q1". 
  20. ^ "Class 33 locomotives". Southern E-Group (SEMG). Retrieved 2007-02-16. 
  21. ^ Wilcock, David. "The branch line service where passengers had to get out and push!". Heritage Railway (Mortons Media Ltd) (139 (8 July - 4 August 2010): p76–77. 
  22. ^ Ellis, Iain (2006). Ellis' British railway Engineering Encyclopedia. ISBN 1-84728-643-7. 
  23. ^ "Devon knows how they make them 37s so greeny!". Railways Illustrated: page 29. December 2007. 
  24. ^ "First HST #43 150 in Fag Packet Livery". 2007-04-09. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  25. ^ "First Great Western Sleeper Fag packet livery". Scale Rail Model Centre. Retrieved 2008-03-28. [dead link]
  26. ^ Dow, Andrew (2006). Dow's Dictionary of Railway Quotations. (138.2 - Coats of arms and logos) (JHU Press). ISBN 0-8018-8292-3. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  27. ^ Bluebell Railway - Early Days 1
  28. ^ New Measurement Train,
  29. ^ a b c Morrison, Brian (ed.). Modern Railways Pictorial 1986. Ian Allan. p. 115. ISBN 0-7110-1510-4. 
  30. ^ "Hornby 'Goyles' in OO (Class 31)". Modern Railway Modelling 3: pages 26–27. 2005. 
  31. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  32. ^ Nicholson, Peter (July 2005). "'Grid' owner adds to his collection". The Railway Magazine 151 (1251): p84. 
  33. ^ "Hornby 'Gronk' (Class 08/09)". Modern Railway Modelling 4: pages 26–27. 2005. 
  34. ^ "A real 'Growler' on the South Devon". The Railway Magazine 151 (1251): p10. July 2005. 
  35. ^ Photograph 22
  36. ^ Modern Railways Pictorial 1986, page 115
  37. ^ Nicholson, Peter (July 2007). "Swindon's 'Hoover' goes to school". The Railway Magazine: page 86. 
  38. ^ Reed, Brian (1974). Diesel-Hydraulic Locomotives of the Western Region. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. ISBN 0-7153-6769-2. 
  39. ^ Reed, Brian (2007). Traction Recognition. unknown: Ian Allen. ISBN 978-0-7110-3277-4. 
  40. ^ Chilton, Phil (November 2007). "The University of Shackerstone, locomotive division!". Railways Illustrated: page 17. 
  41. ^ a b c "Modern Railways: News, Views and Analysis on Today's Railway". Key Publishing Limited - Modern Railways. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  42. ^ Co-Bo World
  43. ^ Hopkins, Simon (November 2007). "Bridgnorth's stalwart 'Mickey Mouse' is focus of charter". Steam Railway 343: page 24. 
  44. ^ "Steam Dreams passengers: 90% 'normals' ". Steam Railway (367): p67. 18 September 2009 - October 15.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  45. ^ "Peak to be sold". Railways Illustrated: page 36. November 2007. 
  46. ^ Hentis-rail - Tribute to the Wessex Electrics
  47. ^ Kemp, Steve (December 2007). "'Rat' resurrected on the 'main line'". Railways Illustrated: page 12. 
  48. ^ Rat Roadshow
  49. ^ Chris, Shaw (1991). The AC Electrics (Rail Portfolios no. 13). Ian Allan. p. 7 (top caption). ISBN 0-7110-1938-X. 
  50. ^ a b Staines, David (December 2007). "High-speed one: a 'Teddy Bear's picnic!". Railways Illustrated: pages 22–25. 
  51. ^ "News Pictorial". Railways Illustrated: page 43. March 2008. 
  52. ^ "Cornish Capers". Railways Illustrated: page 24. March 2008. 
  53. ^ "Online Rulebook section TW: Working of Trains". 
  54. ^ Glover, John (2001). Southern Electric. Hersham: Ian Allan. p. 93. ISBN 0-7110-2807-9. 
  55. ^ The Railway magazine, December 2006
  56. ^ Casserley, H.C. (1961). Steam Locomotives of British Railways (1978 ed.). Hamlyn Books. p. 52. ISBN 0-600-02210-2. 
  57. ^ Wilson, Matt (November 2007). "This is the way to celebrate your 50th. birthday!". Railways Illustrated: page 27. 
  58. ^ Nicholson, Peter (July 2005). "'Thumper' trailer finds a home". The Railway Magazine 151 (1251): p84. 
  59. ^ "Virgin rescue locomotives are F A B!". (Press release). Virgin Trains. 17 December 2004. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  60. ^ "TMC class 37 product page". 
  61. ^ [1]
  62. ^ "British Rail Class 60". Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  63. ^ Brodrick, Nick. "'U-Boat' tender lands at MHR". Steam Railway (Bauer Media) (382, November 12 - December 9, 2010): p25. 
  64. ^ "British Railways Western Region diesel-hydraulic locomotives: D600 'Warship' index". 
  65. ^ "SEG 442 Features Introdution". 
  66. ^ "Western makes debut at Aberystwyth". Railways Illustrated: page 8. November 2007. 
  67. ^ "The Golden Jubilee of the Class 20s". The Railway Magazine: pages 14–20. July 2007. 
  68. ^ "A 'wizzo' in the west again". Railways Illustrated: page 11. March 2008. 
  69. ^ Jewell, Brian (1984). Down the line to Hastings. Southborough: The Baton Press. p. p15. ISBN 0-85936-223-X. 
  70. ^ Times online
  71. ^ Supplement to April 1990 edition of Railway Magazine

External links[edit]