Reverser handle

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Pair of reverser handles for use on diesel-electric locomotives

A reverser handle is an operating control for a railroad locomotive that is used to determine the direction of travel. The reverser usually has three positions: forward, reverse, and neutral.


When the reverser is in the forward or reverse position, the locomotive will move in the indicated direction when the throttle is opened. Removing the reverser handle from the control stand[1] in the neutral position locks the throttle controller, effectively disabling the locomotive.[2] The reverser lever is sometimes referred to as a "railroad key."[3]


A reversing mechanism of some type has been present on locomotives almost since inception. The reversing lever on a steam locomotive is sometimes called a Johnson Bar. The style of reverser used on internal combustion locomotives has been in use since at least the early 1900s but as late as 1996 patented improvements have been made to the design and operation.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Title 49: Transportation; PART 218—RAILROAD OPERATING PRACTICES" (web). Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. GPO.GOV. 44 FR 2175, Jan. 10, 1979, as amended at 48 FR 6123, Feb. 10, 1983. Retrieved 2008-01-01.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Albert Sutton Richey; William Charles Greenough (1915). Electric Railway Handbook: A Reference Book of Practice Data. Original from the University of Michigan: McGraw-Hill Book Company, inc. p. 356. 
  3. ^ "Railroad tool?" (Web). CPRR Discussion Group. Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum. August 15, 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  4. ^ Paul J. Kettle, Jr.; Ralph Santoro, Jr.; Vincent Ferri (August 6, 1996). "Apparatus for interlocking reverser handle on a control stand of a railway locomotive" (web). United States Patent 5542891. US Patent office. Retrieved 2008-01-01.