Shunting (rail)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Shunting, in railway operations, is the process of sorting items of rolling stock into complete trains, or the reverse. In the United States this activity is known as switching.

Motive power[edit]

Motive power is normally provided by a locomotive known as a shunter (in the UK) or switcher (in the USA). Most shunter/switchers are now diesel-powered but steam and even electric locomotives have been used. Where locomotives could not be used (e.g. because of weight restrictions) shunting operations have in the past been effected by horses or capstans.



The terms "shunter" and "switcher" are applied not only to locomotives but to employees engaged on the ground with shunting/switching operations. The task of such personnel is particularly dangerous because not only is there the risk of being run over, but on some railway systems—particularly ones that use buffer-and-chain/screw coupling systems—the shunters have to get between the wagons/carriages in order to complete coupling and uncoupling. This was particularly so in the past. The Midland Railway company, for example, kept an ambulance wagon permanently stationed at Toton Yard to give treatment to injured shunters.

The main tool of shunters working with hook-and-chain couplings was a shunting pole, which allowed the shunter to reach between wagons to fasten and unfasten couplings without having physically to go between the vehicles. This type of shunting pole was of an entirely different design than objects of the same name in North American practice (see below).[1]


In the United States, a pole was sometimes used to move cars on adjacent tracks. This procedure was known as "pole switching" or "poling" for short. In these instances, the locomotive or another car was moved to be near the car that needed to be moved. The on-ground railwayman would then position a wooden pole, which was sometimes permanently attached to the locomotive, and engage it in the poling pocket of the car that needed to be moved. The engineer would then use the pole to push the car on the adjacent track.[2][3][4][5][6] Before poling pockets or poles were common on switching locomotives, some railroads built specialized poling cars which could be coupled to locomotives that lacked poling pockets.[7][8] The practice was most prevalent in rail yard operations circa 1900.[9] Poling was the cause of some accidents and in later years was discouraged before the practice was abandoned.[10][11][12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tools of the trade". Barrow Hill Roundhouse. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  2. ^ Haines, Henry Stevens (1919). Efficient Railway Operation. New York: The Macmillan Company. p. 276 – via Internet Archive. poling pocket.
  3. ^ Middleton, William D.; Smerk, George; Diehl, Roberta L., eds. (2007). "Poling Yards". Encyclopedia of North American Railroads. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-253-34916-3 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Droege, John Albert (1906). "Chapter X: Pole Switching". Yards and Terminals and Their Operation. New York: The Railroad Gazette. pp. 97–103 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Patent 1,263,426. Push-Pole Pocket For Railway Cars". Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. Vol. 249. Washington: Government Printing Office. April 1918. p. 765 – via Google Books. |volume= has extra text (help)
  6. ^ "Poling on railroads - Ask Trains from the March 2015 issue". Kalmbach Publishing. February 15, 2017. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "Erie Poling Car". Railroad Gazette. Vol. 26. October 26, 1894. p. 787 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "Railroad Men and Matters". New York Times. November 8, 1894. p. 8 – via open access
  9. ^ Loree, Leonor F. (1922). Railroad Freight Transportation. D. Appleton. p. 46 – via Internet Archive. railroad poling.
  10. ^ "Is Severely Hurt". Princeton Daily Clarion. Princeton, IN. January 10, 1910. p. 1 – via open access
  11. ^ Ohio. Commissioner of Railroads and Telegraphs (1883). Annual Report of the Commissioner of Railroads and Telegraphs. Columbus: Myers Brothers. p. 1140 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Harrington, Daniel; Worcester, A.W.; East, J.H. (1950). Information on the Prevention of Quarry Accidents. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 50 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Aldrich, Mark (2006). Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828–1965. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. (n.p.). ISBN 978-0-8018-8236-4 – via Google Books.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bostel, Nathalie; Dejax, Pierre (1998). "Models and algorithms for container allocation problems on trains in a rapid transshipment shunting yard". Transportation Science. 32 (4): 370–379. doi:10.1287/trsc.32.4.370.
  • Boysen, Nils (2012). et al. "Shunting yard operations: Theoretical aspects and applications". European Journal of Operational Research. 220 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2012.01.043.