A round-up of railway terms related to train travel in Britain that may differ from American understandings. Every issue of the Anglotopia Print Magazine features ‘The Slang Page’ on the back page of the magazine. Each issue covers an interesting exploration of British English. Subscribe to the Anglotopia Print Magzine to make sure you get the latest lists!
Tube – Nickname for the London Underground
Railway – Railroad is an American term; do not use this term when talking about Britain’s rails.
Heritage Railway – Usually a steam railway, but sometimes diesel operating on disused lines
Beeching Cuts – Dr Beeching famously cut many of Britain’s branch lines in the 1960s leading to the closure of stations all across the country. Some argue the system has never recovered.
Varsity Line – The line that used to connect Oxford to Cambridge. Fell out of use and is now being rebuilt.
HS1 – The high-speed railway incorporating the Eurostar service to mainland Europe through the Channel Tunnel.
HS2 – High Speed 2 – A brand new high-speed railway that will be constructed in the 2020s and link London to Birmingham.
Bogie – The undercarriage assembly of rolling stock incorporating the train wheels, suspension, brakes and, in powered units, the traction motors
Main Line – A principal rail artery.
Branch Line – A minor line that branches off the main line that usually has less frequent service.
Parliamentary Train – A train service that operates solely because it has to be in order to keep a train franchise. It’s often cheaper to just run these ‘ghost’ trains than go through the process to kill a route/line/station.
Points – Where trains connect and diverge on a line. Points failure is a common problem that causes delays.
Signal Failure – When the train signals break, which means trains can’t operate safely because the train driver does not know if the tracks ahead are clear.
Sleeper Service – Train service where you can book a bed and sleep overnight and wake up in your destination. Currently, the only two left are the Cornish Rivera Sleeper and the Caledonian Sleeper (to Scotland).
Terminus – Where a railway line ends or terminates.
Trainspotter – Person with an intense interest in trains, many will keep track of every locomotive they come across in a notebook.
East Coast Mainline – Mainline railway that runs roughly along the east coast of Britain north to Scotland.
West Coast Mainline – Mainline railway that runs roughly along the west coast of Britain north to Scotland.
Great Western Railway – Famous railway built by Brunel that services the west of England and the west country.
Footbridge – Bridge that allows you to cross tracks safely to get to another platform at a station.
Single Day Return – A single ticket that allows a return journey.
Level Crossing – Street-level crossing of railway tracks.
Network Rail – Quasi-state owned company that owns all the railway tracks and most stations. Responsible for maintaining the tracks and other infrastructure. Train operating companies lease access to the network and pay for its use.
British Rail/British Railways – The former state-owned company that ran Britain’s railways from the 1940s to the 1990s.
Nationalisation – Catch-all term used to define the policy of taking the railways and the operating companies completely back into public ownership.
Through Station – Station where the trains pass through rather than terminate.