Association of American Railroads
Organization, formed in 1934 to keep the railroads of North America safe, fast, efficient, clean, and technologically advanced.

Name for the National Rail Passenger Corporation, a government-subsidized railroad created by the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970.

American Public Transportation Association. National, non profit trade association representing the public transit industry.


Small rocks that make up the base of a railroad track for support and to allow drainage.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Statistics agency created by Intermodal Surface Transportation Effciency Act to administer data collection, analysis, and reporting and to ensure the most cost-effective use of transportation-monitoring resources.


Charlotte Area Transit System. Organization which manages the current transit services for Mecklenburg County and the surrounding area. It is also planning for a regional transit system which will include bus rapid transit, light rail, commuter rail, and expanded bus service within a six-county area.

Class I Railroad
Railroad with annual gross operating revenue of more than $250 million.

commuter rail
Passenger train service consisting of local short distance travel operating between a central city and adjacent suburbs. Service must be operated on a regular basis by or under contract with a transit operator for the purpose of transporting passengers within urbanized areas, or between urbanized areas and outlying areas. (see also regional rail)

Act of transferring the legal title in a property from one person to another.

CSX Transportation, Inc. Largest railroad on the eastern United States with a 22,000 mile rail-network throughout 23 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 Canadian provinces.


Facility at which freight can be loaded and unloaded. The term station is more often used when referring to the transportation of people. A depot can also be used for the maintenance/service or storage of vehicles.

Trackage which allows a rail line to cross another at grade.

double track
Two sets of track side by side, most often used for travel in opposite directions.


Environmental Protection Agency. An organization, created in 1970, which develops and enforces regulations that provide for a cleaner and healthier environment for the American people.


Federal Railroad Administration. A division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, created in 1966, to promote rail transportation and safety.

Goods or cargo carried on a train, airplane, truck, or ship.

Federal Transit Administration. A segment of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which administers, regulates, and helps fund all public U.S. transportation.


Geographical Information System. Collection of computer hardware, software, and geographic data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

Global Positioning System. Satellite navigation system that enables any location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) on Earth to be accurately determined.

Slope of a railroad track.

grade crossing
Area where a roadway and a railroad cross at the same level, within which are located the railroad, roadway and roadside facilities for traffic traversing that area. Also known as a “highway-rail intersection” and “railroad crossing”.

grade separation
Crossing of a roadway and a railroad at different elevations, such as a bridge structure carrying the highway over the railroad or vice versa.


The amount of time that elapses between two vehicles passing the same point traveling in the same direction on given route. Headways are usually controlled by the speed and capabilities of a track’s signaling system, as well as the spacing of the signals. The headway for commuter trains usually differs depending on the time of day. A smaller headway signifies more frequent service.

heavy rail
Electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic. It is characterized by high speed and rapid acceleration passenger rail cars operating singly or in multi-car trains on fixed rails; separate rights-of-way from which all other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded; sophisticated signaling, and high platform loading

high-speed rail
Public transport by rail in speeds at excess of 200 km/h (124 mph).


Movement of truck trailers or containers by rail and at least one other mode of transportation, usually trucks. Intermodal combines the door-to- door convenience of trucks with the long-haul economy of railroads.

Any location that includes a switch or crossing of two tracks, derived from the early practice of installation of a system of mechanical equipment called an interlocking plant to prevent collisions. Also the term for the actual mechanical or electrical apparatus that prevents switch/points and signals from being operated in ways that would allow for conflicting train movements.

Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. Signed into law on December 18, 1991, the act posed a major change to transportation planning and policy. It presented an overall intermodal approach to highway and transit funding with collaborative planning requirements, giving significant additional powers to metropolitan planning organizations.


jointed rail
Track in which the rails are laid in lengths of around 20 meters and bolted to each other end-to-end by means of joint bars.

Point at which two lines or separate routes diverge from each other.



lead track
Trackage connecting the yard with the main line.

To give permission. License may be granted by a party (“licensor”) to another party (“licensee”) as an element of an agreement between those parties.

light rail
Lightweight passenger rail cars operating singly (or in short, usually two-car, trains) on fixed rails in right-of-way that is not separated from other traffic for much of the way. Light rail vehicles are typically driven electrically with power being drawn from an overhead electric line via a trolley or a pantograph.

line relocation
Moving a railroad from its original bed in order to improve speed, service, and capacity.


Magnetic levitation. Permits trains to move at high speeds just above a fixed guideway, propelled by magnetic force.

Any number of systems in which a chair or carrier is suspended from, or rides on, an overhead rail structure for the limited transportation of goods or passengers.

More than one mode of transportation (road, rail, sea, air, etc.) to move goods or people between an origin and destination. An airport with automobile parking and rail or bus connections is a good example of a multimodal facility.


Norfolk Southern. Major Class I freight railway company operating approximately 21,200 miles of rail in 22 eastern states, the District of Columbia, and Ontario.

National Transportation Safety Board. Small, independent Federal agency established in 1967 to investigate transportation accidents in all modes — aviation, marine, highway, rail, and pipeline.


Operation Lifesaver
Non-profit, international continuing public education program first established in 1972 to end collisions, deaths and injuries at places where roadways cross train tracks, and on railroad rights-of-way.


Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation. A Regional Transportation Authority, created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1997, in which local triad governments can work together to develop transportation systems throughout the piedmont.

Any person who travels in a vehicle.

private crossing
At-grade crossing where the road is privately owned, and is intended for use by the owner or by the owner’s licensees and invitees. It is not generally intended for public use, and it is not maintained by a public authority. Private crossings usually are found on farms and in industrial/ commercial complexes, or they provide access to recreational and residential areas.

public crossing
Highway-rail grade crossing where the intersecting roadway is under the jurisdiction of, and maintained by, a public authority and open to the traveling public.



Rolled steel shape, commonly a T-Section, designed to be laid end to end in two parallel lines on cross ties or other suitable supports to form a track for railroad rolling stock.

rail bed
Layer of material spread over the formation on which the ties and track are laid. Also called ballast bed.

rapid transit
Railway system, usually in an urban area, with a high capacity and frequency of service, and grade separation from other traffic.

regional rail
Rail service between a central business district and the suburbs or other locations that draw large numbers of people on a daily basis. The trains providing such services may be termed commuter trains. (see also commuter rail)

restricted speed
Speed that will permit stopping within one half the range of vision; short of train, engine, railroad car, stop signal, derail or switch not properly lined, looking out for broken rail, not exceeding 20 MPH.

Permission granted by an operating railroad for passage into a rail corridor.

Property owned by a railroad over which tracks have been laid.

Request for proposal.

rolling stock
Railroad vehicle that is not a locomotive; synonymous with railroad car.


The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s six-year, $286 billion surface transportation legislation, signed into law on August 10, 2005.

Section 3
Former Federal Transit Act section that authorizes discretionary grants for capital projects.

Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.
A passenger rail transportation project to connect with the existing high speed rail corridor (Northeast Corridor) and extend similar high speed passenger rail services south through Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia through Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina. Since first established in 1992, the USDOT has since extended the corridor to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama

Track connected to the main track and used to accommodate meeting or passing trains.

Auxiliary track used for delivery or storage of rail cars.

Facility at which passengers may board and alight from trains and/or goods may be loaded or unloaded.

Banking of railroad track on curves. Specifically, the practice on high speed lines of gently introducing the elevation of the outer rail before the bend starts, in order to avoid sudden lurches. Also referred to as cant.


Cross members to which the rails are attached.

Transportation Improvement Program. Federally mandated state program of projects to be implemented over several years.

trackage rights
Rights obtained by one railroad to operate its trains over another railroad’s tracks.

Transportation systems in which the passengers do not travel in their own vehicles

Triangle Transit. Organization created in 1989 by the NC General Assembly to plan, finance, organize, and operate a public transportation system for the Research Triangle area.

Track structure composed of a switch, a frog, and closure rails, permitting a train to leave a given track for a branching or parallel track.


union station
Train station at which the tracks and facilities are shared by two or more railway companies.



welded rail
Standard unit of track structure providing safer, seamless service.

A track arrangement with three switches and three legs for reversing the direction of a train. A wye can turn a train of any length.



System of tracks branching from a common track. Yards are used for switching, maintenance, assembly of trains, and storage of railcars.