A glossary of signalling slang

by John Hinson

"Standing at the peg, Bobby" means quite a bit to a signalman, but the layman could not possibly have a clue as to what it might mean.

This glossary explains the meanings of terms like this, giving information (where possible) as to how the terms came about. Many terms are regional, and often stem back to pre-grouping days and vary between former company's territories.

I would welcome any suggested additions to this section, but I would stress that this is a general glossary and I do not intend to include very localised jargon.

Ask-on, or
Ask the road
To offer on a train to the next box. Common
Back board (or Back-'un) Distant signal Great Northern and Great Western
Back shift Afternoon, or late turn of duty North Eastern
Bang road A wrong direction movement London & North Western
Be ready The offering of a train to the next box on the block bell. Great Northern and elsewhere. Probably dates back to older systems of block working, where an approaching train was just "announced" as comong by the previous signalman.
Block on block
Block to block
Example: "The trains are running block to block"
See On the block
Board Signal. Dates back to the original term of Caution Boards of the 1840s. Great Northern/Great Western
Bobby Signalman. Dates back to pre-Absolute Block days, when railway policemen were responsible for the signalling of trains. The name Bobby for policemen goes back to when Sir Robert Peel created the Metropolitan Police force. Universal
Clear back Send "Train out of section" Common
Days Early, or morning turn. Example: "I'm on days next week". Common
Dike To loop a train for regulating purposes. Widespread (Eastern Region?)
Dodd (or Tommy Dodd) Shunt signal Great Eastern
Dolly Shunt signal Great Northern
Dummy Shunt signal Common, particularly on former LMR and WR lines
Flat one A "long" or heavy beat on the bell to distinguish it from normal bell signals, to get your colleague on the phone (or for other unofficial and possibly devious purposes) Fairly widespread
Front shift Early, or morning turn North Eastern
Getting the call Being offered a train (or being described on TCB) Great Eastern
Going round the corner Train passing onto a branch line Common
Heater Hot axle-box on wagon Scotland
Hot box Hot axle-box on wagon Common
Knock out Send "Train out of Section" Common - stems from original type of pegging instrument, where the peg was removed to release the commutator.
Off the road Train derailed Universal
One-in Admitting a train to an occupied section on Permissive Block Western region. Refers to their use of 1 beat to accept a train into an occupied section.
One-on Train expected Common. Term also often used by track staff.
On the block, or
block'n block
Train waiting at signal box for previous train to clear. Example: "I've been on the block all morning" Universal
On the deck,
on the dirt,
on the floor.
on Old England, or tanning the ballast*
Train derailed
(* - specifically for a freight train derailed at speed)
Peg Signal Common, particularly on former LMR lines
Peg up, or
Peg over
To change the block instrument to "Line Clear", or "Train on Line" Common - refers to "pegging" block instruments.
Pull off To clear a signal Common
Put away, or put inside Divert a train to a Goods Loop or shunt to a Refuge Siding Common
Stick Signal Underground railways
Taken at half-price Acceptance of train into occupied section on Permissive Block lines Lincoln area (and elsewhere?)
Taken at the bells Acceptance of a train under the Warning Arrangement (Regulation 5). Lincoln area (and elsewhere?)
Tommy Dodd see Dodd .
Top shift Night turn of duty North Eastern
Turn in Divert a train from to the Slow or Goods lines Common
Turn out Divert a train onto the main or fast line Common
Under the hammer Acceptance of a train under the Warning Arrangement (Regulation 5). Relates to the hammer-shaped subsidiary signals used by the Midland Railway Midland Railway
Walking my legs off Grumbles about the signalman in an adjacent box that keeps calling you back to the bell instead of dealing with two or more matters on the bell at once.  
Warn on Offer a train to the next box on the block bell Southern Region, mostly.
Wrong road A wrong-direction movement Common

Additional notes by Steve Gwinnett, Dave Harris, Dave Hawkins, David Smith, Tim Lockley, Adrian Vaughan and Bob Wright

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson