Here is a list (in progress!) of common terminology that might help someone who is new to the hobby.

I want this website to be accessible for everyone, regardless of your current knowledge, experience or skill level. We all have to start somewhere!

Feel free to make a suggestion, for new terms or to clarify something already in the list.

Blocks/blocking refers to electrically isolating sections of track  to create separate electrical zones.

A block can be created by cutting a gap in one or both rails. technically you could just leave an air gap, but for peace of mind I’d suggest using an insulated rail joiner or dab of epoxy glue in the gap (just sand it smooth to the profile of the rail.)

For DC, blocking allows you to run multiple trains on your layout. Keeping one train in a block/zone at a time can be placed in separate blocks/zones on the track at the same time.

Larger DCC systems might use blocks to create separate power zones when using booster packs… and to help with troubleshooting


Small rocks around and under the ties/sleepers to support the track and aid water drainage.

The amount of ballast  will vary depending on the use of the line. Colour of ballast will change depending on the region , most likely due to local availability.



A pair of cylindrical devices on each end of Australian and European railway locomotives and cars/wagons. There is a coupler which connects the railcars and the buffers act a bit like shock absorbers when the cars push together.

American cars don’t have buffers, they use draft gears.



When splitting the railroad track into zones/blocks, only one rail is cut.  The uncut rail – Common Rail – carries current between zones.

I run a DCC layout, when I create zones/blocks, I wire without a common rail, ie both rails cut. It just makes more sense to me.



A caboose is a special car made to be the last car on older freight trains. There was a crew to ride in it. It often has an elevated section called a Cupola. From the cupola you can get a good look at the top and sides of the freight train to make sure the train remained in order while moving.

Modern day freight trains have no Caboose. Instead they have been replaced by a F.R.E.D. (Flashing Red End of train Device)



Also known as a Multiple Unit (MU) or lashup. The term Consist usually refers to a set of locomotives coupled together to pull a long or heavy train.

I occasionally use Consist to refer to an entire train – the engines and all of the cars as a whole.



Couplers are  what hold the engines and cars together.

In model railroading (HO scale) different kinds of couplers, most are not be compatible with each other… BUT you can change them to make all of your cars of different brands or eras the same. Some may swap out easily… others may require a bit of modification. but thats half the fun!

Knuckle Couplers, Horn Hook and Hook and Loop couplers are probably the most common types for HO scale trains.


More to come soon!

I’m a little sleepy