A French Railway Vocabulary

Not included in this list are words whose meanings are easily recognized in English, such as locomotive, signal, rail, train, station, sémaphore, lumineux, ballast, tunnel, pantographe, caténaire, direction, traction and so forth. An effort is made to indicate the gender of words, as well as common abbreviations and letters seen on signs. Alphabetization is imperfect. A "diamond" is a square standing on a corner; a "square" rests on an edge. This vocabulary is mainly concerned with operations and signalling. The French terms are from all eras, and from Belgium as well as France; the English terms are mixed British and American. This is a more complete vocabulary than I have seen elsewhere.


The Petit Larousse (Paris: Librarie Larousse, 1960) illustrates railway signals in colour opposite p. 992, and railway terms on p. 198. Locomotives are illustrated on p. 608f.

I would greatly appreciate any additions or corrections to this vocabulary. Thanks to Christophe Boissau for pointing out my errors.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 27 May 2004
Last revised 11 March 2008