6

I'm looking for the verb which could be used to indicate that someone changed the direction of a railway switch. Is it:

  1. to turn a railway switch
  2. to toggle a railway switch
  3. to change a railway switch

Or something else?

Example sentence:
"The locomotive driver turned/toggled/changed/... the railway switch."

  • 2
    "Operate" - though it's more likely to be done by a switchman than the driver. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switchman – user662852 Jul 14 '16 at 12:00
  • Thanks! In my case it's the locomotive driver who is operating the switch. He is stepping off a locomotive to manually change the switch's direction. – mattooren Jul 14 '16 at 12:11
  • Keep in mind that railway terminology varies greatly between American and British English. – Mark Jul 14 '16 at 20:21
16

As someone who spends a lot of time writing software to control railway signals, the usual term is throw a set of points.

Alternative terms are specific to the direction:
Pull the points moves them such that the train moves off the main line ("Reverse" position).
Push the points moves them back to the straight line position ("Normal" position).

Push and Pull are used as, by convention, this is the direction in which the lever is moved when it is located in a signal box, as opposed to trackside.

To be pedantic, if the driver is getting out of the cab to manually throw a lever, then it is a ground frame.

In the US (and the London Underground), points are known as switches.

  • I suppose if you work in the business you should know the "trade terms", but I got far less results searching Google Books for "train" "throw the points" than for change. Perhaps it's less common among non-specialists because usually when you throw a switch the metaphoric allusion suggests something you can do in a single sweeping motion of the finger/hand/arm. But manually changing the [railway track] points stereotypically involves (involved? it's a bit antiquated! :) many turns of a geared wheel. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '16 at 14:49
  • There are remarkably few manual points involving turning wheels and these are all (as far as I know) controlled from a signal box. A lineside manual point control in all countries that I've been to will be a lever - various pictures at - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lever_frame – Chenmunka Jul 14 '16 at 14:54
  • It's not really enough to be particularly significant, but changed the points on the track gets three written instances, whereas threw the points on the track gets none at all. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '16 at 15:21
11

In the context of a (UK) railway train track, it's change the points. (4720 written instances).

Cambridge Dictionary
points (plural) mainly UK, US usually switches
a place on a railway track where the rails (= metal bars on which the trains travel) can be moved to allow a train to change from one track to another
Ex: The train rattled as it went over the points.


EDIT: It's worth pointing out that idiomatically you throw a switch, metaphorically referencing a single sweeping motion (of the finger, hand, or arm) to "fling" a lever switch from the On to Off position (or vice-versa).

Obviously that metaphor breaks down in the context of shifting really heavy railway tracks from one alignment to another, which is why the general public would tend not to embrace the usage in that context (throw the points gets only 1800 hits). People in the business think in terms of routing the trains, controlling the "traffic flow" using "switches", but non-specialists probably tend to think (nostalgically?!) in terms of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton laboriously winding a geared wheel by the trackside.

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