Railroad directions

Railroad directions

Railroad directions are used to describe train directions on railroad systems. The terms used may be derived from such sources as compass directions, altitude directions, or other directions. However, the railroad directions frequently vary from the actual directions, so that, for example, a "northbound" train may really be headed west, or a train going "down" may actually be increasing its elevation. Directions are often specific to system, country, or region.


In China, railway directions are described as "up" (上行) and "down" (下行), with up towards Beijing; trains leaving Beijing are "down", while those going toward Beijing are "up". For railways not connected with Beijing, north and west are used as "up" and east and south as "down". Odd numbered train codes are used for "up" trains, while even numbers are used for "down"; for example, train T27 from Beijing west to Lhasa is "down" (going away from Beijing) since 27 is odd. As another example, the train from Harbin to Shanghai uses two codes, since in the Harbin-Tianjin sect, the train runs toward Beijing, but not in Tianjin-Shanghai sect. [ [http://www.railwaysofchina.com/train_number.htm Train numbers ] ]

United Kingdom

In British practice, railway directions are usually described as up and down, with "up" being towards a major location. This convention extends to not only the trains and the tracks, but also to lineside equipment, and areas near the track. Since British trains run on the left, the "up" side of a line is on the left when proceeding in the "up" direction. The names originate from the early railways, where trains would run up the hills to the mines, and down to the ports.

On the majority of the network, "up" is the direction towards London. In most of Scotland, with the exception of the West and East Coast Main Lines, "up" is towards Edinburgh. The Valley Lines network around Cardiff has its own peculiar usage, relating to the original meaning of traveling "up" and "down" the valley. On the former Midland Railway "up" was towards Derby. Mileposts normally increase in the "down" direction On the London Underground, geographic direction naming generally prevails (eg Eastbound, Westbound), except on the Circle Line, where the terms are Inner Rail (anticlockwise), and Outer Rail (clockwise).

Individual tracks will have their own names, such as "Up Main" or "Down Loop". Trains running towards London are normally referred to as "Up" trains, and those away from London as "Down". Hence the Down Night Riviera runs to Penzance and the Up Flying Scotsman to Kings Cross.

Other directions commonly used are London and Country. The "London end" of a station is the end where trains to London depart. The "country end" is the opposite end, where trains to the country depart. This usage has issues where more than one route to London exists (eg at Exeter St Davids). London termini only have a "country end".

United States

Most railroads in the U.S. use cardinal directions to describe the directions that lines on their systems run, although these directions often differ from actual compass directions.

Typically an entire railroad system (the lines of a railroad or a related group of railroads) will describe all of its lines by only two directions, either west and east or north and south. This greatly reduces the possibility of misunderstanding the direction in which a train is travelling as it traverses lines they may twist and turn or even reverse direction for a distance. These directions also have meaning in conflicts between trains running in opposite directions. For example, many railroads specify that trains of equal class running east are "superior" to those running west. This means that, if two trains are approaching a passing siding on a single-track line, the "inferior" westbound train must "take the siding" and wait there for the "superior" eastbound train to pass.

These directions are often referred to as "railroad" north, south, east or west to remove ambiguity with the same compass directions.


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