Railway vs Railroad
The difference between railway and railroad is in the practice rather than in the meaning of the two words. If you are from UK or any of the commonwealth countries, railway is the term that is used to refer to a system of rails and trains that move at a fast speed on these rails or tracks carrying hundreds of passengers and cargo to long distances. The same railway becomes railroad, if you are in the US. Even in Canada, the word used is railway. Actually, it all boils down to convention and usage, and while railway is a much more popular term to refer to a system of trains and tracks these trains run on, railroad also refers to the same system. Let us take a closer look.
What is Railway?
Railway is the track on which a train runs. In addition, it has to be understood that railway is the international term that is commonly used in most parts of the world. This may be a result of the British influence in the world during the days of the British Empire. If you take Hong Kong, which was a former British territory that still uses English as an official language, you will see that they use the term railway to refer to train tracks. Even in countries like Australia, the term railway is commonly used.
Interestingly, trains running on road in cities in the US were traditionally called railways and it continues till date. However, such trains are called trams or streetcars in rest of the world because they are not exactly trains as they are much smaller and contain a less number of coaches. There is no hard and fast rule in this regard and there are certain companies that prefer to call themselves as railways and not railroad. Prominent among such companies is BNSF that was formed with the merger of BN and ATSF railroad systems in late nineties. There are some more railways in the US such as Staten Island Railway and New York and Atlantic railway that makes it clear that companies choose to be called what they prefer and there is no convention in this regard. It is common to thus see, a company changing over from one of these two terms when there are mergers or takeover cases.
What is Railroad?
Railroad is also a track on which trains run. So, it basically means the same as railways. However, there is one exception when it comes to the United States. Railroad is the only term used to refer to trains running long distances on rails or tracks in the US. While other countries use both railway and railroad to refer to the tracks on which a train runs, US only uses railroad to refer to this track.
Not many people, especially kids, know that before 1850 railroad was a term that was used in the UK. However, instead of being written as railroad, it was written as rail road, but with railways becoming popular around the country, the use of the word rail road was discontinued and railways became the preferred word. You can see this practice of using railway instead of railroad in many countries of the world such as Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada.
What is the difference between Railway and Railroad?
• The meaning of both railway and railroad is the same. They both refer to the track on which a train runs.
• In most of the English speaking countries including UK and even Canada, the word that is used to refer to a system of trains running on rails made of iron is railways.
• On the other hand, railroad is the term that is used in the US for trains running on rails.
• Interestingly, railway is the word that is reserved for trams or streetcars in the US.
• Often companies change their names from railroad to railways and vice versa when there are mergers or takeovers to distinguish themselves from earlier companies.
What you have to remember is simple. There is no convention or rule in this regard and it is seen that companies decide on whether to be called a railroad or railway. Both railway and railroad refer to the train track. However, US uses railway for tram tracks while using railroad to train tracks.
- Virginia Railway Express V09 by John (CC BY 2.0)
- Railroad in Gyula (Hungary) by Beyond silence (CC BY-SA 3.0)
John Varley says
I like your reference to the use of the term “rail road” in the UK before 1850.
In fact, the world’s first “public” railway, (that is a railway which anyone could use, providing their wagons were of the right wheel-gauge) was the The Lake Lock Rail Road Company which was formed in 1796 at a place called Stanley near Wakefield in Yorkshire.