Train order operation still exists on a few North American railroads, but has largely been replaced by more modern operating methods.
The term train order working is used in other regions of the world but the underlying details do not bear much similarity to North American methods of the past.
The train order provides the means to deal with these changes in operating conditions as they arise. Orders modify the timetable. Among the functions a train order can perform are:
Train orders were issued by the train dispatcher responsible for the portion of railroad concerned. They were conveyed to telegraph operators at outlying stations along the railroad via Morse telegraph or telephone; the receiving operators would copy the order onto onionskin forms designed for that purpose and would repeat the order back to the dispatcher so the dispatcher and other operators concerned could confirm correctness. As each operator repeated the order correctly, the dispatcher would give a complete time, along with the initials of the designated railroad official for that territory. After the order was completed, it was delivered by the operator to the concerned trains as they arrived or passed the delivery point. The operating time table indicated locations at which train crews could expect to receive train orders. If that same time table did not require that a train receive a "Clearance Form A" before departing, then a train order signal of some type was provided to advise train crews whether or not train orders were to be delivered. Delivery was accomplished by hand, if the train stopped, or by train order forks or hoops, either held by the operator as the train passed or mounted at trackside.
The train and engine crews addressed by the order were required to observe the instructions provided in the train order, the details of which were provided by the operating rule book.
|Train order No. 115||Salem Yd, 11-2-1944||Specifies the order number, location issued (the dispatcher's office at the yard in Salem, Illinois) and date|
|To: C & E Exa 2005 Nth||Specifies the train(s) addressed and their location; in this case the order is addressed to "conductor and engineer of Extra 2005 North at VN Tower". Extra trains are designated by their engine number. Other trains affected by any order must receive a copy, which will be addressed at whatever location the order is to be delivered to those trains.|
|At: VN Tower|
|No 123 Eng 1001 take siding meet Extra 2005 North at Kell instead of Texico||Modifies the meet location specified in a previously-issued order and specifies which train takes siding at meeting point.|
|take siding meet No 174 Eng 895 and Extra 1937 North at Benton||Specifies another meet between No. 123 and two other trains, one scheduled and one extra; the engine number is specified for the scheduled train so that other trains can identify it by sight.|
|No 122 Eng 222 take siding meet No 123 Eng 1001 at Texico||Specifies another meet, this one between two scheduled trains and not directly concerning Extra 2005 North.|
|Made complete 659 am by RED||Time and call sign (initials) of the dispatcher issuing the order; once "made complete", the order becomes operative and continues so until fulfilled, superseded, or annulled.|
|Operator Cole||The name of the operator copying and repeating the order at VN Tower.|
On branch lines, these messages may be sent between the telegraph operators of the individual stations.
On busier lines, a central controller dispatches the necessary orders to the individual stations.
A train order station need not be at a passenger or freight station, nor does such a station have to handle train orders. In isolated areas train order stations may be required where there are no towns, in order to facilitate smooth operation. In denser areas passenger stations may be spaced more closely than train order stations.
A station is staffed by an operator who receives train orders and gives them to trains as they pass. Upon receipt of an order, the operator makes copies and sets the signal to indicate to arriving trains that orders are to be picked up. Typically three indications are used:
Operators also record the passage of trains by their station.
Stations may not always be staffed, and when they are closed the signal is set to "proceed" and the switches lined to allow trains to pass without stopping. The system timetable indicates the stations and when they are staffed.