AskDefine | Define roundhouse

Dictionary Definition



1 workplace consisting of a circular building for repairing locomotives
2 a hook delivered with an exaggerated swing

User Contributed Dictionary



From round + house


  1. A circular building in which locomotives are housed
  2. A punch delivered with an exaggerated sweeping movement
  3. An Iron Age dwelling

Extensive Definition

This article is about a railroad shop structure called a roundhouse. For other meanings, see Roundhouse (disambiguation).
A roundhouse is a building used by railroads for servicing locomotives. Roundhouses are large, circular or semicircular structures that were traditionally located surrounding or adjacent to turntables. The defining feature of the traditional roundhouse was the turntable, which facilitates access when the building is used for repair facilities or for storage of steam locomotives.
Early steam locomotives normally travelled forwards only; although reverse operations capabilities were soon built into locomotive mechanisms, the controls were normally optimized for forward travel, and the locomotives often could not operate as well in reverse. Some passenger cars, such as observation cars, were also designed as late as the 1960s for operations in a particular direction. A turntable allowed a locomotive or other rolling stock to be turned around for the return journey.
Most modern diesel and electric locomotives can run equally well in either direction, and many have control cabs at each end. In addition, railroads often use multiple locomotives to pull trains, and even with locomotives that have distinct front and rear ends, the engines at opposing ends of a locomotive "consist" (a group of locomotives coupled together and controlled as a single unit) can be aligned so they face opposite directions. With such a setup, trains needing to reverse direction can use a technique known as a "run around," in which the engines are uncoupled from the train, pull around it on an adjacent track or siding, and reattach at the other end. The engineer changes operating ends from the original locomotive to the one on the opposite end of the locomotive consist.
Railroad terminals also use features such as balloon loops and wyes (Commonwealth: triangle) to reverse the orientation of railroad equipment. Because of the advent of these practices, modern roundhouses are frequently not round and are simply large buildings used for servicing locomotives. Like much other railroad terminology, however, the structure has retained its traditional name. The alternative term engine-house encompasses both semi-circular and rectangular structures and broadly describes all buildings intended for storage and servicing of locomotives. Shops or workshops are buildings containing hoists and heavy machinery capable of major repairs beyond routine servicing. Some roundhouses include shop facilities internally or in adjoining buildings.


Probably the first railway roundhouse was built in 1839 at Derby, England by the North Midland Railway. Some private workshops, such as that of Fenton, Murray and Jackson in Leeds (1831–1843), may previously have been laid out in a radial pattern. In a guidebook of the time we are told ''"The engine-house is a polygon of sixteen sides, and in diameter, lighted from a dome-shaped roof, of the height of . It contains 16 lines of rails, radiating from a single turn-table in the centre: the engines, on their arrival, are taken in there, placed upon the turn-table, and wheeled into any stall that may be vacant. Each of the 16 stalls will hold two, or perhaps more, engines."'' This roundhouse narrowly escaped demolition when the works closed down; the roundhouse was classified as a listed building. In 2006 there is a proposal by the Derby College to refurbish it as one of its sites.
Since the great dieselization era of the 1940s and 1950s, many roundhouses have been demolished or put to other uses, but a few still stand and remain in use on the railroads. Early roundhouses were too small for later locomotives: The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London was built in 1847, but was too small for its function within 20 years (it is now an arts centre). The unusual shape of the buildings can make them difficult to adapt to new uses, but can also be aesthetically appealing.
The B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is located in the restored roundhouse of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It is said to be the world's largest 22-sided building.
The Steam Whistle Brewing brewery in Toronto, Ontario is located in the building known as the John Street Roundhouse, a former Canadian Pacific Railway steam locomotive repair facility.
The Roundhouse located on the BNSF line, with the last stop in Aurora, Illinois, was purchased by Walter Payton and has become Walter Payton's Roundhouse Brewery and Restaurant.


roundhouse in Czech: Výtopna
roundhouse in German: Lokschuppen
roundhouse in French: Rotonde (ferroviaire)
roundhouse in Japanese: 扇形庫
roundhouse in Dutch: Locomotiefloods
roundhouse in Polish: Parowozownia
roundhouse in Russian: Локомотивное депо
roundhouse in Swedish: Lokstall

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Long Melford, backhand, backhander, backstroke, boathouse, bolo punch, carbarn, carport, carriage house, fix-it shop, garage, hangar, haymaker, hook, one-two, repair shop, round-arm blow, short-arm blow, sidewinder, swing, uppercut
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