third rail

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English Wikipedia has an article on:

third rail (plural third rails)

  1. The electrified rail that runs beside or between train tracks to power electric trains.
    • 1959 March, “The 2,500 h.p. electric locomotives for the Kent Coast electrification”, in Trains Illustrated, page 125:
      The locomotive third-rail pick up shoes are of the new standard S.R. type. [...] Whenever the locomotive was working hard there was unmistakable evidence of its higher power than its predecessors in the brilliant and explosive arcing between conductor shoes and the third rail; this was particularly vivid in Quarry Tunnel in the down direction, where the display equalled anything we have seen on the frostiest of nights in an electrified third-rail area.
    • 1961 March, “Talking of trains”, in Trains Illustrated, page 134:
      Rumour is abroad that, foiled by the Central T.U.C.C. in its attempt to close the Westerham branch, the Southern Region is considering third-rail electrification of the line with second-hand material [this never happened and the branch closed later in 1961].
  2. (by extension) Anything that is dangerous to come into contact with, or is best avoided.
    • 2007 November 12, Jonathan Alter, “Congenital Lawyer Redux”, in Newsweek, page 48:
      Today's rapidly developing third rail (at least in some states) is supporting driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, as favored by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
    • 2014 March 29, Stephen Sestanovich, “Putin's reckless gamble”, in The New York Times[1]:
      Despite ethnic resentment and suspicion, they [Ukraine's leaders] never contemplated breaking up the country. This was the third rail of Ukranian politics, and very few were willing to touch it. Secession was taboo.


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