third rail

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English[edit]

Noun[edit]

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third rail (plural third rails)

  1. The electrified rail that runs beside or between train tracks to power electric trains.
    • 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.
    • 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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