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Railroad Tracks Then And Now
long_tom
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 12:54 PM UTC
I was wondering how railroad tracks themselves evolved since the nineteenth century. The USA, for example, had wooden instead of steel rails and there was a problem with "snakeheads"-e. g. railroad spikes unexpectedly popping up through railcar floors, and how steel changed. I still see old spur lines and sidings which are bolted together, as opposed to the main lines that are welded rails.
SpeedyJ
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 01:12 PM UTC
If you want a history of rail track development. That is a very long story, even per country.
I know-nothing about American rail track, other than from modeling shows.
European history of tracks is more to my liking and interest.
I'm at work now, so later tonight I might come back on this. Think others will react too.
Grauwolf
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 02:15 PM UTC

Quoted Text

The USA, for example, had wooden instead of steel rails and there was a problem with "snakeheads"-e. g. railroad spikes unexpectedly popping up through railcar floors



Actually iron straps were nailed into the wood rails.
Under the pressure of the weight of car loads, the nails would come loose
and pop up.

A brief history of Virginia's first railroad

https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC3CGFJ_virginias-first-railroad-midlothian-mine-series?guid=753af400-f3c5-4f66-96eb-231bedd61061

These rails were eventually replaced by steel rails.
JPTRR
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 02:37 PM UTC
Hi Tom,

No expert but here are some generalities. Terminology varies, e.g., US crossties are "sleepers" in Europe (though perhaps not universally), and likewise tie plates are called crutches, and fish plates are known as joining bars.

In the 20th century, rail was mainly steel, although plenty of cast or wrought iron could be found. I think steel rail today is thermal hardened, but I don't know at what weights. Some frogs of switches are hardened with explosives - friends toured a plant in Birmingham, Alabama, that hardens 'high manganese steel' of switch frogs with C4 explosive!

In the U.S. today, most mainline rail is "ribbon rail" (continuous welded rail, or "CWR"). I think it is in 1,500ft lengths. Before it came out in the 1950s, US rail came in 39ft sections (so it could be carried on standard 40' freight cars). That shorter rail is known as jointed rail, and it joined via bolts through bar brackets known as fish plates. Rails were secured to the crossties with spikes, usually through tie plates to steady the rails and help disperse loading. In Europe (I don't know which particular countries), rails were secured with brackets held by bolts screwed through the tie plates into ties, instead of hammering spikes to hold the rail.

Today, CWR is mounted the same way although wooden ties have been supplanted with concrete ties on heavy-duty mainlines. I think Europe experimented with steel ties, too.

I don't think the profile of rail has changed much since the second half of the 19th century.

Perhaps the most noticeable evolution of track is the size of the rail. As trains became heavier the rail had to absorb their weight, and rail became thicker - and heavier. In the US, the capacity/size of rail is categorized by weight, the weight per yard; 40-pound rail weighs 40 lbs/yard, or 520 lbs per piece of 39-ft rail. I think 80-lbs steel rail was the heavy-duty mainline standard at the beginning of the 20th century. As loads increased, it was supplanted and eventually replaced by 100 and 110-lbs rail. There were a lot of odd rail weights over the years. The Pennsylvania Railroad, self-proclaimed "Standard Railroad of the World," laid 151-lbs rail in areas. I think today the standard is 120 and 140-lbs rail. I don't know how Europe classifies their rail nor their standards.

One other development was superelevation of curves, allowing fast trains to lean into curves.

An interesting feature of railroad tracks is steel cable welded or bolted between the joints of jointed rail. That is to conduct electrical signals run through the track for signaling and communications.

I am certain that is a very basic primer of railroad track. I looked and found a good article about track on my go-to railroad site: Railroad Track: Its Evolution Over Nearly 200 Years

I hope this helps.
SpeedyJ
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 03:07 PM UTC
HI JPTRR,
Thats a good summary for American Style Rail Road Tracking IMHO.
HARV
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 03:58 PM UTC

Quoted Text

No expert but here are some generalities.



Don't let Fred fool you.....he is an expert.

Randy
Kevlar06
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 04:59 PM UTC
I haven’t kept up with rail and track for some time, but I was heavily interested in American and European railroad development at one time in my life. Fred has given a great rundown of American rail practices above. I’ve found most European railroads use concrete sleepers today. I spent a lot of my military career on railheads for loading and offloading military equipment, the longest of which was a ten day stint in command of the Frankfurt Guterbahnof relief railhead over Christmas 1995.

But my first “run-in” with military railroad track was in 1982 at Fort Lewis WA. I was a company commander in charge of a Smoke Generator Company with the west coast stockpile of Fog Oil in 800 55gal. drums. My Support Platoon came across a Burlington rail crew removing 90lb per yard track (which is heavy yard switching track) leading onto the base. Being innovative, they saw the utility of gathering all that track up to roll Fog Oil drums up on, as Fog oil drums sitting on the ground had a tendency to absorb water, causing explosive results. So they convinced the BN crew to “take a break” for several days, loan the support platoon their track tools, and the soldiers would serve as the track gang. The BN crew were happy to cooperate, and soon, my troops had two 2 1/2 ton truck loads of track to construct “Fog Oil” racks. In addition, we had 50-60 good ties to use as barriers, bumpers, fencing, etc. in the company area.

Fast forward about a year. I was just getting ready to turn over command of my company, when two plain clothes CID agents showed up in my office. They were investigating the “theft” of 300 yards of 90lb per yard rail from the rail yard at Fort Lewis. I quickly explained there was no theft, the BN crew had willingly let us have all that track if we did the work of removing it. The CID agents explained the BN had merely been contracted for the removal of the track, but didn’t own it. It was owned by the US government. As I carefully explained the “government” was making good use of it in our Fog Oil yard, They carefully explained it would be of great use in the Logistics Center rail repair section for which it was originally intended, since the Logistics Center had their own military railroad while my Fog Oil yard didn’t. They also explained I could keep the rail and face a courts martial, or I could transport it to where it belonged. I could keep the ties as a consolation. I sent two deuce and a halves loaded with rail to the Logistics center the next day. Turns out 90lb per yard rail was fairly rare to find in those days, so it was even “tracked” under the watchful supervision of the CID.
VR, Russ
Vodnik
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 06:59 PM UTC

Quoted Text

US crossties are "sleepers" in Europe (though perhaps not universally)


Definitely not, as most of Europe does not speak English...
Every language has different name for those parts. I guess the names you give as European are British English ones.
SpeedyJ
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 11:08 PM UTC

Quoted Text


Quoted Text

US crossties are "sleepers" in Europe (though perhaps not universally)


Definitely not, as most of Europe does not speak English...
Every language has different name for those parts. I guess the names you give as European are British English ones.



Good one Vodnik

If you read German, this site tells you all about German Rail Tracks, switches in particular.
https://www.hosentraeger-spur1.de/index.php/der-reichsbahnoberbau

Very good site.

Grüße, Robert Jan aus Thailand
long_tom
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Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 11:26 PM UTC
One reason I ask is because I see movies set in places like the Wild West, and wonder if the tracks the old trains ride on were the same type from the nineteenth century. Not easy to tell without a close eye, I admit, but I always wondered.
165thspc
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Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 08:02 AM UTC
Tom to make your quest all the more difficult a lot of 60's and 70's era US Westerns were shot in Italy to save money, hence the term "Spaghetti Westerns". So any time you see a train or train track in such a movie it isan Ilalian not US prototype.
JPTRR
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#051
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Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2020 - 03:16 PM UTC

Quoted Text

...Wild West, and wonder if the tracks the old trains ride on were the same type from the nineteenth century.



Gentlemen, thank you for all the input.

Tom, the answer is...maybe. I can't find how long strap rail was was used in the US, but I read that in 1839, 101 railroads were using strap rail while only a few dozen had iron rails. I saw somewhere a museum with a section of strap rail from 1855. Michigan had all strap rail replaced on state railroads by 1852. We know that iron rail was common during the US Civil War because of photos of “Sherman's Neckties,” when Union troops destroyed Confederate rail by heating it and then bending it around trees.

But back to your question. Hollywood shot train scenes on many railroads but a few deserve mention. Virginia and Truckee Railroad, Magma Railroad, Durango & Silverton, The Old Tucson Studios, and the Fillmore and Western Railway hosted many movies. F&W was built in 1887 and for about 15 years was the main line of the Southern Pacific. It was regulated to a branchline after realignments shortened the main. Hollywood studios eventually acquired it and shot some 400 movies and TV shows.

I recall some studios had short sections of track built when needed. John Wayne filmed a lot of movies in Durango, Mexico, and had a railroad laid into his ranch.

So, some of the track you see is probably the same track that was laid in the 19th century. Some is 20th century. My guess is that F&W, Virginia and Truckee Railroad, and Durango & Silverton rails are original. Of course, V&T was abandoned and torn up in the 1950s, then restored "recently," presumably with heavier rail.

Hope that helps.

BTW, here is a cool book from 1891 or so about US rail:

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN RAIL AND TRACK, AS ILLUTRATED BY THE COLLECTION IN THE U.S. NATIONAL MUSEUM.
J. ELFRETH WATKLINS January 1, 1891
JPTRR
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#051
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Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2020 - 04:01 PM UTC

Quoted Text

...US Westerns were shot in Italy to save money, hence the term "Spaghetti Westerns". So any time you see a train or train track in such a movie it is an Italian not US prototype.


True. Here is what to watch for to discern US railways from Italian (and others). IIRC, some Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in North Africa.

If the rail cars have multi-wheel trucks, they are probably US. If they have a single axle on each end, probably European. If the rail looks spiked down, probably in the Americas. If "screwed" or "bolted", European.
hogarth
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Posted: Monday, June 22, 2020 - 12:17 AM UTC

Quoted Text

Tom to make your quest all the more difficult a lot of 60's and 70's era US Westerns were shot in Italy to save money, hence the term "Spaghetti Westerns". So any time you see a train or train track in such a movie it isan Ilalian not US prototype.



They were actually filmed in Spain.
165thspc
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Posted: Monday, June 22, 2020 - 02:37 AM UTC
Not going to argue one way or they other.
165thspc
#521
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Posted: Monday, June 22, 2020 - 02:42 AM UTC
On a totally unrelated note: If you would like to see an absolutely beautiful film rendition of a Canadian National locomotive moving a freight train through the unbroken wheat fields of Canada and also steam tractors working to harvest that wheat watch the first 10-15 minutes of the movie "Days of Heaven" currently available on Netflix.

Just share'n.
srmalloy
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Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2020 - 12:54 PM UTC

Quoted Text

I don't think the profile of rail has changed much since the second half of the 19th century.



Grossly, yes, the common rail profile is broadly similar among different types of rail, but you should look at Rail Profile to see some of its evolution and variations.
GeraldOwens
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Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2020 - 01:48 PM UTC

Quoted Text


Quoted Text

Tom to make your quest all the more difficult a lot of 60's and 70's era US Westerns were shot in Italy to save money, hence the term "Spaghetti Westerns". So any time you see a train or train track in such a movie it isan Ilalian not US prototype.



They were actually filmed in Spain.



Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in Italy, Spain and a even few in Germany in the late 60's and early 70's. I remember taking a bus tour of Italy in August, 1973, and was startled to see a US western town amid the usual medieval churches south of Rome. It was the Cinecitta Studios set.

I don't know offhand what railroads they used, or which country they were in.
JavierDeLuelmo
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 12:57 AM UTC
Train scenes in Spaghetti Westerns were mostly shot in Almeria, Southern Spain. Along with the barren, desert area, and the old "white towns", they had available old railway stock and tracks long closed due to competition from bus lines. It's funny checking films by Sergio Leone and recognizing the stations and landscape of the area.
165thspc
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 01:46 AM UTC
Not much actual info appearing here on the different rail construction techniques European vs. American.

I don't have definitive answers here but I feel sure someone must?????
RobinNilsson
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 02:24 AM UTC
I think there is at least as much diversity within Europe when it comes to laying rails as there is between the US and Europe.
I took a photo of the rails by one of the commuter train stations nearby and there was three different types of fasteners and two types of ties/sleepers.

Trivia: The Swedish word for ties/sleepers is slipers (the letter i in Swedish is pronounced like e or ee in UK and US English)
For the rails we say räls (sounds like a cross between rails and rells, the word entered the Swedish language in the 1890'ies) or we use the word skenor which probably comes from the German schienen. The old German word has found its way into English as shin (the Swedish skenben is literally shin-bone).

Europe uses wood, concrete or steel ties with various fasteners. Nowadys mostly with welded rails but bolted fasteners still exist in large numbers. Mainlines are usually welded. There are only a few manufacturers of track laying machines so new tracks will presumably become more standardised since they get laid by the same type of machine.
Removed by original poster on 09/13/20 - 14:28:06 (GMT).
RobinNilsson
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 02:28 AM UTC

Quoted Text


Quoted Text

US crossties are "sleepers" in Europe (though perhaps not universally)


Definitely not, as most of Europe does not speak English...
Every language has different name for those parts. I guess the names you give as European are British English ones.



In Sweden we say 'slipers' (pronounced like sleepers)
and we put 'räls' on top (pronounced like a cross between rails and rells)
165thspc
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 02:39 AM UTC
Just when did Europe start converting to pre-cast concrete sleepers from wood?

Just when did a large portion of Europe change from spiking rails to sleepers to bolting then down?

Did that happen while they were still using wooden sleepers or was that a change that accompanied the use of the concrete sleeper?

HermannB
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Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 03:36 AM UTC
Wikipedia is always a good start for research:

Rails.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_profile

Crosstie/Sleeper

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railroad_tie