What Material Is Railway Track Made Of?

Railway tracks are the foundation of the transportation industry, providing a crucial role in the movement of goods and people. The selection of material used in railway tracks is a critical aspect that directly affects the track’s performance, lifespan, and maintenance requirements. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the materials used in railway tracks and their importance in track design and maintenance.

A railway track is a set of parallel steel rails installed on sleepers and ballast to provide a safe and stable path for trains to travel. The materials used in the track construction play a vital role in determining the track’s performance, durability, and maintenance requirements.

The importance of track materials cannot be overstated. Proper selection of materials is critical in ensuring the track can withstand the weight and forces exerted by the trains traveling on it. Additionally, the right material selection can minimize maintenance needs and maximize the track’s lifespan, reducing the overall cost of track ownership.

Traditional Materials Used in Railway Track

Railway tracks have been in use since the early 19th century, and the materials used to make them have evolved significantly over the years. In the early days of railway track manufacturing, cast iron and wrought iron were the most common materials used. Later, steel became the most widely used material for railway tracks. In this section, we will explore the traditional materials used in railway track manufacturing.

Cast Iron Tracks

Cast iron was one of the first materials used in railway tracks. The tracks were made by casting the iron in molds, and then assembling them on-site. Cast iron tracks were strong and durable, but they were also brittle and prone to cracking. Due to these drawbacks, cast iron tracks fell out of favor and were eventually replaced by wrought iron tracks.

Wrought Iron Tracks

Wrought iron was the next material used in railway tracks. The tracks were made by heating and shaping the iron into rails, and then assembling them on-site. Wrought iron tracks were stronger and more ductile than cast iron tracks, but they were still prone to cracking and had a shorter lifespan. As a result, wrought iron tracks were eventually replaced by steel tracks.

Steel Tracks

Steel is currently the most widely used material for railway tracks. Steel tracks are strong, durable, and have a longer lifespan than cast iron or wrought iron tracks. Steel tracks are made from various types of steel, including carbon steel, high carbon steel, alloy steel, and stainless steel.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is the most commonly used type of steel in railway track manufacturing. It is strong, durable, and cost-effective. Carbon steel tracks are typically made from low carbon steel or medium carbon steel, which are easy to work with and have good weldability.

High Carbon Steel

High carbon steel is a type of steel that contains a higher percentage of carbon than carbon steel. High carbon steel tracks are stronger and more wear-resistant than carbon steel tracks, but they are also more brittle and prone to cracking.

Alloy Steel

Alloy steel is a type of steel that contains one or more alloying elements, such as manganese, chromium, or nickel. Alloy steel tracks have higher strength and better wear resistance than carbon steel tracks, making them suitable for high traffic areas.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a type of steel that contains a minimum of 10.5% chromium. Stainless steel tracks are highly corrosion-resistant and have a longer lifespan than other types of steel tracks. However, they are also more expensive to manufacture.

Modern Materials Used in Railway Track

In addition to traditional materials, modern railway tracks can also be made from newer materials that offer unique advantages. Some of these materials include concrete and composites.

Concrete Tracks:

Concrete tracks are a newer option for railway tracks and have been gaining popularity in recent years. Concrete is a versatile and durable material that can withstand extreme temperatures and weather conditions. There are two main types of concrete tracks:

  • Reinforced Concrete: Reinforced concrete tracks are made by placing steel rods or bars inside the concrete to add strength and durability.
  • Prestressed Concrete: Prestressed concrete tracks are made by adding tension to the steel reinforcement before the concrete is poured. This creates a stronger and more durable track that can withstand heavier loads and higher speeds.

Composite Tracks:

Composite tracks are made from a combination of materials, such as fiberglass and plastic. These tracks offer unique advantages such as reduced noise and vibration, increased durability, and lower maintenance costs. Some of the most common materials used in composite tracks include:

  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass tracks are made by combining resin and glass fibers to create a strong and durable material. They are lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and have excellent thermal and electrical insulation properties.
  • Plastic: Plastic tracks are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and other plastics. They are lightweight, flexible, and easy to install. They also offer excellent resistance to chemicals and UV radiation.

These modern materials offer several advantages over traditional materials. Concrete tracks, for example, are more durable and can withstand heavier loads and higher speeds. Composite tracks are lighter and require less maintenance than traditional steel tracks. However, these materials are often more expensive than traditional materials, which can make them less accessible for some railway companies.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Materials

Advantages of Traditional Materials

Cast Iron Tracks:

  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Can withstand heavy loads
  • Low maintenance

Wrought Iron Tracks:

  • Can withstand heavy loads
  • Flexible, can bend without breaking
  • Low maintenance

Steel Tracks:

  • High strength and durability
  • Can withstand heavy loads
  • Can be recycled

Disadvantages of Traditional Materials

Cast Iron Tracks:

  • Heavy and difficult to install
  • Prone to cracking under extreme temperatures
  • Low resistance to wear and tear

Wrought Iron Tracks:

  • High maintenance requirements
  • Prone to rusting and corrosion
  • Low resistance to wear and tear

Steel Tracks:

  • Expensive to manufacture
  • High maintenance requirements
  • Prone to rusting and corrosion

Advantages of Modern Materials

Concrete Tracks:

  • Can be manufactured on-site
  • High resistance to wear and tear
  • Low maintenance

Composite Tracks:

  • Lighter weight, easier to install
  • High resistance to wear and tear
  • Low maintenance

Disadvantages of Modern Materials

Concrete Tracks:

  • Limited flexibility
  • High initial cost
  • Low resistance to extreme temperatures

Composite Tracks:

  • Limited availability
  • Can be affected by UV rays
  • Higher susceptibility to damage from heavy loads

Factors Affecting Material Selection

The choice of material for railway tracks depends on several factors, including traffic volume, environmental conditions, and cost considerations.

Traffic volume and load:

The amount and weight of traffic that will use the tracks is a crucial factor in material selection. Higher traffic volumes and heavier loads require materials with higher strength and durability to ensure long-lasting performance.

Environmental conditions:

Railway tracks are exposed to various environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, moisture, and chemical exposure. Therefore, material selection must consider the environment in which the tracks will be installed to ensure their durability and longevity.

Cost considerations:

Cost is an important factor in selecting the material for railway tracks. The cost of material, installation, and maintenance must be considered to ensure that the chosen material is both effective and cost-efficient in the long run.

By taking these factors into account, rail track manufacturers can select the most suitable material for a particular application.


In conclusion, railway tracks are an essential component of any railway system, and their material plays a crucial role in ensuring their longevity, durability, and performance. This article has covered traditional and modern materials used in railway track construction, along with their advantages and disadvantages. It also highlighted various factors that affect material selection, such as traffic volume and load, environmental conditions, and cost considerations.

Traditionally, cast iron, wrought iron, and steel have been the most commonly used materials in railway tracks. They have various advantages, such as high strength, durability, and availability, but also have drawbacks, such as susceptibility to corrosion and high maintenance requirements.

On the other hand, modern materials, such as concrete and composites, offer significant advantages, such as resistance to corrosion, low maintenance requirements, and high strength. However, they also have some disadvantages, such as high cost and specialized installation requirements.

Material selection depends on various factors, including traffic volume and load, environmental conditions, and cost considerations. The future of railway track materials will likely see more innovative and sustainable solutions that address these factors and offer enhanced performance and longevity.

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