Wrought-Iron and Steel Rails

Steel tracks create an intricate pattern at this French railway junction. The manufacture of steel tracks in the United States in 1865, along with other developments in metal technology, made it possible to transport heavier loads over the rails.

Wrought-Iron and Steel Rails

Steel tracks create an intricate pattern at this French railway junction. The manufacture of steel tracks in the United States in 1865, along with other developments in metal technology, made it possible to transport heavier loads over the rails.

The first improvement on cast-iron rails were rails of wrought iron, introduced in 1820 in England, where the first steel rail was also manufactured. The manufacture of steel rails in the United States began in 1865, and they are now used throughout the world. Metallurgical advances in the 20th century greatly improved the quality of rail steel. Previously, transverse fissures or cracks often developed inside rails during use, until engineers discovered that the flaws from which these cracks spread were formed when rails hot from the rolling mill were cooling. All rails manufactured for use in the United States now undergo a process of controlled cooling and inspection to prevent such defects. Usually they are also hardened at the ends by heat treatment.

Metal by Eric Shenton: Fish belly rails
One of the images donated to Metal by Eric Shenton. Fish belly rails, so called from their shape, were the earliest cast-iron rails in general use on railways. The very earliest rails were wooden, but these were replaced in the 1760s by strap-iron rails, in which thin strips of cast iron were fixed onto the wooden rails.

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