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Rail Types Explained: A Comprehensive Guide to Different Rail Types

June 7, 2023

Rail Types Explained: A Comprehensive Guide to Different Rail Types

Rail types are an essential part of modern transportation systems. They serve as the foundations for railways, trains, trams, and other forms of transport. Different rail types exist, each with its distinct features, uses, and advantages. Understanding these rail types is critical for the successful planning, construction, and operation of railway infrastructures. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore different rail types and their applications.

Introduction to Rail Types

Rails are long, narrow bars made of steel or other materials placed parallel to each other, forming railway tracks. Rails support and guide the wheels of a train, tram, or other railborne vehicles. Different rail types differ in terms of size, weight, and design, depending on the intended use and load requirements. To fully comprehend rail types, we need to consider the following:

- Rail size: refers to the height, width, and thickness of a rail.
- Rail weight: refers to the weight per unit length (usually in kilograms per meter or pounds per yard) of a rail.
- Rail design: refers to the overall shape, profile, and cross-section of a rail.

Let's explore some of the most common rail types used today.

Flat Bottom Rail (FB)

Flat bottom rail (FB) is the most common rail type used worldwide. As the name suggests, FB rails have a flat bottom part, making them easy to lay and align, especially on plain terrains. FB rails come in various sizes, ranging from small light rails used in tramways and light rail transit systems, to heavy-duty rails used in mainline railroads and high-speed trains. They have a wide range of applications, including freight and passenger transport.

Bullhead Rail

Bullhead rail is an older rail type mainly used in the United Kingdom. Bullhead rails have a raised head profile that is rounded on top and a flat bottom part. They are heavier and larger compared to FB rails, making them ideal for high-load applications such as heavy freight trains. However, bullhead rails require a skilled workforce to lay and maintain due to their design, and they are slowly being phased out in favor of FB rails.

Grooved Rail

Grooved rails are used mainly in tramways and light rail transit systems. They have a groove or trench cut along the rail's top part, forming a channel for the wheels to run on. Grooved rails come in small sizes and weights and are easy to lay and maintain. They are suitable for urban areas with tight curves and narrow streets where larger rail types cannot fit.

Switch Rail

Switch rails, also known as turnout rails or points, are rail types used to switch a train from one track to another. Switch rails have different sizes, weights, and designs depending on their applications, such as junctions, crossovers, and sidings. They are complex to design, construct, and maintain and require special equipment and skills to operate safely.


In conclusion, rail types are crucial elements of modern transportation systems, supporting and guiding trains, trams, and other railborne vehicles. Proper selection, placement, and maintenance of rail types are critical to the successful operation and safety of railway infrastructures. Understanding different rail types and their features is a fundamental step towards achieving this goal. We hope this comprehensive guide has been helpful in explaining different rail types and their various applications.

Emily Johnson

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