Bullhead rail

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Philip

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What is the maximum speed limit allowed for trains running on bullhead rail and was it any higher/lower in days when it was a lot more common on main lines?

Also, is there a particular sound that bullhead rail makes that is noticeably different to flat-bottom rail? Is it always jointed track?
 
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AM9

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What is the maximum speed limit allowed for trains running on bullhead rail and was it any higher/lower in days when it was a lot more common on main lines?

Also, is there a particular sound that bullhead rail makes that is noticeably different to flat-bottom rail? Is it always jointed track?
I suppose that both Flying Scotsman (loco) and Mallard did their record runs on bullhead track, (probably jointed as well).
 

Philip

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I suppose that both Flying Scotsman (loco) and Mallard did their record runs on bullhead track, (probably jointed as well).

Is that definite? I thought by then many main line routes had been fitted with welded flat bottom rail?
 

D6130

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Almost definitely bullhead in those days and jointed!
Yes, it would have been jointed bull-head rail in those days. Must have made a tremendous din travelling over it at 126mph and I dare say a few keys probably popped out as well! AFAIK - and I'm sure our more knowledgeable P. Way friends will correct me if I'm wrong - flat bottom rail was first installed experimentally in the UK in the inter-war period by the LMS and LNER, although still in jointed 60 foot lengths. It wasn't widely adopted until after nationalisation in 1948 and continuously welded rail didn't become widespread until the late 1950's on main lines and much later on secondary routes. Although most CWR was flat-bottom laid on concrete sleepers, bull-head CWR on wooden sleepers was widely used on secondary main lines in the former North Eastern Region such as York-Scarborough and the Durham Coast line. These rails were produced in a special rail welding depot set up at Dinsdale, near Darlington. I remember, when I worked at Aylesbury in the early 'nineties, there were two sections of continuously-welded bull-head rail with concrete sleepers on the Risborough branch, either side of Little Kimble. I believe that the maximum permitted speed on jointed track nowadays is 75 mph and 60 if it's bull-head rail but, again, I'm open to correction. When I was at Brighton in the mid-eighties there was still a roughly half-mile section of jointed bull-head rail on the Up Eastbourne line between Polegate and Berwick which had a theoretical 90 mph limit but, as all passenger trains stopped at Polegate and it was on a fairly steep rising gradient, it was rarely traversed at more than about 70, even by the expresses which didn't stop at Berwick. I also recall that, well into the new century, there was a fairly long section of 90 mph jointed flat-bottom rail on the Down WoE line between Grateley and Salisbury and that made a really impressive sound at full-pelt going downhill.
 

AM9

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Yes, it would have been jointed bull-head rail in those days. Must have made a tremendous din travelling over it at 126mph and I dare say a few keys probably popped out as well! AFAIK - and I'm sure our more knowledgeable P. Way friends will correct me if I'm wrong - flat bottom rail was first installed experimentally in the UK in the inter-war period by the LMS and LNER, although still in jointed 60 foot lengths. It wasn't widely adopted until after nationalisation in 1948 and continuously welded rail didn't become widespread until the late 1950's on main lines and much later on secondary routes. Although most CWR was flat-bottom laid on concrete sleepers, bull-head CWR on wooden sleepers was widely used on secondary main lines in the former North Eastern Region such as York-Scarborough and the Durham Coast line. These rails were produced in a special rail welding depot set up at Dinsdale, near Darlington. I remember, when I worked at Aylesbury in the early 'nineties, there were two sections of continuously-welded bull-head rail with concrete sleepers on the Risborough branch, either side of Little Kimble. I believe that the maximum permitted speed on jointed track nowadays is 75 mph and 60 if it's bull-head rail but, again, I'm open to correction. When I was at Brighton in the mid-eighties there was still a roughly half-mile section of jointed bull-head rail on the Up Eastbourne line between Polegate and Berwick which had a theoretical 90 mph limit but, as all passenger trains stopped at Polegate and it was on a fairly steep rising gradient, it was rarely traversed at more than about 70, even by the expresses which didn't stop at Berwick. I also recall that, well into the new century, there was a fairly long section of 90 mph jointed flat-bottom rail on the Down WoE line between Grateley and Salisbury and that made a really impressive sound at full-pelt going downhill.
Thanks for that interesting post. Unfortunately there don't seem to be any videos (or even stills) of the train on it's run as it wasn't publically advertised before it ran, but here is an image of the consist (posed) somehwere on the ECML with an abundance of bullhead track.


I can remember stretches of bullhead on the GEML in the '50/60s where speeds of 90+ were common. The down run from Marks Tey to Colchester was regularly traversed by the 309s at speeds in the nineties, as witnessed by the viewing of the intermediate cab speedometers as well as counting the rail joints. I can't remember if that stretch was bullheads or flat bottomed though.
 

D6130

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There are sections of track , on the Stoke - Leek line that are concrete sleepers & Bullhead rail.
Dave.
Yes....Jointed bull-head rail on concrete sleepers is still quite common on secondary and branch lines, but continuous-welded bull-head on concrete sleepers is/was very rare. At one time, flat-bottom CWR on wooden sleepers was quite common, especially on the ECML, usually fastened to the sleepers with Mills 'C' clips and also on the Southern Region, usually with 'Heyback' fastenings, but it has now mostly been replaced by concrete sleepers.
 

furnessvale

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I installed my last brand new bullhead track on a 75mph main line in 1968.

I have no doubt others installed such track later than me.
 

Richard Scott

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not a track or sleeper expert, is there any profile difference between the types of concrete sleeper ?
There are many types of concrete sleeper, some depending on track fixing used. Have laid track on a heritage railway and bullhead sleepers were generally of smaller dimensions that flat bottomed sleepers
 

daveinstoke

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just been reading up on , the history of track . 1884 was the first year of concrete sleepers ! that has shocked me !
no matter what my age still like to learn.
Dave.
 

bassmike

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I fail to see why this country chose to use the dreadful bullhead rail at all. No other countries to my knowledge used it (correct me if I'm wrong) The only place abroad where I have seen some was back in the 1950's in northern France on the way from LeHavre to Paris. My guess is that it was put in by U K enginners when trying to get the French railways up and runnning again after ww2. B/H was inherently dodgy -only wooden keys held the rails to gauge and were constantly falling out . Good job labour was cheap then, with the amount of inspection required constantly. It would'nt have been so bad if the keys had been on the inside-at least you're in with a chance that way. I remember going round one of the Latchmere curves on a railtour and was horrified to see that at a guess nearly half the keys on the other track were laying on the deck! London transport used to say that it was easier to renew track with b/h but Metros all over the world inc: Paris and N Y C never dream'pt of using this Heath-Robinson system.
 

PeterJ

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not a track or sleeper expert, is there any profile difference between the types of concrete sleeper ?
For a full guide on sleeper profiles, Manchester Model Railway Society have a good guide. http://www.mmrs.co.uk/technical-articles/modern-permanent-way-3/
In brief there are full depth sleepers and shallow depth equivalents, which have stepped down shoulders for 3rd rail pots and are wider, longer and shallower. Basic dimensions haven't changed since the 50s but the central depression has reduced steadily from a well to now being flat right across
 

Annetts key

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I installed my last brand new bullhead track on a 75mph main line in 1968.

I have no doubt others installed such track later than me.
Do you mean a complete re-railing of a reasonable length of track, or spot rail renewal?

Only where bullhead track still exists in use (only on branch lines in my part of the world) now that the railway has run out of spare used sections (disused siding have been robbed already), when any defects are found in the existing track. They buy brand new 60ft lengths and fit them. The last time I know of this happening was only within the last five years.

I fail to see why this country chose to use the dreadful bullhead rail at all. No other countries to my knowledge used it (correct me if I'm wrong) The only place abroad where I have seen some was back in the 1950's in northern France on the way from LeHavre to Paris. My guess is that it was put in by U K enginners when trying to get the French railways up and runnning again after ww2. B/H was inherently dodgy -only wooden keys held the rails to gauge and were constantly falling out . Good job labour was cheap then, with the amount of inspection required constantly. It would'nt have been so bad if the keys had been on the inside-at least you're in with a chance that way. I remember going round one of the Latchmere curves on a railtour and was horrified to see that at a guess nearly half the keys on the other track were laying on the deck! London transport used to say that it was easier to renew track with b/h but Metros all over the world inc: Paris and N Y C never dream'pt of using this Heath-Robinson system.
Bullhead rail has the advantage that it can be turned and used four times. Use once, when the running edge becomes worn, then turn over vertically, when that edge becomes worn, turn the whole length, then finally after that edge becomes worn turn vertically once more. So it was seen as cost effective.

If properly installed, the metal keys don’t normally come loose. The wooden keys do sometimes work their way out. Patrolmen often walked through with a key hammer when they did their weekly or fortnightly patrol so that they could refit any loose or missing keys.
 

edwin_m

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I fail to see why this country chose to use the dreadful bullhead rail at all. No other countries to my knowledge used it (correct me if I'm wrong) The only place abroad where I have seen some was back in the 1950's in northern France on the way from LeHavre to Paris. My guess is that it was put in by U K enginners when trying to get the French railways up and runnning again after ww2. B/H was inherently dodgy -only wooden keys held the rails to gauge and were constantly falling out . Good job labour was cheap then, with the amount of inspection required constantly. It would'nt have been so bad if the keys had been on the inside-at least you're in with a chance that way. I remember going round one of the Latchmere curves on a railtour and was horrified to see that at a guess nearly half the keys on the other track were laying on the deck! London transport used to say that it was easier to renew track with b/h but Metros all over the world inc: Paris and N Y C never dream'pt of using this Heath-Robinson system.
I've seen photos of bullhead rail in France where the keys are in fact on the inside. This leads me to suspect that it was a domestic design and not something laid by a passing Brit.
Do you mean a complete re-railing of a reasonable length of track, or spot rail renewal?

Only where bullhead track still exists in use (only on branch lines in my part of the world) now that the railway has run out of spare used sections (disused siding have been robbed already), when any defects are found in the existing track. They buy brand new 60ft lengths and fit them. The last time I know of this happening was only within the last five years.


Bullhead rail has the advantage that it can be turned and used four times. Use once, when the running edge becomes worn, then turn over vertically, when that edge becomes worn, turn the whole length, then finally after that edge becomes worn turn vertically once more. So it was seen as cost effective.

If properly installed, the metal keys don’t normally come loose. The wooden keys do sometimes work their way out. Patrolmen often walked through with a key hammer when they did their weekly or fortnightly patrol so that they could refit any loose or missing keys.
I believe the original idea was to invert the rail for further service, but in practice it was discovered that each chair would leave an impact impression, which must have made the turned rail rather noisy! To use the opposite face it would probably have been easier to swap the left and right rails rather than turning each one endways - the same could have been done with flat bottom.
 

furnessvale

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Do you mean a complete re-railing of a reasonable length of track, or spot rail renewal?

Only where bullhead track still exists in use (only on branch lines in my part of the world) now that the railway has run out of spare used sections (disused siding have been robbed already), when any defects are found in the existing track. They buy brand new 60ft lengths and fit them. The last time I know of this happening was only within the last five years.


Bullhead rail has the advantage that it can be turned and used four times. Use once, when the running edge becomes worn, then turn over vertically, when that edge becomes worn, turn the whole length, then finally after that edge becomes worn turn vertically once more. So it was seen as cost effective.

If properly installed, the metal keys don’t normally come loose. The wooden keys do sometimes work their way out. Patrolmen often walked through with a key hammer when they did their weekly or fortnightly patrol so that they could refit any loose or missing keys.
1. The bullhead track I installed in 1968 was complete prefab. It was all brand new, rail, chairs and sleepers. It was also reballasted, with a traxcavator dig, which is why I was there. In those days, a draughtsman attended such digs to check the work. I cannot recall the exact length but it was in the high hundreds of yards. It was 97.5lb rail, which had an extra 2.5lb in the head for increased life.

2. The idea that a bullhead raid could be inverted for extra use was very quickly discounted, probably on the first occasion someone tried to do it! By the time the head was ready to be changed, chair gall on the foot could easily be a 1/4 inch. All bullhead rails I encountered had totally different head and foot profiles which were not interchageable.
 

Annetts key

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I've seen photos of bullhead rail in France where the keys are in fact on the inside. This leads me to suspect that it was a domestic design and not something laid by a passing Brit.

I believe the original idea was to invert the rail for further service, but in practice it was discovered that each chair would leave an impact impression, which must have made the turned rail rather noisy! To use the opposite face it would probably have been easier to swap the left and right rails rather than turning each one endways - the same could have been done with flat bottom.
Yes, exchanging rails (left and right) happens more often than turning the rail.

1. The bullhead track I installed in 1968 was complete prefab. It was all brand new, rail, chairs and sleepers. It was also reballasted, with a traxcavator dig, which is why I was there. In those days, a draughtsman attended such digs to check the work. I cannot recall the exact length but it was in the high hundreds of yards. It was 97.5lb rail, which had an extra 2.5lb in the head for increased life.

2. The idea that a bullhead raid could be inverted for extra use was very quickly discounted, probably on the first occasion someone tried to do it! By the time the head was ready to be changed, chair gall on the foot could easily be a 1/4 inch. All bullhead rails I encountered had totally different head and foot profiles which were not interchageable.
Well, I suppose it depends on where it is used. I’ve seen it turned most often where it is used for tight curves. The side wear being more significant than other wear.
 
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furnessvale

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Yes, exchanging rails (left and right) happens more often than turning the rail.


Well, I suppose it depends on where it is used. I’ve seen it turned most often where it is used for tight curves. The side wear being more significant than other wear.
You misunderstand my comments.

Turning or transposing rails to bring a fresh face to the running edge is common.

Inverting a rail to use the foot of a bullhead rail as a fresh head is impossible.
 

McRhu

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I remember seeing what I'm pretty sure was brand new bull-head waiting to be used, at Crianlarich only 3 or 4 years ago.
 

furnessvale

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I remember seeing what I'm pretty sure was brand new bull-head waiting to be used, at Crianlarich only 3 or 4 years ago.
If the rest of the components (chairs, sleepers) are in good condition, it makes perfect sense to simply rerail.
 

D6130

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Do you mean a complete re-railing of a reasonable length of track, or spot rail renewal?

Only where bullhead track still exists in use (only on branch lines in my part of the world) now that the railway has run out of spare used sections (disused siding have been robbed already), when any defects are found in the existing track. They buy brand new 60ft lengths and fit them. The last time I know of this happening was only within the last five years.


Bullhead rail has the advantage that it can be turned and used four times. Use once, when the running edge becomes worn, then turn over vertically, when that edge becomes worn, turn the whole length, then finally after that edge becomes worn turn vertically once more. So it was seen as cost effective.

If properly installed, the metal keys don’t normally come loose. The wooden keys do sometimes work their way out. Patrolmen often walked through with a key hammer when they did their weekly or fortnightly patrol so that they could refit any loose or missing keys.
In fact bull-head rail was used as standard all over Western and South-Western France from the very early days and is still in use on some secondary passenger lines, including long sections of the Ligne des Causses (Neussargues-Beziers), the Guingamp-Paimpol branch in Brittany and the Le Buisson-Sarlat line in the Dordogne. It is also seen in many main line loops, sidings and goods yards/loco depots. The French version of bull-head rail is known to "cheminots" as 'double champignon' ('double mushroom') due to its sectioned profile and, unlike the UK variant, is symmetrical, so that worn rails can be turned over and turned round for future use. If you watch the final scene of the classic 1964 WW2 film 'Le train'/'The Train', Paul Labiche, the loco driver/resistance fighter played by Burt Lancaster, manages to derail the Nazi train carrying stolen art treasures to Germany, by knocking out a succession of steel keys from the 'double champignon' rails on both sides of the single line, before being shot by German soldiers. Although the story was set in Eastern France, between Paris and the German border, this final scene was filmed on a branch line somewhere in Normandy - probably so that this method of derailment could be exploited. I recall reading somewhere that some early Italian railways originally used bull-head rail, but that it had all been replaced by 'Vignoles' rail (as FB rail is known on the continent - named after its inventor) before the turn of the twentieth century. I have certainly never seen any BH rail, even in sidings, on my extensive travels in Italy.
 

Mugby

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The type of rail is totally irrelevant.

Trains will run at whatever the permitted line speed of the line they're on happens to be, whether it's Bull Head or Flat Bottom.

If the rail is getting a bit thin, overdue for replacement, a temporary speed restriction may be imposed until it's re-railed.
 

bramling

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I remember seeing what I'm pretty sure was brand new bull-head waiting to be used, at Crianlarich only 3 or 4 years ago.

LU certainly still do re-railing with new bullhead rail. I presume this is done on an as-required basis in locations where the entire track structure isn’t due for renewal.
 

D6130

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What is the maximum speed limit allowed for trains running on bullhead rail and was it any higher/lower in days when it was a lot more common on main lines?

Also, is there a particular sound that bullhead rail makes that is noticeably different to flat-bottom rail? Is it always jointed track?
Finally getting around to the OP's second question, I've always had the impression that trains running on bull head rail make a slightly different, more rattly - sound.....possibly because of the greater number of large-ish removable components involved. What do others think?
 

paul1609

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You misunderstand my comments.

Turning or transposing rails to bring a fresh face to the running edge is common.

Inverting a rail to use the foot of a bullhead rail as a fresh head is impossible.
On the Kent & East Sussex Railway we inherited several different types of Bullhead Rail. The 95lb bullhead rail has a different size head to foot so could never be turned as confirmed by others. The Ex SECR 91 1/4 lb rail that was the majority of line on preservation ( and had been relaid by BR following nationalisation from the Elham Valley) had an identical head and foot and was originally designed to be turnable but as others have also head spalling on top of the sleepers made this impossible.

In preservation the whole line has been relaid (some sections more than once) and we now have a mixture of 95lb bullhead rail, 113 lb flat bottom and UIC 92 flat bottom rail.
This is all on concrete sleepers with the exception of stations (largely for heritage reasons) and some level crossings and bridges (for engineering reasons). The majority of the 95lb rail and sleepers on the Wittersham to Northiam section was the second line from BRs Marshlink singling.
 

Ploughman

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On the Kent & East Sussex Railway we inherited several different types of Bullhead Rail. The 95lb bullhead rail has a different size head to foot so could never be turned as confirmed by others. The Ex SECR 91 1/4 lb rail that was the majority of line on preservation ( and had been relaid by BR following nationalisation from the Elham Valley) had an identical head and foot and was originally designed to be turnable but as others have also head spalling on top of the sleepers made this impossible.

In preservation the whole line has been relaid (some sections more than once) and we now have a mixture of 95lb bullhead rail, 113 lb flat bottom and UIC 92 flat bottom rail.
This is all on concrete sleepers with the exception of stations (largely for heritage reasons) and some level crossings and bridges (for engineering reasons). The majority of the 95lb rail and sleepers on the Wittersham to Northiam section was the second line from BRs Marshlink singling.
I have worked with a number of different rail sizes over the years, but I have not yet worked with UIC 92.
Where is it used in the UK? other than as noted above on the KESR?
 

Bikeman78

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I believe that the maximum permitted speed on jointed track nowadays is 75 mph and 60 if it's bull-head rail but, again, I'm open to correction.
Interesting. When did that change? In the late 1990s there was still still jointed track on the 90 mph slow lines between Woking and Basingstoke. Great fun on a fast or semi fast that ran on the slows. Settle to Carnforth is still 90% jointed with a mix of bullhead and flat bottom. It's pretty well maintained. The 144 unit rode pretty well despite their infamous reputation. I went on the line in November 2019 for the full Pacer experience. I guessed it was still jointed. Must be one of the longest remaining routes.

I also recall that, well into the new century, there was a fairly long section of 90 mph jointed flat-bottom rail on the Down WoE line between Grateley and Salisbury and that made a really impressive sound at full-pelt going downhill.
Look up Seaton Junction on Youtube. Some cracking footage of 47s and 50s going past at full pelt.
 
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