How old are railway tracks?

Charlie2555

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I was wondering the other day: I remember seeing some old rotting wooden sleepers and pretty elderly looking track still in use a few years back and was thinking, how old would you say the oldest track and sleepers are that are still in use on the network?

Excluding heritage tracks, how long does track typically last? Obviously I imagine on well used lines, they are replaced more frequently. But what would you say the oldest are?
 
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Deltic1

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Depends where they are, obviously mainline tracks are replaced fairly regularly, but some sidings in very regular use near me have track chairs stamped LNWR!
 

Whistler40145

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Unless that a branch line or freight line is still fitted with jointed bullhead rail, I think you'd have a big search
 

61653 HTAFC

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It used to be the case that often rails on mainlines would be replaced before they were completely life-expired, and those old rails were then re-used on more lightly used parts of the network. I have no idea if this still happens though.
 

Llanigraham

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It used to be the case that often rails on mainlines would be replaced before they were completely life-expired, and those old rails were then re-used on more lightly used parts of the network. I have no idea if this still happens though.

And the better then they get moved to some heritage line.
 

pdeaves

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It used to be the case that often rails on mainlines would be replaced before they were completely life-expired, and those old rails were then re-used on more lightly used parts of the network. I have no idea if this still happens though.
In a sense they do. Much 'stuff' lifted gets taken to recycling yards (Westbury, March and somewhere else I can't remember) where it's sorted. Anything reusable is reused in appropriate places, scrap is sold on.
 

Whistler40145

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In a sense they do. Much 'stuff' lifted gets taken to recycling yards (Westbury, March and somewhere else I can't remember) where it's sorted. Anything reusable is reused in appropriate places, scrap is sold on.
That's interesting to know
 

waverley47

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The best bet for oldest in situ rail is probably around the network in places that don't get touched too often.

As a general rule, main line rails get replaced every couple of decades less, with some curves and high stress locations being changed more often. This scales with speed, so modern high speed lines get swapped more often, but stuff along 125mph main lines gets changed less frequently. Also things like viaducts and tunnels, or over level crossings where road grit corrodes the rails, so some places get changed much more frequently.

On less used branch lines, so long as there aren't any heavy freight trains, the track can sit there for decades. Think the Looe branch, or the island line. Places like this have old track because there are low speeds, light trains and generally they're not used very much. There has been an effort to change to continuous welded rail across the network, but this is a slow process, and doesn't work on tight curves or in very remote areas (West Highland line for example).

Then there are the vestiges of old track around the network in yards ect. Places like Tyne Yard, Carlisle Yard and sidings outside stations (Carlisle and Dundee spring to mind) were layed in the sixties in some cases, and the track obviously hasn't been changed since. In these places, it might be that they are used so infrequently that it doesn't matter, or a rake of wagons has sat on them for decades and so they haven't been changed. There are loads of places around the network where the old layouts just aren't needed any more, so no work is ever done to spruce them up. Also rail lasts for a long long time, so in places with low traffic, it's not really urgent.
 
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pdeaves

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Ploughman

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No idea if it is still the case but upto 2010 York - Scarborough had some 1930's rail and Hull - Seamer had some 1941.
There was also one of the platform roads in Hull Paragon at 1914.
 

eMeS

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No idea if it is still the case but upto 2010 York - Scarborough had some 1930's rail and Hull - Seamer had some 1941.
There was also one of the platform roads in Hull Paragon at 1914.
Does that mean that the rail is stamped / marked in some way with its year of origin? Or is it all down to record keeping?
 

SargeNpton

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The riverside stabling sidings at Northampton still have some chairs with LMS cast into them.
 

edwin_m

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Does that mean that the rail is stamped / marked in some way with its year of origin? Or is it all down to record keeping?
Rail has the maker and year marked on the side every few feet. The old bullhead chairs have the year and company cast into them. There may be exceptions to both these!
 

DelW

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There was certainly bullhead rail left in Wales in 2018, looking at some photos of mine taken at Llanwrtyd (Heart of Wales line), Penhelig and Barmouth (Cambrian coast line). I remember looking at the track at Llanwrtyd and being a bit surprised at how old it was, though I can't remember the exact years now. I think mostly 1940s / 50s, with some pre-WW2.

Still quite a lot of jointed track left on the Heart of Wales line.


Barmouth.JPGPenhelig.JPG
 

Bald Rick

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As a general rule, main line rails get replaced every ten years or less, with some curves and high stress locations being changed every year or so.

I’m not sure where you get those numbers from. Main line rails typically last at least 20 years, and usually 30-40. There’s plenty of 1980s rail out there on main lines, including some at 125mph.

High wear rails may be replaced every 10 years, and in a few sites, less than that. As an example, the high wear rail in the Thameslink core through the curves south of St Pancras is (AIUI) still the 2006 installation.

Does that mean that the rail is stamped / marked in some way with its year of origin?

Yes. Every rail has the type of rail, rolling mill code and year of manufacturer ‘embossed’ on it every few metres. For example:

60 E1 SC 18 means:

60: 60kg / metre
E1: the rail profile (cross section shape, with reference to the contact strip between rail and wheel)
SC: Scunthorpe
18: rolled in 2018.


I know that rail dated 1899 was pulled out of the platform line in Cromer about 15 years ago. However there won’t be much now on running lines that predates 1970.
 

furnessvale

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http://www.hondawanderer.com/Ascott-under-Wychwood_chair_1979.htm shows a sleeper chair dating from 1906, photographed in 1979, showing this sleeper would have been 73 years old at the time of photographing. It's probably worth saying that these sleepers have been taken up since.

-Peter
The date, of course refers to the chair, not the wooden sleeper. With a date of 1906 it is highly likely that the chairs have been reused on newer sleepers at some stage.
 

waverley47

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I’m not sure where you get those numbers from. Main line rails typically last at least 20 years, and usually 30-40. There’s plenty of 1980s rail out there on main lines, including some at 125mph.

High wear rails may be replaced every 10 years, and in a few sites, less than that. As an example, the high wear rail in the Thameslink core through the curves south of St Pancras is (AIUI) still the 2006 installation.

I was thinking main lines such as HS1 and TGV systems but I guess I definitley could have made that clearer.
 

CEN60

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I’m not sure where you get those numbers from. Main line rails typically last at least 20 years, and usually 30-40. There’s plenty of 1980s rail out there on main lines, including some at 125mph.

High wear rails may be replaced every 10 years, and in a few sites, less than that. As an example, the high wear rail in the Thameslink core through the curves south of St Pancras is (AIUI) still the 2006 installation.



Yes. Every rail has the type of rail, rolling mill code and year of manufacturer ‘embossed’ on it every few metres. For example:

60 E1 SC 18 means:

60: 60kg / metre
E1: the rail profile (cross section shape, with reference to the contact strip between rail and wheel)
SC: Scunthorpe
18: rolled in 2018.


I know that rail dated 1899 was pulled out of the platform line in Cromer about 15 years ago. However there won’t be much now on running lines that predates 1970.
:lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol: - Go stand on Inverurie Platform - that'll blow your 1970 theory out the water (from memory 1940's) - plus Kyle Line has chairs stamped 1938 still in use.
 

edwin_m

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The bay platform at Grantham had some 1920s chairs last time I looked (which was a few years back).
 

Peter C

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The date, of course refers to the chair, not the wooden sleeper. With a date of 1906 it is highly likely that the chairs have been reused on newer sleepers at some stage.
Ah OK - thanks for the explanation. I expect that would be the case, yes.

-Peter
 

Bald Rick

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Go stand on Inverurie Platform - that'll blow your 1970 theory out the water (from memory 1940's) - plus Kyle Line has chairs stamped 1938 still in use.

1) I said there won’t be much left that pre dates 1970. Clearly there will be some, but not much.
2) chairs are not rails!

I was thinking main lines such as HS1 and TGV systems

Has HS1 been rerailed yet? (Genuine question).
 

unlevel42

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I briefly worked at Edgar Allen Engineering at Shepcote Lane, Sheffield where they finished manganese castings used for turnouts.
Some were custom built but most were standard.

I keep a look out for ones dated 1977 and there are plenty of them around on our mainlines. I assume some are also recycled.
 

swt_passenger

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...Yes. Every rail has the type of rail, rolling mill code and year of manufacturer ‘embossed’ on it every few metres. For example:

60 E1 SC 18 means:

60: 60kg / metre
E1: the rail profile (cross section shape, with reference to the contact strip between rail and wheel)
SC: Scunthorpe
18: rolled in 2018..
Does anyone know for sure how the identification marks are made? Are they part of the rolling process, or could they be applied by automated arc welding afterwards?
 

mcmad

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I know that rail dated 1899 was pulled out of the platform line in Cromer about 15 years ago. However there won’t be much now on running lines that predates 1970.

Plenty of Pre 1970 rail on the rural branches in Scotland (and some of the busier lines too)
 

Ploughman

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The detail is rolled into the rail web at the steelworks.
Not sure when it started to be done but has been common practice in UK and overseas since the 1930's
The detail is rolled in to the web approx every 2m on one side of the rail web.

Sleeper detail is maintained in office records.
Until about 10 years ago as part of the Track Renewal process records of what type of sleeper, rail detail, jointed or CWR, baseplated and what type or not. All had to be inputted into the NWR GEOGIS record.
This was one of my usual Monday morning tasks after the weekend relay for our area of the country.
 
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