An iron road made of steel

An inflexible bridge
An inflexible bridge

The bridge rail is used by the old South-Eastern Railway in the mid-19th century. It is not a success: it is almost completely inflexible and therefore unsuited to laying curves. (undated, SBB Historic)

The rail is the essential element of any railway. Although overshadowed by the rolling stock that runs on it, the metal rail, which evolved largely in Britain, appears in myriad variations. The type most often used today, with its mushroom-shaped profile, is known as the Vignoles rail. It is made by rolling an extruded piece of high-grade steel up to 20 times. Bridge rails and double-headed rails, made of iron and welded together, were widely used in the 19th century. Double-headed rails were laid on the Lötschberg line when it was built at the start of the 20th century. The bridge rail was not a success, being almost completely inflexible and therefore unsuited to laying curves. The first rails used in Switzerland were imported from Britain for the Zurich-Baden line, popularly dubbed the «Spanish bun railway», which opened in 1847. They were four metres long. Today, sections of rail can be over two hundred metres in length.

« A guide rail that would be useful on entrance would create a hindrance on exit, whereas a guide rail that creates little hindrance on exit would most probably be useless on entrance. »

Swiss Railways Federation Technical Commission, Report on 67th section meeting, 24.04.1889
4 square centimetres

maximum contact area between wheel and rail, supporting a maximum load of 11 tonnes.

230 kilometres

length of rail installed in the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

50 years

minimum lifespan of the rail lines in the Base Tunnel.

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