What Type of Steel is Railroad Track Made Of?

train rail during golden hour

Railroad tracks play a crucial role in the transportation of goods and passengers, providing a stable and reliable path for trains to travel on.

These tracks are subjected to immense loads and forces, making the choice of steel for their construction vital. In this article, we will explore the type of steel typically used in railroad track manufacturing, its properties, and why it is well-suited for this demanding application.

Railroad Track Steel: An Overview

The steel used for railroad track construction is known as rail steel or rail-grade steel. It is a specialized type of steel designed to withstand the heavy loads and high impact forces experienced by trains. Rail steel is primarily made from low-carbon or medium-carbon steel alloys, which provide the necessary strength, toughness, and durability required for railroad track applications.

Properties of Railroad Track Steel

High Strength

Rail steel possesses high tensile strength, allowing it to withstand the weight of trains and resist deformation under heavy loads. This strength ensures the structural integrity of the tracks, minimizing the risk of track failures.


The toughness of rail steel refers to its ability to absorb energy without fracturing. This property is essential in railway tracks as it helps the steel resist crack propagation and withstand repeated impacts from passing trains.

Wear Resistance

Railroad tracks are subjected to continuous contact with train wheels, resulting in abrasive wear. Rail steel is formulated to have excellent wear resistance, ensuring the longevity and reliability of the tracks over extended periods of use.


Ductility is the ability of a material to deform without fracturing. Rail steel exhibits sufficient ductility, enabling it to undergo slight deformations and absorb energy during train passage. This property helps prevent catastrophic failures and ensures the safe operation of trains.

Fatigue Resistance: Fatigue resistance is crucial in railroad tracks due to the cyclic loading and unloading caused by train traffic. Rail steel is engineered to have high fatigue resistance, enabling it to withstand millions of loading cycles without experiencing fatigue failure.

Types of Rail Steel

Different types of rail steel are used for various applications within the railroad track system. The two most common types are:

Head-Hardened Rail (HH):

Head-hardened rail is a type of rail steel that undergoes a specialized heat treatment process. This treatment hardens the top surface layer of the rail, making it exceptionally wear-resistant. The core of the rail remains relatively softer, providing toughness and resistance to cracking.

Carbon-Manganese Rail (CM):

Carbon-manganese rail is another widely used type of rail steel. It offers a good balance between strength, toughness, and wear resistance. CM rail steel is suitable for a range of track conditions and is often used in less demanding applications or lower traffic areas.

Why Rail Steel is Suitable for Railroad Tracks

The choice of rail steel for railroad tracks is driven by several factors:

Heavy Load-Bearing Capacity:

Rail steel’s high strength enables it to bear the immense loads exerted by trains, ensuring the stability and safety of the tracks.

Resistance to Wear and Abrasion:

The wear-resistant properties of rail steel help minimize track deterioration, reducing maintenance requirements and extending the service life of the tracks.

Safety and Reliability:

Rail steel’s toughness and fatigue resistance are critical for maintaining the integrity of the tracks, preventing catastrophic failures and ensuring the safe operation of trains.


Rail steel provides a cost-effective solution for railroad track construction, offering the necessary performance characteristics at a reasonable price.


Railroad tracks are constructed using specialized rail steel designed to withstand the heavy loads, impact forces, and abrasive wear encountered by trains. The high strength, toughness, wear resistance, and fatigue resistance of rail steel make it an ideal material choice for this demanding application. By utilizing rail steel, railway infrastructure can be built to withstand the rigors of train traffic while ensuring safety, reliability, and longevity. The properties and performance of rail steel contribute significantly to the efficiency and effectiveness of our modern transportation systems.

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