Rail Nomenclature

October 23, 2021

Most of the rails sold by Wirth Rail have a head, a web and a flat base. A common name for this general shape is Vignoles. Charles Vignoles was an engineer working in the UK in the 1830s and is credited for the first installations of rails with flat bottoms and beam configuration. For context, George Stephenson’s Rocket, one of the first commercially successful steam locomotives, was constructed in 1829.

Throughout this website the terms strength and hardness are used interchangeably. Rails are graded by surface hardness in North America and by tensile strength in Europe. The interface between a wheel and a rail is the subject of textbooks. For the purpose of this website, a higher grade of rail provides a more durable running surface that can handle greater loads. Often increasing to a higher grade is an economical fix in situations of high wear.

Also used interchangeably in the industry are the terms rail profile and rail section. The term “section” is an abbreviation of cross-section and is common parlance in the United States. The term “profile” is from Latin, and is commonly used in Europe. Regardless of the origin, the two terms mean the same thing for the purpose of this website and the catalogue.