The track or permanent way is the railroad on which trains run. It consists of two parallel rails fastened to sleepers with a specified distance between them. The sleepers are embedded in a layer of ballast of specified thickness spread over level ground known as formation. The ballast provides a uniform level surface and drainage, and transfers the load to a larger area of the formation. The rails are joined in series by fish plates and bolts and these are fastened to the sleepers with various types of fittings. The sleepers are spaced at a specified distance and are held in position by the ballast. Each component of the track has a specific function to perform. The rails act as girders to transmit the wheel load of trains to the sleepers. The sleepers hold the rails in their proper positions, provide a correct gauge with the help of fittings and fastenings, and transfer the load to the ballast. The formation takes the total load of the track as well as of the trains moving on it.
The permanent way or track, therefore, consists of the rails, sleepers, fittings and fastenings, the ballast, and the formation as shown in Fig. 5.1.
Fig. 5.1 Various components of a track
In the early days, a temporary track used to be laid for carrying earth and other building material for the construction of a railway line; this temporary track used to be removed subsequently. The track is also called the permanent way in order to distinguish the final track constructed for the movement of trains from the temporary track constructed to carry building material.
The specifications adopted by Indian Railways for various types of railway tracks are discussed here. The stresses developed in the different components of a railway track due to moving wheel load are also elaborated.