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How switches are made

  • I have looked at switches for some time when riding the Chicago "El" transit system and they are made as I would have expected (and similar to model railroad switches) in that the portion of the rail which moves when the switch position is changed is a (maybe 20 -foot) length of rail, which moves back and forth about 6 inches at the "entry" end of the switch, and it pivots at the other end.

    I was observing a switch the other day on a "real" rail line (a line used by CSX and other freight runs many times a day, in the Dayton, Ohio area) and much to my surprise, the moving part of the switch was not at all as I would have expected.

    The moving rail section is one long piece of rail (all the way from the entry point to the "X" (the "frog" in model railroad parlance?) where the travel of the wheels crosses over the opposite rail, and the 10 or 15 feet or so at the entry end of this section moves back and forth as you would expect when the switch is changed, but after that first 10 or 15 feet, the rest of the rail is firmly spiked to the ties, and that short moving portion is moved by actually BENDING the rail along that 10 or 15 foot initial length!

    Maybe the old hands are saying "sure... doesn't this newcomer know anything?" but it was surprising to me that the switch movement would involve actually bending a (relatively short) section of what looks like standard steel rail.

    Is this a typical configuration and I just never saw something like it before, or is this unusual? (I have digital pictures I could post if anyone likes.) It was interesting to photograph as there is also a propane heater at the switch (for those cold Ohio snow-packed winter days no doubt) and the whole thing (two electrically-operated switches for this crossover between two parallel main lines and some signal lights at both ends of the section) is apparently radio-controlled as there's a shed there, with a tall VHF radio antenna on a mast.

    Anyway my question amid all this detail is "is it normal for a switch mechanism to actually bend rail on the moving points"?

    Chuck Somerville
    Relatively new railfan (I caught the fever from my grandson)
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  • Yes
    "I AM the higher source" Keep the wheels on steel