The permanent way is the elements of railway lines: generally the pairs of rails typically laid on the sleepers (“ties” in American parlance) embedded in ballast, intended to carry the ordinary trains of a railway. It is described as permanent way because in the earlier days of railway construction, contractors often laid a temporary track to transport spoil and materials about the site; when this work was substantially completed, the temporary track was taken up and the permanent way installed. The earliest tracks consisted of wooden rails on transverse wooden sleepers, which helped maintain the spacing of the rails. Various developments followed, with cast iron plates laid on top of the wooden rails and later wrought iron plates or wrought iron angle plates (L-shaped plate rails). Rails were also individually fixed to rows of stone blocks, without any cross ties to maintain correct separation. This system also led to problems, as the blocks could individually move, and it was replaced by the “modern system” of rails and transverse sleepers. Although, Brunel’s 7 ft (2,134 mm) broad gauge system used rails laid on longitudinal sleepers tied to piles. Developments in manufacturing technologies has led to changes to the design, manufacture and installation of rails, sleepers and the means of attachments. Cast iron rails, 4 feet (1.22 m) long, began to be used in the 1790s and by 1820, 15 feet (4.57 m) long wrought iron rails were in use. The first steel rails were made in 1857 and standard rail lengths increased over time from 30 to 60 feet (9.14 to 18.29 m). Rails were typically specified by units of weight per linear length and these also increased. Railway sleepers were traditionally made of Creosote-treated hardwoods and this continued through to modern times. Continuous welded rail was introduced into Britain in the mid-1960s and this was followed by the introduction of concrete sleepers. The earliest use of a railway track seems to have been in connection with mining in Germany in the 12th century. Mine passageways were usually wet and muddy, and moving barrows of ore along them was extremely difficult. Improvements were made by laying timber planks so that wheeled containers could be dragged along by manpower. By the 16th century the difficulty of keeping the wagon running straight had been solved by having a pin going into a gap between the planks. Georg Agricola describes box-shaped carts, called “dogs”, about half as large again as a wheelbarrow, fitted with a blunt vertical pin and wooden rollers running on iron axles. An Elizabethan era example of this has been discovered at Silvergill in Cumbria, England, and they were probably also in use in the nearby Mines Royal of Grasmere, Newlands and Caldbeck. Where space permitted round-section wooden tracks to take trucks with flanged wheels were installed: a painting from 1544 by the Flemish artist Lucas Gassel shows a copper mine with rails of this type emerging from an adit.
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