Railroad Turnouts: Types and Their Components

Railroad turnouts are one of the most important, and often one of the most overlooked, aspects of railway infrastructure. A turnout is simply a section of track that allows a train to change from one line of track to another. There are many different types of turnouts, each with its own specific purpose. In this blog post, we will explore the different types of railroad turnouts and their components. We will also touch on the importance of maintaining these turnouts and why they are essential to the safe operation of trains.

What is a railroad turnout?

A railroad turnout is a type of junction where two railroad tracks meet. The tracks are usually diverging or converging, and the turnout allows trains to switch from one track to the other. Depending on the design, a railroad turnout can be used to allow trains to go in different directions, or to connect two different rail lines.


Frogs are the most common type of turnout and are used to connect two tracks that run in different directions. A frog is a metal plate with a hole in it that is placed between the two tracks. The hole in the frog allows the wheels of a train to pass through it, while the metal plate prevents the train from derailing.

Diamonds are used to connect two tracks that run in the same direction. A diamond is a metal plate with two holes in it, one on each side of the plate. The holes in the diamond allow the wheels of a train to pass through them, while the metal plate prevents the train from derailing.

Crossovers are used to connect two tracks that run in opposite directions. A crossover is a metal plate with four holes in it, two on each side of the plate. The holes in the crossover allow the wheels of a train to pass through them, while the metal plate prevents the train from derailing.

The components of railroad turnouts

A railroad turnout is a type of railway junction where two or more rail tracks diverge from the main line. The main line is usually the track leading to the center of a city, while the diverging tracks lead to different destinations outside of the city. There are several different types of turnouts, but all of them have three basic components:

Frog

Frogs are an integral part of railroad turnouts. A frog is the element of a switch that guides rail vehicles from one track to another. frogs are made of either cast iron or steel, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different rail sizes.

Frogs are mounted on a frog plate, which is the portion of the turnout that rests on the ties. The frog plate has flangeways on either side that allow the wheel flanges of passing trains to pass through without derailing. The angle at which the frog is mounted determines the degree of curvature of the switch points.

There are many different types of frogs, but they all serve the same purpose. Some frogs have a simple design with just a few grooves or ridges. Others have a more complex design with multiple levels of grooves or ridges. The type of frog that is used depends on the specific requirements of the turnout.

Frogs play an important role in ensuring that trains can safely change directions. Without a frog, the wheels of the train would simply slide off the track when trying to change directions. This could lead to serious accidents. For this reason, it is important to make sure that turnouts are equipped with the proper type of frog for the specific application.

When perfectly aligned, the frog will guide a train around the switch points and onto the desired track. If you’re ever curious about what those strange metal plates are in a turnout, now you know!

Stock Rail

A stock rail is a continuously welded piece of metal that forms the inside edge of a railroad track. It is held in place by tie plates and spikes or screws. The stock rail does not move and is not connected to the switch point.

There are two main types of stock rails used in railroad turnouts: flat-bottom and V-bottom. Flat-bottom stock rails are the most common type used in turnouts. They are easy to install and provide a smooth transition for trains as they switch from one track to another. V-bottom stock rails are less common, but they offer a few advantages over flat-bottom rails. They are more durable and can better withstand the forces exerted by trains. Additionally, they provide a smoother transition for trains, which can improve ride quality.

Switch motor

A switch motor is a device that is used to move a switch point in a railroad turnout. The switch point is the part of the turnout that controls the direction of the train. The switch motor is connected to the switch point and is used to move the switch point from one position to another.

Switch motors are electric motors that are mounted on the side of the track. The motor has a gear that engages with a rack that is attached to the switch. When the motor is turned on, the gear turns the rack and moves the switch.

Guard rail

A guard rail is a rail that is installed perpendicular to the running surface of a railroad track. Its purpose is to block vehicles from running off the track. Guard rails are typically made of wood, steel, or concrete. The guard rail is placed at a slight angle so that if a train does derail, it will be directed back onto the track.

Point machine conversion

Point machines are used to control the movement of turnouts. They are usually located at the end of a turnout, where the points are located. The point machine is connected to the points by a series of levers and rods. When the lever is moved, the points are moved accordingly. They can be manually operated or electrically operated. Electrically operated point machines are known as power-operated point machines (POPMs).

POPMs can be controlled from a central location, such as a control panel in a signal box, or they can be controlled locally, using a switch on the point machine itself. Manually operated point machines are known as hand-operated point machines (HOPMs). HOPMs must be operated by a person standing at the machine itself. They are usually only used for small turnouts, or for turnouts that do not need to be switched very often.

It is usually operated by a lever or handle, which is connected to the points through a system of gears. The first point machines were developed in the early 19th century, and they quickly became an essential part of railroading. Today, most railroads use some form of point machine, though they are not always visible to the casual observer.

Point machines can be either simple or complex. Simple machines are often nothing more than a lever that is connected to the points through a series of gears. These types of machines are typically used on smaller railroads or on secondary lines where traffic is light. Complex machines are much larger and more intricate. They often include electronic controls in addition to the traditional mechanical levers and gears. These types of machines are typically used on high-traffic mainline railroads.

Points lever

A railroad turnout is a type of railway junction where track sections are connected to allow trains to move from one line to another. The points lever is a key component of this process, as it helps to control the movement of the points. In order for a train to change tracks, the points must be properly aligned.

The points lever helps to do this by moving the points into the correct position. This is done by first disengaging the lock bar, which holds the points in place. Next, the handle is moved to the desired position. Finally, the lock bar is engaged again to hold the points in place. The points lever is an important part of ensuring that trains can safely and efficiently change tracks. Without it, trains would be at risk of derailment or collision.

There are two main types of point levers: manual and power-operated. Manual points levers are operated by hand, while power-operated points levers are operated by an electric motor or another power source. Power-operated point levers are generally used in larger turnouts, while manual point levers are more common in smaller turnouts.

Point indicators

Point indicators are a vital component of turnouts, as they serve to alert the train crew of the position of the points. Point indicators typically take the form of lights, though they can also be auditory or tactile. In some cases, point indicators may be integrated into the track itself, such as in the case of color-light signals.

Point indicators are typically placed on the approach side of the turnout so that the train crew can see them as they approach. In some cases, they may also be placed on the diverging side of the turnout. Point indicators must be highly visible and legible so that they can be easily seen by the train crew. In addition to serving as a visual aid, point indicators can also provide information about the status of the points.

For example, some point indicators have different colored lights that indicate whether the points are set for the main line or the diverging route. Other point indicators may have a single light that changes color to indicate whether the points are locked or unlocked. Point indicators are an important safety feature of turnouts, as they help to ensure that trains are routed correctly. When used in conjunction with other components such as block signals and derails, point indicators can help to make turnouts safe and reliable.

Facing point lock

A facing point lock is a device used to prevent a switch from being moved to the wrong position. It is typically used in conjunction with a track circuit. When a train approaches a turnout, the track circuit detects the train and sends a signal to the facing point lock. If the switch is in the correct position, the lock will allow the switch to be moved. If the switch is in the wrong position, the lock will prevent the switch from being moved. This prevents trains from being routed onto the wrong track.

When a train approaches a turnout, the points will be locked in the position corresponding to the diverging route. This is done by a facing point lock, which is a mechanical device that engages with the stock rail. The facing point lock prevents the points from being moved until the train has passed through the turnout.

Joints

Joints are the connecting points between two pieces of track. There are three main types of joints used in railroad turnouts: the fishplate joint, the butt joint, and the lap joint.

The fishplate joint is the most common type of joint used in railroad turnouts. It is made by bolting two pieces of metal together with a fishplate. The fishplate is a metal plate that is placed over the top of the two pieces of metal to be joined. This type of joint is very strong and can withstand a lot of force.

The butt joint is another type of joint used in railroad turnouts. It is made by joining two pieces of metal together at their ends. This type of joint is not as strong as the fishplate joint, but it is still strong enough for most applications.

The lap joint is the weakest type of joint used in railroad turnouts. It is made by joining two pieces of metal together side by side. This type of joint is not as strong as either the fishplate or butt joints, but it can be used in some applications where these other types of joints are not suitable.

Straight and curved switches

There are two types of switches used in railroad turnouts – straight and curved. Straight switches are typically used for mainline tracks, while curved switches are used for branch lines or industrial tracks. The type of switch used will depend on the degree of curvature required for the particular track. Straight switches are the simplest type of switch and consist of two rails that intersect at a point, known as the frog.

The frog is where the points of the switch are located, and is what determines the direction of travel for the train. When the points are aligned in one direction, the train will travel straight ahead. When the points are aligned in the other direction, the train will diverge from the mainline and onto the branch line.

Curved switches are more complex than straight switches, and consist of three rails – two outer rails and one inner rail. The inner rail is known as the field rail, while the outer rails are known as the running rails. The field rail is what carries the train around the curve, while the running rails provide stability and support. The frog on a curved switch is located on the inner rail and is offset from the centerline of the track. This offset allows for a smoother transition from the straight to the curved track.

Curved switches can accommodate tighter radii than straight switches, making them ideal for use in areas with limited space.

The different types of railroad turnouts

There are several types of railroad turnouts, each with its own distinct purpose. The most common type is the switch, which is used to change the direction of train traffic. Other types include the wye, the crossover, and the double-crossover.

Switch

The switch is the most basic type of turnout and consists of a set of moveable rails that can be aligned with either the main track or a side track. When a train approaches a switch, the engineer will line up the wheels with the desired track before throwing the switch lever to direct the train onto that track.

Wye

A wye is a more complex type of turnout that allows trains to reverse direction. It consists of three tracks: two diverging tracks and one converging track. To use a wye, trains first approach from the converging track before diverging onto one of the other two tracks. They then travel around a loop before returning to the converging track and exiting in the opposite direction.

Crossover

A crossover is another type of complex turnout that allows trains to cross from one track to another without having to reverse direction. It consists of four tracks: two main tracks that intersect at a central point, and two side tracks that connect to each main track at its respective endpoint. To use a crossover, trains approach from either main track and then diverge onto the corresponding side track before crossing over to the other main track and continuing on their way.

Double-crossover

Finally, a double-crossover is the most complex type of turnout and allows trains to cross from one track to another and then continue in the same direction. It consists of six tracks: two main tracks that intersect at a central point, two side tracks that connect to each main track at its respective endpoint, and two additional tracks that run parallel to the main tracks. To use a double-crossover, trains approach from either main track and then diverge onto the corresponding side track before crossing over to the other main track and continuing on their way.

How to choose the right type of railroad turnout for your needs

There are many different types of railroad turnouts, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The type of turnout you choose will depend on your specific needs.

The most common type of turnout is the single-slip switch. This type of turnout is used when there is only one track that needs to be switched. Single-slip switches are simple to construct and operate, and they require very little maintenance. However, they can only handle a limited amount of traffic, so they are not suited for use in high-traffic areas.

Another common type of turnout is the double-slip switch. This type of turnout is used when there are two tracks that need to be switched. Double-slip switches are more complex than single-slip switches, but they can handle more traffic and are therefore better suited for use in high-traffic areas.

yet another popular type of turnout is the wye switch. Wye switches are used when there are three or more tracks that need to be switched. Wye switches are the most complex type of switch, but they can handle the highest amount of traffic.

No matter what type of turnout you choose, it is important to make sure that it is constructed from high-quality materials. The last thing you want is for your switch to fail when it is needed the most.

Railroad turnout installation and maintenance

A turnout is a piece of railroad track used to guide trains from one track to another. There are many different types of turnouts, each designed for a specific purpose. The most common type of turnout is the switch, which allows trains to change direction.

There are two main types of switches: the points and the stock rail. The points of a switch are the movable parts that direct the train onto the desired track. The stock rail is a stationary piece of rail that is not moved by the points.

Switch points are operated by a handle or lever that is connected to the points. This handle or lever is known as the switch point operating rod (SPOR). The SPOR must be in the correct position before the train can enter the turnout.

The stock rail is usually taller than the running rails so that it can support the weight of the points. In some cases, however, the stock rail may be lower than the running rails (such as in a frog). This allows for a smoother transition for wheels as they move from one track to another.

Turnouts must be installed properly in order to function correctly. This includes ensuring that the tracks are level and aligned and that all parts of the turnout are securely fastened. Turnouts must also be regularly maintained, as debris and weather can cause problems with their operation.
Turnouts are an important part of railroads and their proper installation and maintenance are essential for the safe operation of trains.

Railroad Turnouts
Railroad Turnout

Conclusion

Railroad turnouts are a vital part of train infrastructure, and there are many different types to choose from depending on the needs of your railway. Each type of turnout has its own unique set of components, which must be carefully selected to ensure optimal performance. With so many options available, it’s important to consult with an expert before making a decision. We hope this article has provided you with a helpful overview of the different types of railroad turnouts and their components so that you can make an informed decision for your railway.