Although trains run on what is usually termed the permanent way, in fact it is anything but permanent and requires constant attention and replacement. EVAN GREEN-HUGHES looks at how track is maintained and how that process has changed over the years.

engineering works are under way at Ashford

Above: Track maintenance and renewal ensures the railway is kept in tiptop condition. On March 12 1961, engineering works are under way at Ashford in preparation for electrification of the route through the station. Hugh Ballantyne/

THE FIRST RAILWAYS WERE not invented from scratch but were developments of earlier wagonways that had been built to transport minerals from the place where they were mined to a place where they could be used, or where they could be transferred onto a boat. These wagonways in turn were developed from the ruts that had worn in paved roads, which in some cases dated back more than a thousand years.

The problem with hauling a heavy load along a conventional road was that each wagon could only be quite small, due to the limited power available from haulage by horses or mules.

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