Jump to content
I Forge Iron




BP0011 Common Railroad Steels


IForgeIron Blueprints
Copyright 2002 - 2008 IFORGEIRON, All rights reserved.

BP0011 Common Railroad Steels
by Bob Nichols

Crane Rail ASTM A 759 C=.67-.84, Mn=.70-1.10

Girder (RR) Rails ASTM A2 Class A: C=.60-.75, Mn=.60-.90

Class B: C=.70-.85, Mn=.60-.90

Class C: C=.75-.90, Mn=.75-.90.

Rail Ts ASTM A1 60 to 84 lb/yd: C=.55-.68, Mn=.60-.90

85-114 lb/yd: C=.70-.80, Mn=.70-1.0

115 lb/yd: C=.74-.84, Mn=.80-1.1

Track Bolts ASTM A183 Grade 1: Cmin=.15

Grade 2: C=.27min

Screw Spikes ASTM A66 No chemistry specified.

Track Spikes ASTM A65 Grade 1: C= .12 min

Grade 2 (HC): C=.3 min.

Joint Bars ASTM A3 Grade 1: carbon not specified

Grade 2: C=.30max

Grade 3: C=.45 max.



RR Track bolts and nuts: Grade 1 = .15 carbon,

Gr. 2 = .30 carbon.


Steel tie plates: Gr. 1 = .15 C,


Gr. 2 = .35-.85 (?).




RR spikes: Gr. 1 = .12C,


Gr. 2(HC) = .30C.


All values taken from ASTM Vol. 1.04 (2002).



OK to stop the guessing here is my file on RR steel: spikes, anchors---the weird shaped clips and rail:

American Railway Engineering Association's Specifications for Soft-Steel Track Spikes. Original document, 1926, revised last in 1968

Two classes of track spikes are given specifications, both low carbon and high carbon. Two sizes of track spike are identified, one of 5/8 inch square shaft and one of 9/16 inch.

Page 5-2-1. "A low carbon track spike will not contain greater than 0.12% carbon nor greater than 0.20% copper.

Page 5-2-2. Section 6a.
Bending properties: The body of a full size finished spike shall stand being bent cold through 180 degrees flat on itself without cracking on the outside portion of the bent portion.

Page 5-2-2 Section 11. Marking. A letter or brand indicating the manufacturer shall be pressed on the head of each spike while it is being formed. When copper is specified, the letters "CU" shall be added.

Page 5-2-3: Specifications for high carbon steel track spikes 1968. Carbon not greater than 0.30%, nor greater than 0.20% c
opper. Page 5-2-4. Section 6a. Bending properties: The body of a full size finished spike shall stand being bent cold through 120 degrees around a pin, the diameter of which is not greater than the thickness of the spike without cracking on the outside portion of the bent portion.

Page 5-2-5 Section 11. Marking: A letter or brand indicating manufacturer and also the letters "HC" indicating high carbon, shall be pressed on the head of each spike while it is being formed. When copper is specified, the letters "CU" shall be added."

Additionally included in a fax to Mike Blue by the gentleman at Wellington industries, a division of Sheffield Steel:
"Because of the bending tests required, the carbon content will not be greater than 0.30%. After all, brittle spikes would not be desirable as a track spike. A bent spike still holds the rail while a fractured spike would not. The consequences for the industry would be too great to consider. However, we refer to them as high carbon, they are not within the range of steels known as high carbon or hypereutectoid according to the steel industry standards, and have not been since at least 1926, when most track spikes were previously manufactured from wrought iron."

Of course, while some people will say .30% is bad, I know from personal experience that a well made spike knife will take a good edge. It's very likely that the document lays out desired guidelines, but the margin for error is high and some spikes end up with plenty carbon to be made serviceable. Which is why we always spark test them first.

From Matt B on Anvilfire 08/08/2007 12:10:21 EDT
"The current standard for rail anchors is 1040-1060 steel, depending upon manufacturer."

I am citing the Arema (The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association) 2007 document, Part 2 "manufacture of Rail"

Standard rail steel:
.74 to.86% Carbon,
.75 to 1.25% Manganese,
.10 to .60% Silicon
Minimum Brinell (of unhardened surface) 310 or 370 dependant of grade ordered.

Low Alloy Rail Steel
.72 to .82% Carbon,
.80 to 1.10% Manganese,
.25 to .40& Chromium,
.10 to .50% Silicon
Minimum Brinell (of unhardened surface) 310, 325, or 370 dependant of grade ordered.
My document shows the following breakdown for grades:
SS = standard strength (brinell 310)
HH = Head Hardened (brinell 370)
LA = Low Alloy Standard Strength (brinell 310)
IH = Low Alloy Intermediate (brinell 325)
LH = Low Alloy Head Hardened (brinell 370)

Clips and rail make much better knives than spikes!

My thanks for the people who have posted the excerpts from the specs that I have saved away just for this type of thread!
Thomas Powers


e knuckle couplers, looks like they are about 85 lbs, and the alloy specs listed are are similar to 4330 but with only half the nickel content.  Stevomiller


 According to the 1968 standard, a regular "soft steel" spike would have a maximum of 0.12% carbon, and a "high carbon" spike would have a maximum of 0.30%. The new standard is for ALL spikes to have a carbon content between 0.17% and 0.25%.

https://www.iforgeiron.com/topic/63932-new-standards-for-railroad-spikes/ for more details.



Rail road clips (anchors) tested. It was 1050-1055.

 actually decent steel :) fast oil quench and a temper of around 415 

spectrometer results from the rail anchor ("clip") 

C: 0.51 | Mn: 0.80 | P: 0.01 | S: 0.03 | Si: 0.18 | Cu: 0.24 | Cr: 0.07 | Mo: 0.02 | Ni: 0.07 | Sn: 0.010 | V: 0.002 | Cb/Nb: 0.015


rail anchor fastening railway

Edited by Glenn

User Feedback

Recommended Comments

Glenn I was reading a REALLY old chemistry book a few days ago (those are the books that haven't been censored of 'dangerous' unprintable and awesome facts/reactions) and I like how both you and this book went into a detailed analysis of the constituent components of various different steels (in your case train-related). With all the additional  trace elements quantified and qualified someone could write an entire book on how the word train-steel can be broken down into 12,000 pages. Overall GOOD JOB, kept my attention. I find i'd rather know more than less about my metals. 

p.s: There must also be other detailed metallurgical data available on this site...I haven't searched yet as I haven't needed to but when it's time to UTSE (use the search engine. 2 hour newbie, still trying to learn your jargon) I will. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course one of the problems people get into is thinking there is a simple answer to some questions: example what alloy are railroad spikes made from?  This assumes that RR spikes were made from the same alloy for about 150 years and all over the world by a large number of manufacturers.  I have wrought iron spikes and HC spikes and the Copper containing alloy spikes just from one area in the USA....(you will note several alloys on the list above based on US practices alone.)

In a living history group I am a member of one fellow once addressed this by saying "There were no Medieval Mil-Specs for items back then."

Which is why we advise time and time again TEST before you put the time in on what turns out to be a poor alloy for the item in question.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did a Google search for rail anchor specifications and/or rail anchor steel . Apparently the material is 60Si2MnA I have forged a few punches and cold chisels from rail anchors. After quenching and tempering to a light straw color they cut mild steel like a hot knife through butter. Dickb 1/21

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The only way to tell for sure is to have the sample piece tested.  That will them be the test results for ONLY THAT ONE piece of steel.

If you want a specific spec for steel, then purchase that specific specification. It should come with analysis information on heat treating etc.  That entire lot should all act the same.  If you like the way it preforms, quickly go back and purchase all you can afford of the same specification.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since they're commercial links I can't post them but all of the suppliers I looked at list the Unit V, FAIR, and Trueloc   anchors as 60Si2MnA but the specification from AREMA does in fact state an acceptable range. 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

by BartW, Belgium

the greens are 16mm, the 18 are red. The steel in them is usually a variant of 9260; which is a great steel for tooling; mediocre for knives. Tough stuff. Doesn't want to move under the hammer. Don't forge it too high, it suffers from grain growth like O-1. Normalizing is also a good idea. Testing for cracks is also a great idea after forging. Not that great for tongs. 



Link to comment
Share on other sites

JHCC  April 2021

Addendum: Doing some online research, I find the interesting detail that Pandrol e-clips are available in four different alloys:

  1. 60Si2MnA (C:0.56-0.64, Mn:0.60-0.90, Si:1.60-2.00, Cr:≤0.35, P:≤0.03, S:≤0.03)
  2. 60Si2CrA (C:0.56-0.64, Mn:0.40-0.70, Si:1.40-1.80,Cr:0.70-1.00 P:≤0.03, S:≤0.03)
  3. 55Si2Mn (C:0.52-0.60, Mn:0.60-0.90, Si:1.50-2.00,Cr:≤0.35  P:≤0.03, S:≤0.03)
  4. 38Si7 (C:0.35-0.42, Mn:0.50-0.80, Si:1.50-1.80, P:≤0.03, S:≤0.03)

The first two are fairly close to 5160, I believe, although a bit low on the manganese.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I worked at Boeing, I could find almost any commercial, industry, aerospace and metallurgical spec on the planet on Boeing's on-line Library system.

But not railroad specs.  However, I was able to finagle a metal test out of one of our labs once.  I had them test the metallurgy of a railroad spike.  It was then I found why my RR spikes knives were somewhere between crapola and worthless.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes we keep posting the official specs for spikes and hammering on that they are supposed to be TOUGH and not brittle; but folks are still out there saying "It's a RR spike!" and using them.   I have a friend who makes garden trowels out of them---a much better use!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

New guy here resurrecting an old thread with a dumb question:

What do people think railroad spikes would excel at other than helping to hold a section of rail in reasonable proximity to a hefty chunk of treated lumber without rusting away or snapping from metal fatigue between scheduled replacement intervals? Seems like a very high volume, very narrowly focused specific-purpose material to me. I don't think I'd try to make a butter knife or a brake pedal from one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Most people have little knowledge of ferrous metallurgy and so don't know that hardness and toughness are generally inversely proportional.  They often rely on "common knowledge" and so may be totally shocked when I tell them that Titanium makes bad knives---I have a Ti eating knife for camping that has a spot on the spine where I carved a curl of Ti  off it with a knife made from an old file trying to convince some people that Ti is NOT some wonder metal great for everything.  (I had a boss once that paid extra to get a Ti laptop shell; he was upset when I told him that Al made a much better laptop shell as Ti does not transmit heat as well as Al and heat is the Grim Reaper for laptops.)

I tell new smiths that the RR clips generally have close to twice the carbon content as the spikes; but my suggestion is to get a automotive coil spring with as few miles on it as possible and use it to practice making knives---if they have "beginner's luck" they will have a blade to use!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In defense of the RR spike I have to say that it is a way of practicing different blade making shapes and skills without expending better steel and folk like RR spike knives because they are obviously an item derived from a different item.  Also, you can usually sell them for a price much lower than a good, higher carbon steel blade.  With super quench I can get a RR spike blade almost hard enough to skate a file.  I have seen plenty of commercial knives no harder.

Can you make a "good" blade from a RR spike? No.  Can you make an OK/not bad blade from a RR spike?  IMO, probably.  A RR spike will never be as good steel for a blade as something with a higher C content but there are off setting qualities.

I have no ethical problem with selling RR spike knives as long as I explain their problems to customers.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many folks have told me that they are just practicing knifemaking using RR spikes; then when they go on to better alloys they find that the better alloys work differently than a spike like they have different forging ranges and their practice was like practice driving a car by driving a horse drawn wagon.  OTOH they make decent kindling hatchets.  (Remember that hardness is only part of edge retention, the extra carbides play a big part too!)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Personally I'm a huge fan of rail clips though there are lots of good marketable things spikes are good for. Reforged spikes are highly marketable simply because customers can recognize a RR spike and see the transformation into whatever you're selling, RR spike steak flippers and coat hooks are popular.

What I like about rail clips is their nature. If you look at what the original art did you can usually determine what it'll be good for coming from your anvil. Rail clips are STIFF springs and make excellent products requiring springiness like tongs, pry bars etc. Rail clip products don't have the automatic marketability as spike products but they are good performers.

Frosty The Lucky.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...