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New Standards for Railroad Spikes


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In 2005, AREMA (the American Railroad Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association) changed the standards for carbon content of railroad spikes, to accommodate greater stresses from heavier average loads. According to the old 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% carbon. The new standard for ALL spikes is:

Carbon: 0.17% - 0.25%. 
Manganese: 0.90 - 1.35%
Silicon: 0.35% Max.
Phosphorus: 0.04% Max.
Sulfur: 0.05% Max.
Copper: 0.20%  - 0.50%
Vanadium: 0.02% Min.

According to "Improvements in Track Fasteners to Cope With Heavy Axle Loads" by Tim Austin of the Lewis Bolt & Nut Company:


The 2005 specification applied upper limits on the Carbon and more control over other elements in the steel. Limits were applied to Manganese, Silicon, Phosphorus, and Sulfur, while Vanadium was added to the chemistry. The optional minimum Copper content for corrosion resistance was made mandatory. The minimum yield strength was effectively increased and an on-request impact property test was added. The dimensions remained unchanged. Overall, the 2005 version of the standards eliminated a lot of potential variability that was allowed under the 1968 version and resulted in more consistent performance.

For our purposes, therefore, any spike marked "HC" (for "high carbon") should probably be assumed to conform to the 1968 standard, while an unmarked spike might conform to either the 1968 "soft steel" standard or the 2005 universal standard. New spikes probably conform to the 2005 standard.

(Please note that there is a discrepancy between how Mr. Austin describes the 1968 standard and how it is quoted elsewhere on IFI by ThomasPowers inter alia. Mr. Austin says that the carbon content is a minimum, whereas the IFI quotes state that it is a maximum.)

Hope this helps.

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