These two systems of constructing iron railways, the "L" plate-rail and the smooth edge-rail, continued to exist side by side until well into the early 19th century. The flanged wheel and edge-rail eventually proved its superiority and became the standard for railways.
Steam power continued to be the dominant power system in railways around the world for more than a century."[Priestman oil engine] mounted upon a truck which is worked on a temporary line of rails to show the adaptation of a petroleum engine for locomotive purposes."
Higher-speed rail services are intercity rail services that have top speeds higher than conventional intercity trains but the speeds are not as high as those in the high-speed rail services. These services are provided after improvements to the conventional rail infrastructure in order to support trains that can operate safely at higher speeds.
Railway tracks are laid upon land owned or leased by the railway company. Owing to the desirability of maintaining modest grades, rails will often be laid in circuitous routes in hilly or mountainous terrain. Route length and grade requirements can be reduced by the use of alternating cuttings, bridges and tunnels – all of which can greatly increase the capital expenditures required to develop a right-of-way, while significantly reducing operating costs and allowing higher speeds on longer radius curves. In densely urbanized areas, railways are sometimes laid in tunnels to minimize the effects on existing properties.
On curves, the outer rail may be at a higher level than the inner rail. This is called superelevation or cant. This reduces the forces tending to displace the track and makes for a more comfortable ride for standing livestock and standing or seated passengers. A given amount of superelevation is most effective over a limited range of speeds.
Spikes in wooden ties can loosen over time, but split and rotten ties may be individually replaced with new wooden ties or concrete substitutes. Concrete ties can also develop cracks or splits, and can also be replaced individually. Should the rails settle due to soil subsidence, they can be lifted by specialized machinery and additional ballast tamped under the ties to level the rails.
Periodically, ballast must be removed and replaced with clean ballast to ensure adequate drainage. Culverts and other passages for water must be kept clear lest water is impounded by the trackbed, causing landslips. Where trackbeds are placed along rivers, additional protection is usually placed to prevent streambank erosion during times of high water. Bridges require inspection and maintenance, since they are subject to large surges of stress in a short period of time when a heavy train crosses.
The electrification system provides electrical energy to the trains, so they can operate without a prime mover on board. This allows lower operating costs, but requires large capital investments along the lines. Mainline and tram systems normally have overhead wires, which hang from poles along the line. Grade-separated rapid transit sometimes use a ground third rail.
On many high-speed inter-city networks, such as Japan's Shinkansen, the trains run on dedicated railway lines without any level crossings. This is an important element in the safety of the system as it effectively eliminates the potential for collision with automobiles, other vehicles, or pedestrians, and greatly reduces the probability of collision with other trains. Another benefit is that services on the inter-city network remain punctual.
Essentially, resistance differs between a vehicle's contact point and the surface of the roadway. Metal wheels on metal rails have a significant advantage of overcoming resistance compared to rubber-tyred wheels on any road surface (railway – 0.001g at 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) and 0.024g at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h); truck – 0.009g at 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) and 0.090 at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h)). In terms of cargo capacity combining speed and size being moved in a day:
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