Plateways were of two kinds, "L" shaped flangeways or smooth topped edgeways, depending on whether the guiding mechanism was on the flanged rail or on the flanged wheel. Either way, the guiding mechanism reduced the load on to a rail (plate) designed to support the weight of the vehicles.
Plateways were originally horsedrawn, but cable haulage and locomotives were sometimes used later on.
The plates of the plateway were made of cast iron, often cast by the ironworks that were their users. Ultimately, this system was replaced by rolled wrought iron (and later steel) "edge rails", of the kind almost universally used in modern railways. These were strong enough to support locomotive operation.
One edgeway-type plateway was the so-called Gloucester and Cheltenham Railway, a tramway in modern parlance.
An early user of plate rails was Benjamin Outram whose rail was 'L' shaped in section and the wagon wheels flangeless accordingly. The early plates were prone to break so different cross sections were employed, such as a second flange underneath.
His partner William Jessop in 1789 favoured the edge rail cast in three foot lengths, with "fish bellying" to give greater strength along the length of the plate.
Edgeways avoid the stone obstruction problem, but the flanges on the wheels tend to make those wheels unsuitable for ordinary roads.
Stone blocks had an advantage over timber sleepers in that they left the middle of the track unhindered for the hooves of horses.
Timber sleepers had an advantage over stone blocks in that they maintained the gauge more accurately.