A plateway is an early kind of railway or tramway or wagonway, with a cast iron rail. They were mainly used for about 50 years up to 1830, though some continued later.

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.

Plates and rails

The plates of a plateway generally rested on stone blocks or sleepers, which served to spread the load over the ground, and to maintain the gauge (the distance between the rails or plates). The plates were usually made from cast iron and had differing cross sections depending on the builder. They were often very short, often about long, able to stretch only from one block to the next.

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.

Advantages and disadvantages

Flangeways tend to get obstructed by loose stones, although the vehicles that run on them can run on ordinary roads.

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.


Even older than plateways came wagonways which used wooden rails, or (occasionally) grooves cut in stone blocks such as at the Haytor Granite Tramway, to guide the wheels and to reduce friction.


The early plateways were usually operated on a toll basis, with any rolling stock owner able to operate their wagons on the tracks. Sometimes the plateway company was forbidden to operate its own wagons, so as to prevent a monopoly situation arising.

Single Line

Plateways such as the G&C were single track with crossing loops at frequent intervals. Indeed the single track sections were straight so that wagon drivers could see from one loop to the next, to see if any oncoming traffic was approaching.

See also

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