How does a commuter rail switch tracks?


Quick Answer

Commuter rail trains use sets of switches to move from one track to another. Usually these are automatically controlled, but a few manual options are out there. Switches are formed by the combining of a stock rail, which is the male track, and a tongue rail, which is the movable track that directs the train to the correct route.

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Full Answer

A set of switches creates a point. This is where a train is directed to a track by one switch and back to the main line, or a second track, by another switch. A right hand switch guides the train to a track on the right, while a left hand switch does just the opposite. It's comparable to making a right or left turn.

The distance the tongue rail moves is governed by stretcher bars that are connected at the bottom. Special sliding plates support the tongue rails while they are moving, while the check rail guides the train's outer wheels through the turn. Wing rails guide the inner wheels.

Trains can usually operate in any type of weather, but the switches can freeze in extreme cold. Railway operators install switch heaters to combat the problem. Most are electric but on older commuter systems "switch pots" use kerosene or Hexane to keep the tracks operational.

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