A set of points or switches consists of the following main constituents (Fig. 14.2).

(a) A pair of stock rails, AB and CD, made of medium-manganese steel.

(b) A pair of tongue rails, PQ and RS, also known as switch rails, made of medium-manganese steel to withstand wear. The tongue rails are machined to a very thin section to obtain a snug fit with the stock rail. The tapered end of the tongue rail is called the toe and the thicker end is called the heel.

(c) A pair of heel blocks which hold the heel of the tongue rails is held at the standard clearance or distance from the stock rails.

(d) A number of slide chairs to support the tongue rail and enable its movement towards or away from the stock rail.

(e) Two or more stretcher bars connecting both the tongue rails close to the toe, for the purpose of holding them at a fixed distance from each other.

(f) A gauge tie plate to fix gauges and ensure correct gauge at the points.

14.2.1 Types of Switches

Switches are of two types, namely, stud switch and split switch. In a stud type of switch, no separate tongue rail is provided and some portion of the track is moved from one side to the other side. Stud switches are no more in use on Indian Railways. They have been replaced by split switches. These consist of a pair of stock rails and a pair of tongue rails. Split switches may again be of two typesóloose heel type and fixed heel type. These are discussed below.

Loose heel type In this type of split switch, the switch or tongue rail finishes at the heel of the switch to enable movement of the free end of the tongue rail. The fish plates holding the tongue rail may be straight or slightly bent. The tongue rail is fastened to the stock rail with the help of a fishing fit block and four bolts. All

the fish bolts in the lead rail are tightened while those in the tongue rail are kept loose or snug to allow free movement of the tongue. As the discontinuity of the track at the heel is a weakness in the structure, the use of these switches is not preferred.

Fixed heel type In this type of split switch, the tongue rail does not end at the heel of the switch but extends further and is rigidly connected. The movement at the toe of the switch is made possible on account of the flexibility of the tongue rail.

Toe of switches

The toe of the switches may be of the following types.

Undercut switch In this switch the foot of the stock rail is planed to accommodate the tongue rail (Fig. 14.3).

Fig. 14.3 Undercut switch

Overriding switch In this case, the stock rail occupies the full section and the tongue rail is planed to a 6-mm (0.25") -thick edge, which overrides the foot of the stock rail (Fig. 14.4). The switch rail is kept 6 mm (0.25") higher than the stock rail from the heel to the point towards the toe where the planing starts. This is done to eliminate the possibility of splitting caused by any false flange moving in the trailing direction. This design is considered to be an economical and superior design due to the reasons given below.

(a) Since the stock rail is uncut, it is much stronger.

(b) Manufacturing work is confined only to the tongue rail, which is very economical.

(c) Although the tongue rail has a thin edge of only 6 mm (0.25 "), it is supported by the stock rail for the entire weakened portion of its length. As such, the combined strength of the rails between the sleepers is greater than that of the tongue rail alone in the undercut switch.

Overriding switches have been standardized on the Indian Railways.

14.2.2 Important Terms Pertaining to Switches

The following terms are common when discussing the design of switches.

Switch angle This is the angle between the gauge face of the stock rail and that of the tongue rail at the theoretical toe of the switch in its closed position. It is a function of the heel divergence and the length of the tongue rail.

Flangeway clearance This is the distance between the adjoining faces of the running rail and the check rail/wing rail at the nose of the crossing. It is meant for providing a free passage to wheel flanges. Table 14.2 gives the minimum and maximum values of flangeway clearance for BG and MG tracks.

Table 14.2 Flangeway clearance

Flangeway clearance


Maximum value (mm)

Minimum value (mm)







Heel divergence This is the distance between the gauge faces of the stock rail and the tongue rail at the heel of the switch. It is made up of the flangeway clearance and the width of the tongue rail head that lies at the heel.

Throw of the switch This is the distance through which the tongue rail moves laterally at the toe of the switch to allow movement of the trains. Its limiting values are 95-115 mm for BG routes and 89-100 mm for MG routes.

Important Terms | RAILWAY ENGINEERING | Design of Tongue Rails