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Home / Railroads & Locomotives / History / Transcontinental Railroad details: Railroad Spikes

Transcontinental Railroad details: Railroad Spikes

By | April 22, 2019

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railroad spike diagram
railroad spike diagram
Railroad spike diagram
Rick Johnson

SPIKE dimensions are precise and have been set by such groups as the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association for decades. Spikes are made of relatively low-carbon steel, which is softer than the steel used in rail and spike mauls. This is important because when a spike is driven, it won’t break into flying steel chips, and it will likely stay in place when bent.

Every lot of new spikes must be tested to see if they’ll perform on the job. To measure this, railroads and spike suppliers can perform metallurgical analysis — to determine proper carbon and alloying element content — and mechanical testing for strength. Mechanical testing requires low-carbon spikes to be bent backward 120 degrees without signs of cracking and stretch at least 25 percent.

Want to find out more about the Transcontinental Railroad? 


Facts, figures, history, and more are available from our special Journey to Promontory magazine, available at our partner shop, the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

golden spikes kalispell montana justin franz
Golden spikes are popular, and have long been used as symbols of completing an important railroad construction project. In October 2018, officials drove multiple gold-
colored track spikes into a new industrial park track in Kalispell, Mont.
Justin Franz
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