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A replica of a "Little Eaton Tramway" wagon. The rails have an 'L' cross-section and the wheels have no flange. Little Eaton Tramway Replica Wagon small.jpg
A replica of a "Little Eaton Tramway" wagon. The rails have an 'L' cross-section and the wheels have no flange.

A plateway is an early kind of railway, tramway or wagonway, where the rails are made from cast iron. They were mainly used for about 50 years up to 1830, though some continued later.


Plateways consisted of "L" shaped rails where a flange on the rail guided the wheels in contrast to edgeways, where flanges on the wheels guide it along the track.

Plateways were originally horsedrawn, but cable haulage and small, light 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. [1] On most lines this system was replaced by rolled wrought iron (and later steel) "edge rails", which along with realignment to increase the radius of curves converted them to modern railways better suited to locomotive operation.

Plateways were particularly favoured in South Wales and the Forest of Dean, in some cases replacing existing edge rails. Other notable plateways included the Hay Railway, the Gloucester and Cheltenham Railway, [2] the Surrey Iron Railway, the Derby Canal Railway, the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway, the Portreath Tramroad in Cornwall and lines at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.

Plates and rails

A reconstructed section of flangeway track as used by Richard Trevithick's pioneering locomotives at Coalbrookdale and Merthyr Richard Trevithick railway (England).jpg
A reconstructed section of flangeway track as used by Richard Trevithick's pioneering locomotives at Coalbrookdale and Merthyr

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 manufacturer. They were often very short, typically about 3 feet (914 mm) long, able to stretch only from one block to the next.

The L section plateway was introduced for underground use by John Curr of Sheffield Park Colliery in about 1787. [3] Joseph Butler of Wingerworth near Chesterfield, constructed a line using similarly flanged plates in 1788. A leading advocate of plate rails was Benjamin Outram whose first line was from quarries at Crich to Bullbridge Wharf on the Cromford Canal. The early plates were prone to break so different cross sections were employed, such as a second flange underneath. Some lines later introduced chairs to support the plates on the blocks and wrought iron plates, increasing the length to 6 ft and later 9 ft, spanning several sleeper blocks [4]

William Jessop had used edge rails cast in three foot lengths, with "fish-bellying" to give greater strength along the length of the rail on a line between Nanpantan and Loughborough, Leicestershire in 1789. However, after he became a partner in Benjamin Outram and Company (Butterley Iron Works) he designed the Surrey Iron Railway and the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway as plateways.

An alternative design with the flange on the outside designed to be additionally used with flanged wheels was unsuccessfully trialed on the Monmouthshire Canal Company's line shortly before reconstruction as a modern railway.


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.

Some plateways such as the Gloucester and Cheltenham Railway were single track with passing loops at frequent intervals. The single track sections were arranged so that wagon drivers could see from one loop to the next, and wait for oncoming traffic if necessary. However others such as the Surrey Iron Railway, the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway and the Monmouthshire Canal Company's tramroads [5] and the Severn and Wye Railway were wholly or partly double track.

Advantages and disadvantages

Plateways tended to get obstructed by loose stones and grit leading to wear.

Edgeways avoid the stone obstruction problem.

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 prevented the track from spreading, the gauges of some tramroads increased by a couple of inches after decades of horses passing up the middle, but being loose on the axles the wheels could usually be adjusted slightly with washers.


Even older than plateways were wagonways which used wooden rails. Despite its ancient appearance, the Haytor Granite Tramway, the track with ledges cut in stone blocks to produce a similar effect as tram plates, was contemporary with plateways, being built in 1820. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles


Wagonways consisted of the horses, equipment and tracks used for hauling wagons, which preceded steam-powered railways. The terms plateway, tramway and dramway were used. The advantage of wagonways was that far bigger loads could be transported with the same power.

Permanent way (history)

The permanent way is the elements of railway lines: generally the pairs of rails typically laid on the sleepers embedded in ballast, intended to carry the ordinary trains of a railway. It is described as permanent way because in the earlier days of railway construction, contractors often laid a temporary track to transport spoil and materials about the site; when this work was substantially completed, the temporary track was taken up and the permanent way installed.

Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal network of canals in South Wales

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal is a small network of canals in South Wales. For most of its currently (2018) navigable 35-mile (56 km) length it runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, and its present rural character and tranquillity belies its original purpose as an industrial corridor for coal and iron, which were brought to the canal by a network of tramways and/or railroads, many of which were built and owned by the canal company.

Little Eaton Gangway transport company

The Little Eaton Gangway, officially the Derby Canal Railway, was a narrow gauge industrial wagonway serving the Derby Canal, in England, at Little Eaton in Derbyshire.

Tramway (industrial) type of industrial railway

Tramways are lightly laid railways, sometimes with the wagons or carriages moved without locomotives. Since individual tramway cars are not intended to carry the weight of typical standard-gauge railway equipment, the tramways over which they operate may be built of less substantial materials. Tramways can take many forms, sometimes just tracks temporarily laid on the ground to move materials around a factory, mine or quarry. Many, if not most, are narrow gauge railway technologies. Motive power to move the trains can be manually pushed, pulled by animals, cable hauled by stationary engine, or use small locomotives. At the other extreme they could be complex and lengthy systems, such as the Lee Moor Tramway in the county of Devon, England, in the United Kingdom.

The Kilmarnock and Troon Railway was an early railway line in Ayrshire, Scotland. It was constructed to bring coal from pits around Kilmarnock to coastal shipping at Troon Harbour, and passengers were carried.

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Lancaster Canal Tramroad

The Lancaster Canal Tramroad, also known as the Walton Summit Tramway or the Old Tram Road, was a plateway, completed in 1803, to link the north and south ends of the Lancaster Canal across the Ribble valley, pending completion of the canal. The canal link was never constructed.

Haytor Granite Tramway

The Haytor Granite Tramway was a tramway built to convey granite from Haytor Down, Dartmoor, Devon to the Stover Canal. It was very unusual in that the track was formed of granite sections, shaped to guide the wheels of horse-drawn wagons.

Middlebere Plateway

The Middlebere Plateway, or Middlebere Tramway, was a horse-drawn plateway on the Isle of Purbeck in the English county of Dorset. One of the first railways in southern England and the first in Dorset, the plateway was built by a wealthy Irish Merchant based in London Benjamin Fayle, to take Purbeck Ball Clay from his pits near Corfe Castle to a wharf on Middlebere Creek in Poole Harbour, a distance of some 3.5 miles (5.6 km).

The Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company was a canal and railway company that operated a canal and a network of railways in the Western Valley and Eastern Valley of Newport, Monmouthshire. It started as the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation and opened canals from Newport to Pontypool and to Crumlin from 1796. Numerous tramroads connected nearby pits and ironworks with the canal.

Hay Railway early horse-drawn tramway in Wales

The Hay Railway (HR) was an early Welsh narrow gauge horse-drawn tramway that connected Eardisley with Watton Wharf on the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal.

The Kington Tramway was an early narrow gauge horse-drawn tramway that linked limestone quarries at Burlinjob in Radnorshire to Eardisley in Herefordshire.

Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad

The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad, also known as the Gloucester and Cheltenham Railway, connected Gloucester and Cheltenham with horse-drawn trams. Its primary economic purpose was the transport of coal from Gloucester's docks to the rapidly developing spa town of Cheltenham and the transport of building stone from quarries on nearby Leckhampton Hill.

The Sirhowy Tramroad was a plateway built to convey the products of ironworks at Tredegar to Newport, South Wales. It opened in 1805 between Tredegar and Nine Mile Point, a location west of Risca, from where the Monmouthshire Canal Company operated a tramroad to Newport. The Sirhowy Tramroad was operated at first by horse traction, but early locomotives were used, and a passenger service was operated.

Portreath Tramroad

The Portreath Tramroad, or alternatively the Portreath Tramway was opened in 1815, providing a wagonway route from mines near Scorrier in Cornwall, England, to a port at Portreath. From there, it could be transported to market by coastal shipping. It was later extended to serve the Poldice mine near St Day, and became known as the Poldice Tramroad, or Poldice Tramway.

The Merthyr Tramroad was a 9.75 miles (15.69 km) long line that opened in 1802, connecting the private lines belonging to the Dowlais and Penydarren Ironworks with the Glamorganshire Canal at Abercynon, also serving the Plymouth Ironworks along the way. Famous as the line on which Richard Trevithick's experimental locomotive hauled the first train to carry a load. It was largely superseded when the Taff Vale Railway opened in 1841 and sections gradually went out of use over the two decades from about 1851.

Towerlands Tram Road railway in North Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

The Towerlands Tram Road was a 19th-century mineral railway or 'Bogey line' that transported coal, running from the old Towerlands Colliery and associated coal pits near Bourtreehill to Irvine in one direction and to Dreghorn in the other direction. Both towns are located in North Ayrshire, Scotland.

Ticknall Tramway

The Ticknall Tramway was 12.8 mi (20.6 km) long 4 ft 2 in gauge horse-drawn plateway from Blakesley railway station to Blakesley Hall in Ticknall, Derbyshire, England, which operated from 1802 to 1913.


  1. Byles, Aubrey (1982). The History of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company. Cwmbran: Village Publishing. p. 23. ISBN   0-946043-00-0.
  2. Strickland, A. R. & Wilson, R. "The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad 1811-1861" (PDF). Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  3. Lewis, M. J. T. (1970). Early Wooden Railways. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  4. Paar, H W (1963). The Severn and Wye Railway. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. pp. 36–37. ISBN   0-7153-5707-7.
  5. Byles, Aubrey (1982). The History of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company. Cwmbran: Village Publishing. p. 13. ISBN   0-946043-00-0.
  6. Haytor Granite Tramway and Stover Canal, A Countryside Study. Exeter: Devon County Council. 1985. ISBN   0-86114-559-3.