The rail profile is the cross sectional shape of a railway rail, perpendicular to the
length of the rail.
In all but very early cast rails a rail is hot rolled steel profile of a specific shape or
cross section (an asymmetrical I-beam) designed for use as the fundamental
component of railway track.
Unlike some other uses of iron and steel, railway rails are subject to very high
stresses and have to be made of very high quality steel. It took many decades to
improve the quality of the materials, including the change from iron to steel. Minor
flaws in the steel that pose no problems in reinforcing rods for buildings, can,
however, lead to broken rails and dangerous derailments when used on railway
The rails represent a substantial fraction of the cost of a railway line. Only a small
number of rail sizes are made by the steelworks at the one time, so a railway must
choose the nearest suitable size. Worn, heavy rail from a mainline is often reclaimed
and downgraded for re-use on a branchline, siding or yard.