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14/05/13 The Thermit Welding Process | Thermit Welding (GB) | Supporting railway infrastructure





In 1837 Theodore Goldschmidt founded the Goldschmidt Company in Berlin to supply chemicals to the textile
industry, and established a research and development facility investigating processes for refining metals and
their oxides. In March 1895, Dr Hans Goldschmidt was granted German Patent #96317 for a "process to
manufacture metals and alloys" based upon the reduction of heavy metal oxides by a more reactive metal such
as aluminium.



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When applied to the reduction of Iron oxides, the exothermic reaction generates sufficient energy to raise the
reaction product temperature to in excess of 3,000°C at which both the metal and aluminium oxide are both

Iron Oxide + Aluminium > Aluminium Oxide + Iron + Heat

3FeO + 2Al > Al2O3 + 3Fe + 880 kJ

Fe2O3 + 2Al > Al2O3 + 2Fe + 850 kJ

The process was first used to provide the thermal energy for a method for forge welding rails in 1899, when a
number of welded joints were installed in the Essen Tramway. The process was first used in the UK to weld
tram rails installed in Leeds in 1904.

Further development leading to the addition of alloying elements to the basic Aluminothermic reaction produced
a steel with a compatible metallurgy to the parent rails, thus enabling a full fusion welding process to be
developed. While early welds were produced by casting the Thermit steel into hand produced moulds
encompassing the two rails to be joined together, subsequent development lead to the introduction of pre
formed refractory moulds designed to fit specific rail profiles.

While the basic Aluminothermic process still forms the heart of the Thermit welding processes, continuous
development coupled with modern production technology, statistical process control and quality assurance, has
resulted in processes which more than match the service demands of modern high speed, high axle load
railway systems.

Conventional "Flat bottom" or "Vignole" Rails

Special Section Railway rails
Grooved Tram Rails
Heavy Section Crane Rails
Electrical Conductor Rails

In addition, products are available to suit special types of track support, confines spaces, environmental
restrictions, and for joining rails of differing types or with differing degrees of wear. 1/3
14/05/13 The Thermit Welding Process | Thermit Welding (GB) | Supporting railway infrastructure
In each case, should products not be available from our own manufactured stock, we will either design and
manufacture the products to suit, or call on the extensive range available from within the Thermit Group.


Thermit welding is an effective, highly mobile, method of joining heavy section steel structures such as rails.
Essentially a casting process, the high heat input and metallurgical properties of the Thermit steel make the
process ideal for welding high strength, high hardness steels such as those used for modern rails.

Thermit Welding is a skilled welding process and must not be undertaken by anyone who has not been trained
and certificated to use it.

Detailed operating instructions are provided for each of our processes, but the welding methods all comprise of
6 main elements:

A carefully prepared gap must be produced

between the two rails, which must then be
accurately aligned by means of straightedges
1. to ensure the finished joint is perfectly
straight and flat.

Pre-formed refractory moulds which are

manufactured to accurately fit around the
specific rail profile are clamped around the
rail gap, and then sealed in position.
Equipment for locating the preheating burner,
and the Thermit container is then

The weld cavity formed inside the mould is

preheated using an oxy fuel gas burner with
accurately set gas pressures for a prescribed
time. The quality of the finished weld will
depend upon the precision of this preheating


The Thermit® Portion is manufactured to

produce a steel with a metallurgy compatible
with the specific type of rail to be welded. On
completion of the preheating, the container is
fitted to the top of the moulds, the portion is
ignited and the subsequent exothermic
reaction produces the molten Thermit Steel.
The container incorporates an automatic
tapping system enabling the liquid steel -
which is at a temperature in excess of
2,500°C - to discharge directly into the weld

The welded joint is allowed to cool for a

predetermined time before the excess steel
and the mould material is removed from
5. around the top of the rail with the aid of a
hydraulic trimming device.

When cold the joint is cleaned of all debris,

and the rail running surfaces are precision
ground the profile. The finished weld must
then be inspected before it is passed as
ready for service.

Once correctly installed, the finished weld is expected to last the life of the
rail, with no further maintenance.

It is estimated that over 100,000 Aluminothermic welds are manufactured in track each year, with a total
population in excess of 1.8 million. The processes are used throughout the year on site with no heavy
equipment other than that which may be carried to site by the two man welding team. All the equipment, ancillary
tools such as lighting, gases and consumables can be transported to site by small commercial vehicles. 2/3
14/05/13 The Thermit Welding Process | Thermit Welding (GB) | Supporting railway infrastructure


Joining of New and Replacement of Joining of heavy Installation of Joining of low

worn flat bottom rail standard welds, section crane rails grooved tram rails resistance electrical
removal of rail and joining them to conductor rails
defects. Composite conventional rails
joints between
different rail profiles

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