The worldwide preferred method for rail joining is welding; flash butt welding (FBW) and thermite welding (TW) are the two main welding methods used for joining continuous welded rail (CWR) tracks. However, the welds still represent a discontinuity in the track structure due to variations in microstructure, mechanical properties and residual stress levels with respect to the parent rail. These variations can play significant roles in increasing the risk of weld failure under service conditions.In order to better understand how FBW parameters affect these variations, the two main parameters; number of preheating cycles and upsetting forces were varied in three 56E1 rail welds, welded by a stationary FBW machine. Besides, these variations were systematically compared with those that occur in a standard thermite 60E2 rail weld.The thermite weld showed a heat affected zone (HAZ) extent much greater than those measured in the flash butt welds. The flash butt rail weld with a greater upsetting force (Standard Crushed) showed a HAZ extent larger than those in the other two welds (Standard Uncrushed and Narrow-HAZ Crushed), while the weld with fewer preheating cycles (Narrow-HAZ Crushed) showed a smaller extent of the HAZ.All welds showed pearlite colonies with proeutectoid ferrite at the prior austenite grain boundaries in the weld centre, and in the thermite weld zone. The rest zones across the welds exhibited almost fully pearlitic microstructures, but the pearlite at nearly the visible HAZ extents was partially spheroidised. The partially spheroidization zone had the minimum hardness across each of the thermite and flash butt welds. The Narrow-HAZ Crushed weld showed hardness in the weld centre, on average, higher than that of the parent metal. Moreover, the averaged hardness levels in this weld were significantly higher than those in the other two welds. However, these levels in the Standard Crushed weld were slightly lower than those in the Standard Uncrushed weld. Although the visible HAZ extent coincided with the point of minimum hardness, the residual stresses arising from the welds seem to extend much further.Contour Method and laboratory X-ray diffraction techniques were used together to measure the residual stress components across the thermite and flash butt rail welds. The longitudinal residual stress distribution showed tension in the web region along with compression in the head and foot regions of the rail welds. The vertical stress distribution across the flash butt welds was generally similar, and the maximum tensile stress values were comparable to those in the longitudinal direction. While the maximum values of the longitudinal tensile stress increased with decreasing the HAZ widths, these values in the vertical direction were significantly unaffected. However, the longitudinal and vertical tensile residual stresses typically promote the vertical straight-break and horizontal split web failure modes respectively.