The origins of the modern railroad seem a bit murky and depend in part on what one considers a predecessor of the modern railway, but as early as 600 BC, “Rutways” were employed in Greece and Rome. In “Railways In the Greek and Roman World” [Reference 1], Dr. M. J. T. Lewis of the University of Hull explores the nuance as to whether or not some of these early corridors are truly predecessors of the modern railroad. I highly recommend this and other works by Dr. M. J. T. Lewis for a most thorough treatment of the history of early “railways”.
In the 1500’s, so-called Tub railways were employed in German mines.
Early 17th and 18th century railways made use of horse-drawn wagon trains in quarries and mines. The stone slab and wooden beam surfaces these trains travelled on, proved unsatisfactory as the weight of the loads carried by the wagons increased.
Later, cast iron plates were introduced to reduce wear.