Railway earthing establishes a permanent connection with the return circuit (running rail or return wire) and also reduces the rail potential. However, direct connection with the return circuit is only permitted for AC railways. For DC railways, an indirect connection must be made by means of a voltage limiting device due to the risk of stray currents.
Railway earthing is therefore a fundamental requirement in the overhead contact line zone and current collector zone of tracks.
EN 50122-1 is an important standard for railway earthing concepts. Requirements from this European standard can be found in the regulation "Bahn-Richtlinie RIL 997, Untergruppe 02" (RIL 997 guideline by German Railways, subgroup 02) entitled "Rückstromführung, Bahnerdung und Potentialausgleich" (return circuit, railway earthing and equipotential bonding).