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Laser generation and air-coupled detection were combined as a hybrid ultrasonic technique for the inspection of surface flaws in rails. Narrowband acoustic signals were generated using a formed laser source by focusing the laser light to a point and to a line on the surface of the rail. The pulse energy, and therefore the intensity of the laser source, varied such that the generated signal transitioned from the weak thermoelastic to the strong ablative regime. The detection of flaws using a laser-generated surface acoustic wave, in the presence of surface flaws, was compared between both point and line laser sources operating under different pulse energy levels. The line source was found to be more sensitive to the presence of surface flaws than a point source. The sensitivity of the laser-generated acoustic signal appeared to be independent of the severity of the flaw and, within the ablative regime, independent of the laser-pulse energy. Theoretical analysis is provided to explain the underlying cause that influences the interaction of a formed laser-generated surface acoustic wave to surface flaws and how this sensitivity may vary between the thermoelastic and ablative regimes.