National Research Council of Canada. NRC Centre for Surface Transportation Technology
AREMA 2004 Annual Conferences, May 17-22, 2004, Nashville, TN
Despite continuing improvements in rail steels, inspection, lubrication and grinding, rolling contact
fatigue (RCF) remains a key cause of rail maintenance and rail replacement. Exploiting existing
techniques and developing improved ones for prediction, identification and treatment of RCF is
essential for ensuring safety, increasing rail life and reducing maintenance and capital costs.
This paper reviews the different types of RCF found on rails, and the physical and operating
parameters that influence RCF. Their influence on RCF is discussed in the light of field experience
and emerging models of wheel-rail interaction and rail damage. The important role of wheel/rail
tractions in RCF formation is highlighted and the suggestion made that normal contact stress alone is
insufficient for modeling RCF. An example of predicted RCF for three rail profiles and several rail
hardness values is given.
The paper concludes by providing practical guidelines for the economic and safe control of RCF. It
also discusses potential vehicle/track system improvements to reduce the risk of RCF crack
development, and highlights emerging and anticipated developments that will further improve a
railway’s ability to prevent and treat RCF.