Mechanisms of short pitch rail corrugation

S. Li

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Short pitch corrugation is a (quasi-) sinusoidal rail vertical defect on rail surface, and it was first found more than one century ago. The wavelength of short pitch corrugation is 20-80 mm, and its amplitude can be up to 100 µm. It mainly develops on straight tracks or at gentle curves with comparatively light axle loads. Due to short pitch corrugation, dynamic wheel-rail contact forces increase considerably, and hence the degradations of vehicle-track components are accelerated. In addition, the corrugation excited vibration is a source that radiates “roaring” noise. Because of those negative aspects, researchers have spent many efforts to understand and theoretically explain the problem. At present, the corrugation phenomenon is usually understood through a damage mechanism and a wavelength-fixing mechanism. Based on the explanation, almost all types of corrugations can be explained with their corresponding mechanisms, and countermeasures were confirmed to be capable of effectively mitigating them. Nevertheless, there has been yet no consensus on the mechanisms of short pitch corrugation due to: 1) it only appears at some tracks and some locations, 2) different from other types of corrugation, short pitch corrugation (after this shortened as “corrugation”) changes minorly with the change in train speed.In this dissertation, a three dimensional (3D) dynamic finite element (FE) vehicle-track frictional rolling contact model, which was initially used to research rail squats, is extended to understand the corrugation enigma. The goal is to investigate if the model can explain the root causes of the corrugation. A second goal is to characterize the rail material damages from rail corrugation metallurgically. After an introduction, the 3D dynamic FE vehicle-track frictional rolling contact model is applied to rail corrugation research. The damage mechanism evaluated is differential wear, and it is considered proportional to the frictional work. Nominal parameters and boundary conditions are used in the model. Corrugations with different phase angles are added to the rail model to investigate whether they can consistently grow. Similar to conclusions from previous research, the obtained differential wear is in phase with the corrugation, which means the corrugation will be worn off and not grow. Nevertheless, it is found that the longitudinal track vibration modes may be dominant for short pitch corrugation initiation, and the vertical modes become dominant at certain stages. The consistency of longitudinal and vertical contact forces, differential wear, and corrugation should determine the development of short pitch corrugation.Then in the second part of this thesis, through the variation of fastening modeling, an initial differential wear with large amplitudes is identified to form from the smooth rail. This differential wear is found to be correlated to the rail longitudinal dynamics. The corrugation explained by this differential wear can consistently initiate and grow up to 80 µm. Additionally, the corrugation from the numerical analysis agrees well with a rail corrugation recorded from the field. Consistency is shown during the corrugation growth between the vertical and longitudinal contact force, the differential wear, and the corrugation. Besides, a corrugation wavelength selection phenomenon can also be explained by this consistency. These results confirm the insights from the first part of the thesis, reveal the whole development process of corrugation, and explain its root cause.The third part of this thesis is a study of the rail material structural damage from a corrugation. A metallurgical study was performed to analyze the rolling contact fatigue damage of a rail sample with corrugation. Besides the well-known white etching layer (WEL), an extra layer called the brown etching layer (BEL) was identified with distinctly lower hardness and brown colour contrast. It bears some similar properties as the WEL, such as brittle though much softer. Compared to WEL, the cracks formed in the BEL were found to propagate downwards without branching and can lead to rail fracture in the end. It is unknown if the BEL is a transitional state from the pearlite structure to the WEL, if it forms after the WEL, or if it is a different layer formed under certain thermomechanical conditions. In conclusion, this thesis extends a 3D dynamic FE vehicle-track rolling contact model for the mechanism of corrugation study. Based on the research results, the root cause of the corrugation found on the Dutch railway network is identified. This finding opens the possibility to design methods to avoid or mitigate corrugation by optimising track structure parameters. Finally, the finding of BEL brings a new concept that will help to understand the rail material damage mechanisms from rail corrugation. The understanding of BEL will provide insight into crack development mechanisms, as BEL can lead to rail fracture. A complete understanding of rail material is crucial for the development of new rail technologies.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Li, Z., Supervisor
  • Dollevoet, R.P.B.J., Supervisor
Award date12 Jan 2022
Print ISBNs978-94-6384-283-9
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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