The fracture behavior of a white etching layer formed on the rail surface in pearlitic steels during the rail-wheel contact is investigated using indentation-based microcantilever fracture tests. The sample thickness is in the order of 5 μm. The local fracture toughness of the white etching layer, its neighboring brown etching layer, martensite and pearlite with similar chemical composition are determined and compared to ferritic steels. All samples show stable crack growth accompanied by significant plasticity at the crack tip. The toughnesses scale inversely with the microhardness. The white etching layer exhibits a toughness of 16.0 ± 1.2 MPa m1/2 which is in the same range as the fully martensitic steel. It is shown that the local fracture toughness can be roughly estimated based on the Vickers hardness of the white etching layer. Also, an estimation of a critical defect size in white etching layers which considerably furthers the understanding of crack initiation is made in this study. Furthermore, various criteria for analyzing the elasto plastic fracture toughness are compared.
- Elasto plastic fracture mechanics
- Micro cantilever testing
- Rail steel
- White etching layer