The Educational Railroading Conference Leader Since 1994


2019 Heavy Haul Session


Understanding Rolling Contact Fatigue: What Can be Done to Lower Risks?

Eric Magel

Eric Magel
National Research Council, Canada

Rolling contact fatigue (RCF) affects the wheels and rails of nearly every railroad, even those with relatively light axle loads. The consequences are both economic and safety, ranging from shortened rail life to catastrophic derailments and loss of life. The fundamental cause of RCF is too many cycles of excessive contact stress at the surface or in the near-surface layer – a fact that has not changed through the decades that RCF has been recognized as a problem. But our understanding of the roles of profiles, friction, metallurgy and suspensions has evolved over the last 25 years. These will be reviewed along with more recent developments in modeling, inspection and planning for RCF mitigation. We will also look at the risk associated with RCF and ways that risk can be managed, then finish up with a look into the future of RCF research and treatments.