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Wheel RCF issues in Coal Operations in Australia and the USA

Scott Simson
BE (Man & Mat), ME, PhD
Bradken, NSW, Australia

SUMMARY
Bradken has been asked by its clients to investigate wheel RCF (Rolling Contact Fatigue) occurring in
standard gauge coal rollingstock. In particular high impact wheel occurrence from rail squat like surface
initiated sub surface RCF. In the USA similar RCF issues have been under investigation by the AAR with a
considerable amount of publications in the last five years.
In the USA wheel RCF issues has been linked to sharper curvatures and profile mismatch. The USA study
has drawn a link to asymmetric wheel wear with worn rail profiles exhibiting the shapes of the asymmetric
worn wheels. These worn rails then exhibit deteriorating contact stresses with most wheels increasing the
likelihood of rolling contact fatigue. Canadian experience associates wheel RCF shelling with the occurrence
of metal pickup in tread braking.
Bradken and other parties have investigated RCF occurrences and the wheel steel manufacture in
Australian coal operations. The higher material hardness has appeared to increase wheel RCF occurrence
over wear. Brake shoe metal pickup and slip damage appear closely associated with RCF occurrences. The
uni-directional Australian operations develop distinct worn wheel profiles. Worn Profiles include asymmetry
and a groove beyond the normal running surface. The wheel profile maintenance in Australia has not been
subject to optimisation and is far removed from the international best heavy haul practice.

INTRODUCTION
In the USA Coal haulage there has been extensive
research done on the occurrence of RCF damage
that results in high impacts wheels (HIW). These
wheels have subsurface RCF initiated from the
surface often from flange side RCF bands. The
next identified wheel failure mode in the USA coal
haulage is asymmetric wheel flange wear,
(AWFW). Similar problems have been experienced
in Australia standard gauge coal. The large sub
surface RCF cracks have similarities to rail squats
and in Australian operations they coexist with
brake shoe metal pickup and slip damage. A range
of related literature is presented as bearing on the
observed damage.
RCF LITERATURE
Rolling contact fatigue RCF has been extensively
investigated. The "Wheel-rail interface handbook"
edited by R. Lewis and U. Olofsson (2009) [1] is
the most comprehensive text on the topic. The Triannual international conference on contact
mechanics is the main forum. Rolling contact
fatigue has been largely split in to two major
definitions being surface and sub surface initiated
fatigue. The major exception to this definition is the
Rail Squat which is surface or near surface
initiated but progresses as a subsurface crack.

Ekberg gives [2] equations for predicting sub


surface and surface fatigue. Other authors us a
shakedown map for predicting excessive shear
stress in the contact.

Flange
Side

Centre of
Tread

Field
Side

Figure 1 Worn wheel profile compared to


new profile indicating positions of the three
types of RCF
Surface initiated fatigue, (Figure 1, Figure 2), are
well documented in wheel rail literature. The
fatigue is more common initiating on the driven
surface but occurs on the driving surface as well in
more adverse contact conditions. Most commonly
the driven surface is the high rail head check and
is generally controlled with rail grinding or profile
management. Surface RCF on wheels occurs in
two locations: field side which is the driven surface
where the wheel contacts the low rail wide on the
wheel tread; flange side RCF which is just beyond
the flange radius and inside the central contact
band. The flange side RCF is the driving contact to
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Bradken

the high rail and is prone to fatigue only when the


contacts are mismatched.

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

secondary crack development from some initiating


surface crack [1,12].
Brake Shoe Metal Pickup
Canadian experience [1] of tread shelling has
identified seasonal effects in RCF shelling. Wet rail
conditions of winter accelerate crack growth rates.
The wet conditions are also identified with brake
shoe metal pickup [1]. Water seals the centre of
the shoe from oxygen allowing the braking energy
to reduce metal from the carbon rich rubber block
and oxide metal debris.

Figure 2 Surface RCF Field and Flange side


RCF bands
Sub surface fatigue initiates on material
imperfections in the rail or wheel steel. Most
commonly MnS inclusions are fatigue initiators.
The crack grows at the depth of maximum shear
stress which is approximately at the contact patch
radius depth below the surface. The main risk
factor is high contact stresses especially with
narrow contact bands and poor material
properties. The crack depth can vary with the
residual stress of the rail or the wheel depending
on the manufacturing process. Depths of 5 - 25
mm are reported.
A further method for fatigue is identified in wheels
is thermal fatigue. Ekberg [2] identifies three ways
in which thermal fatigue occurs. Phase
transformation with martensite formation causing
embrittlement, this is seen with skid flat shelling on
wheels and wheel burn shelling on rails. Thermal
cycling where the thermal stresses from braking
cracking radially around the wheel tread. These
thermal cracks are very shallow unless the wheel
should get particularly hot to generate high tensile
stresses. Thermo mechanical fatigue is the last
mode where significant heating decreases the
yield limit of the wheel steel promoting surfaceinitiated fatigue.

Figure 3 Cross section of a Rail Squat


Rail Squats are a rolling contact fatigue
mechanism that has become increasingly
prevalent [1, 12]. The Rail squat initiates at or near
the surface and grows in both a forward and
backwards direction of travel unlike normal surface
initiated RCF. The rail squats grow largely parallel
to the surface after reaching a depth of 3-5 mm,
Figure 3. Ekbergs equations and shake down
theory do not predict squat cracks. The sub
surface cracking in squats is identified as a

Figure 4 Brake shoe metal pickup


WHEELS STEELS
The standard gauge coal operations in Australia
have traditionally used AAR B grade wheel steel.
USA coal service has used the AAR C grade.
Several manufactures world-wide have developed
variants to the AAR wheels steels with micro
alloying that make use of Vanadium participates to
increase the high temperature strength of the steel
and achieve higher material hardness. The AAR
has in 2011 added an AAR class D wheel [3] to
cover these wheels.
In the last 5-6 years some micro alloy C grade
wheels originally developed for Pilbara iron ore
operations [4] and AAR C grade wheels have gone
into service in Australian coal operations. There
are also on going trials for these high performance
or D class wheels by the AAR [5]. The AAR trials
include the Comsteel micro C wheels as used in
Australian coal service. The Comsteel wheels are
achieving excellent results in ongoing tests. It
should be noted that AAR trials whilst having lots
of curvature does not have the braking or wet
weather conditions seen in many operations.
USA COAL HAULAGE
High impact wheels, RCF
Touray from TTCI has extensively published
experiences in the USA Coal haulage, [6-9]. 32 ton
axle loads have been used in this service since
2004 with the operations of AAR M-976 compliant
bogies. Bogies that meet the M-976 specification
are an improved 3 piece bogie with increased
bogie warp stiffness and wheelset adapter pads
that provide yaw relaxation steering. Wheels used
in this service have been AAR C class.
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Bradken

High impact wheels (HIW) has been the major


reason for wheel replacements in this service. The
high impact wheels are the result of thermo
mechanical RCF and regular field side RCF that
progress to large subsurface cracking. Impact
forces are trigged through shelling damage of the
tread. The occurrence of HIW detections in the
North America is identifiably seasonal [9] with
winter month snow conditions providing wet
conditions for accelerated RCF. This has
previously been reported by Canadian rail
operations [1].
Touray [7] explains that the RCF damage is driven
by steering creep forces and largely occurs on
curve radius under 350 m at the low rail contact of
leading wheelsets as found by instrumented wheel
testing. The focus of damage to leading wheels is
demonstrated by some wagons that are operated
predominately in one direction [7]. The leading
wheel of the lead bogie is most heavily affected
with reduced damage on the trailing bogie as
centre bearing friction assists performance [7,10].
Touray reports [6,7,8,9] that contacts in the middle
of the tread generate maximum shear stresses
sub surface at depths around 5 mm. Wider on the
wheel tread the wheel contact experiences high
creep forces, Figure 5. The RCF grows from the
field side surface cracking bands of the low rail
contact into sub surface cracks centrally located
on the wheel. This is similar to the crack growth on
gauge corner rail squats [12]. HIW occurrences
are greatly reduced by the M-976 bogies that
reduce steering tractions compared to traditional
three piece bogies.

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

failure mode in coal service and has become


particularly evident on high mileage coal cars
equipped with M-976 bogies [7]. AWFW on M-976
bogies is occurring at four times the rate of AWFW
removals on older 3 piece bogies. However that is
because most three piece bogie wheels require
removal for HIW at half the mileage. So the
steering benefits of M-976 bogies has been limited
by the emergence of AWFW failures.
AWFW has been attributed to brake rigging in the
wagon where by the diagonal force bias generates
misalignment of the brake blocks [6,7]. The
asymmetric tread wear generates the asymmetric
flange wear. Wagon mounted brake cylinder
rigging has been observed to generate greater
AWFW than bogie mounted brakes. This is due to
the larger rigging force misalignments involved in
wagon mounted brake rigging.
Tournay [7] discusses how worn rail profile
geometry is related to the wheel profiles of AWFW.
Elevated wear rates on AWFW means these
wheels have a large effect in development of worn
rail profiles. Consequently AWFW has a negative
effect on RCF as profile mismatch in worn contacts
increase.
AUSTRALIAN COAL OPERATIONS
The standard gauge coal operations in Australia
operate uni-directionally. Hunter valley coal
operations use 30 tonne axle loads whilst beyond
the Hunter valley axle loads are restricted to 25
tonnes. Bogies used include Bradken motion
control (M-976 compliant) and AR-1 bogies (self
steering bogies) using steering arms and various
cross braced bogies along with some two piece
premium bogies. These bogies all provide steering
that matches or exceeds the M-976 standards.
Historically the hunter valley coal wagons have
used foundation brake rigging with only the newer
train operators using TMX bogie mounted rigging.
Bradken have supplied both rigging arrangements.
Bradken two and four pack wagons with wagon
mounted brakes have rigging force misalignments
oscillating wagon to wagon. TMX bogies have the
same rigging force misalignment on each bogie.

Figure 5 Relations between measured


surface tractions and observed crack bands
[9]
High wear rate wheels, Asymmetric wear
Tournay also reports on asymmetric wheel flange
wear (AWFW) as a growing cause for wheel
removal. AWFW is seen as the next limiting wheel

The lower hunter valley has generally good


alignment with minimum curves of 600 m. Coal
unloading balloon loops and junction curves near
the ports are generally 300-200 m curves. Notably
right hand 200 m curves run through the coal load
outs. Outside the lower hunter the Ardglen
crossing has 240 m curves. The Ulan line has 280
m curves. The most difficult alignments in coal
operations are over the Blue Mountains and the
Illawarra line with numerous curves under 300 m.
Wheel and rail contacts in coal operations where
improved with the WPR2000 profile introduced by
RailCorp and ARTC though this wheel and
associate rail profiles were designed to be a
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Bradken

compromise between the metropolitan and the


coal operations. A wheel hollowing limit has
historically limited wheel life with B class wheel
steels. This has been 3 mm hollow from flat or 4.55 mm of hollowing. More recently the RailCorp
metropolitan corridors have required 3 mm
hollowing limit. Internationally best practice in
heavy haul operations have had a 2 mm wheel
hollowing limit [1]. Tight control of worn wheel
profiles is common in best practice train operations
[10].

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

emerged in operations Lithgow to Wollongong with


C Grade wheels and AR-1 bogies that included
shelling of flange side RCF as well as HIW, Figure
7. Video footage of wheel tracking has been
record on the AR-1 bogies over the Blue
Mountains.

With the push for lighter tare mass wagons


Bradken offered the motion control bogie in place
of the AR-1 bogie for 30 tonne coal service.
Operators wanted the Comsteel micro alloy C
grade wheels based on successes in iron ore
operations.
After 3 years in service the motion control bogies
with micro C began recording high numbers of
HIW with the hunter valley wheel impact detector.
The HIW detection where occurring on a single
wheel of the wheelset and could be classified as
subsurface RCF initiated from the surface, Figure
6. Crack growth, whilst predominantly occurring in
the direction of travel, is not limited to growing in
the rolling direction. The surface above the
subsurface crack becomes depressed due to
accelerated wear often leaving the surface
discoloured or dark. A large subsurface crack will
trigger HIW limits after reaching 80-100 mm in
length when the surface depression will have
reached 0.8-1.0 mm in depth. These defects then
have considerable similarity to the occurrence of
rail squats.

Figure 7 Flange side RCF shelling

Figure 8 Sub surface cracks in the centre of


tread with slip damage shelling

Figure 6 HIW, Subsurface cracking initiating


at the surface in the centre of tread
INVESTIGATIONS
A number of investigation activities have since
been pursued. Three wheelsets have been
sectioned and metallurgical tested, two were micro
C wheels from motion control bogies, including
leading and trailing wheelsets and one C grade
leading wheelset from AR-1 bogie. Further issues

Figure 9 Sub surface cracks with Field side


RCF cracks
Monitoring activities have been put in place to
record the surface rolling contact fatigue in train
operations. Visual and ultrasonic inspections of
HIW have been performed with ongoing visual
inspections put in place.

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Flange
Side
Crack
Band

Field
Side
Crack
Band

Sub-surface
length
Extended
Crack width

Figure 10 Centre of Tread Extended RCF, crack width ~20 mm, from a field crack band of ~10 mm
width with a sub-surface growth, length ~40 mm
Visual Ultrasonic Inspections of HIW
Inspection on HIW wheels suggest multiple
initiation sources. Other evident damage on HIW
associated with the subsurface cracks has been
sliding damage Figure 8, thermo mechanical
cracking in the centre of tread Figure 11, Field side
RCF cracking Figure 9, Error! Not a valid
bookmark self-reference.. Of greatest concern
has been what has been termed extended cracks,
Figure 10, Figure 9. This is where a crack extends
from the field side cracking band into the centre of
tread. Extended cracks are the most common
features found with sub surface crack growth.

Failure Occurrences by Position


Due to the uni-directional operation of Australian
coal wagons an analysis of defect distributions by
wagon position has been a focus. Very distinct
differences emerged from the motion control micro
C wheels in the Hunter Valley coal operation
compared to AR-1 bogies C class wheels
operating over the Blue Mountains and Illawarra
lines.

Figure 12 Shelled sub surface


initiating from field side RCF

Figure 11 Sub surface cracks with centre of


tread thermo mechanical / thermal cracks

crack

The best data on HIW wheels in the Hunter Valley


suggest the HIW are distributed 60% to leading
wheels and 40% to trailing wheels. The on set of
HIW wheel damage occurs after a considerable
period of operations with a then roughly linear

Scott Simson
Bradken

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

relationship to distance
occurrences, Figure 13.

travelled

and

HIW

The distance until HIW occurrence appears varied


between operational factors especially operational
routes and required further data. Left and right
bias where evident but varied between wagon
operations. There is a shortage of data to discern
the operating routes and in give a distinction of the
left right sides.

HIW

forged steel multi turn wheels on there first use


and as such include an area of Bainitic steel on
the outer region of the wheel tread that is formed
during rim quenching. The transition between
Pearlitic steel and Bainite of rim quenching is near
to the field side RCF band and sub surface crack
initiations that in the tested wheels occur on the
inside of field side cracking bands. The bainitic
steel region is likely to have higher wear rates then
the pearlitic steel but the bainite otherwise should
similar properties. The impact of the bainite if any
will become clearer with second wheel turn lives of
the wheels.

Percent
Occurrence

Km of Service
Figure 13 HIW occurrence distribution with
distance, Hunter Valley
Information on brake rigging alignment and wheel
profile wear was not available with the occurrence
data. Recent observations have shown brake
show alignments to be ~10-12 mm off centre with
alignments depending on rigging arrangements.
The wagons operating over the Blue Mountains
have both HIW and flange side shelling damage
occurring on leading wheels with no damage to
trailing wheels. Initial train inspection of these
wagon anecdotally report that train position was of
great impact with the front of the train experiencing
heavier RCF damage and the wheelsets at the
back of the train consist exhibiting asymmetric
wheel wear. AWFW is not triggering wheel
renewals in these wagon rather asymmetric tread
wear is causing wheelsets to be removed for tread
hollowing on one wheel of the wheelset.

Figure 14 Etched wheel tread showing WEL


inline with sub surface cracking initiation
Residual stress testing of the wheels has been
conducted by both destructive rim cutting and
ultrasonic techniques. Neither technique is able to
measure the immediate surface residual stresses.
Compressive rim stress generated from rim
quenching was found in all wheels. Some loss of
compressive stress was noted in the C class
wheels which operated in the heavy braking
environment of the Blue Mountains.

Train positional differences indicate coupler loads


lateral loads are significant factor in wheel wear
and RCF. The lateral load balance in the coal
operations is often heavily comprised by coexistent passenger train services. Coal wagons
often negotiate curves that are cant excessive for
heavy haul operations compromising steering
performance which deteriorates from a desirable
80 mm cant excessive curve design [10, 13].
Wheel Metallurgical Investigation
The metallurgical investigation checked for
manufacturing issues and crack initiation factors.
Testing looked at microstructure, hardness,
surface cracks and sectioned sub surface cracks.
No manufacturing quality issues where found on
the wheels. All the wheels examined have been

Figure 15 MPI results trailing HIW, thermal


cracks and field side RCF
White Etching Layers (WEL) from sliding damage
was found on the wheels with sub surface cracks.
The WEL occurred inline with subsurface crack
initiation. This alignment matches the location of
where hollow worn wheel profiles have increasing
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radius. Thermo mechanical or thermal cracking


was evident on wheels with sub surface cracking,
Figure 15, whilst adjacent wheels in wheelsets
generally had fewer or no thermo mechanical
fatigue cracks. The surface hardness of wheels
with sub surface cracks was higher than those
without. Further the surface hardness of wheels
was found to vary with tread position with the
highest surface hardness found at the field side
RCF in line with sub surface crack initiations
Figure 16.

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

In Figure 17 the leading wheels appear above the


trailing wheels. The cameras (wagon mounted)
look back (and down) on the leading wheels and
forward on the trailing wheels. The tracking of the
AR-1 bogie shows generally good alignment to the
track without excessive bogie yawing. The lateral
position of the bogie however is often misplaced
indicating significant lateral force imbalance.
Lower rail flanging of the bogie occurs both on up
hill down hill sections of the train trip. The train
velocity is often a factor with train speeds regularly
far below the track sign posted speeds.
The curving resistance of the trailing wagons is a
significant factor in the low rail flanging with the
later part of curves or repeat curves more likely to
display low rail flanging. All of the video tracking
performance is on track alignments set for
passenger operations of Sydneys metropolitan
operations. It is likely that most wheelsets passing
these curves do not experience low rail flanging
being either a rear of train wheelset or a
passenger wheelset. Flange side RCF shelling
such as Figure 7 is likely driven by the low rail
flanging.

Figure 16 Near surface hardness profile with


evident field side RCF band.
Video Record Tracking AR-1 Bogie
Video recording of the second wagon in a coal
train operating from Lidsdale down the Blue
Mountains then on to the main north has been
recorded. The images of the four wheels of the
leading bogie are recorded indicating the bogies
general tracking alignment, Figure 17.

Train Inspections of RCF


Visual inspections have been performed on Hunter
Valley based motion control bogies and on AR-1
bogies operating over the Blue Mountains. This
inspection records the presence of surface RCF
based on three positions, flange side, field side
and centre of tread. Also recorded is the presence
of sub surface cracks and shelling. The data is
summarised in Table 1 and Table 2 based on
wheel position in a bogie. The number of
subsurface cracks is statistically small and is not
reported. The two data sets do not contain wheels
of normalised service life and can not be directly
compared.
Table 1 RCF Occurrence % on 100T Coal
Wagons Operating over the Blue Mountains

Figure 17 East bound at 152.9 kp, 420 m


right hand curve before Zig Zag, Bogie
tracking to the Low rail, noisy flanging,
speed 58 km/h for 75 km/h design curve.

Wheel
Position

Flange
side

Centre

Field
side

Shell

Leading Left

29.3

1.3

36.5

5.4

Leading Right

21.0

0.2

41.2

4.1

Trailing Left

6.5

0.4

6.1

2.2

Trailing Right

2.2

1.4

4.0

1.1

The results in Table 1 and Table 2 show a


dramatic bias between lead and trailing wheel
RCF which is consistent with literature on recorded
wheel creep forces, [1]. There is significantly more
flange side RCF in the Blue Mountains traffic.
There is also significant difference between the
leading bogie and the trailing bogie as reported in
USA operations, [6,7]. The Table 1 Blue
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Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

Mountains coal traffic has 50% higher RCF on the


lead bogie compared to the trailing bogie when
assessed on bogie position.
Table 2 RCF Occurrence % on 120T Coal
Wagons Operating over in the Hunter Valley
Wheel
Position

Flange
side

Centre

Field
side

Shell

Leading Left

7.3

0.5

0.0

0.0

Leading Right

2.6

0.0

39.1

0.0

Trailing Left

1.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

Trailing Right

1.0

0.5

2.1

0.0

The Table 2 Hunter Valley coal traffic has a 100%


higher RCF on the lead bogie compared to the
trailing bogie when assessed on bogie position.
The shelling damage reported in Table 1 is mostly
flange side RCF shelling. The flange side RCF is
much greater in the Blue Mountains traffic with an
even distribution to left and right wheels.

the exit roads of the balloon loops without having


reached main line speeds. The wear groove
means that worn wheel profiles tend to develop an
unfavourable ridged profile in line with the field
side RCF band, Figure 19.

Figure 18 Grooving of the tread beyond the


running surface

In the Blue Mountains the occurrence of flange


side and field side RCF relates to large lateral
forces from train loads. The Hunter Valley RCF
observations suggests the field side RCF is
dependent on wheel rail contact conformance. The
right hand curves of the coal unloading loops
match the RCF. Brake rigging and asymmetric
wear effects still need further investigation.
Other Observation in Train Inspections
Asymmetric wheel wear is common in the coal
wagons. Many of these wagons are mirrored
wagon pairs or four packs with wagon mounted
brake rigging meaning that the rigging bias
changes wagon to wagon. Some wagons are
bogie mounted rigging and the bogies can be
installed all with the same rigging bias. The
asymmetric wear is observed as relating to the
brake rigging for wagon mounted brakes. It was
noticeable in the Blue Mountains that RCF
damage occurs in wagons with minimal
asymmetric wheel wear. In the Blue Mountains
traffic it was further noticeable that asymmetric
wear occurred at the rear of the train and the RCF
at the front.
Notable on all coal wagons is the occurrence of a
field side wear groove beyond the wheel running
surface. Figure 18 is dramatic rusty example of the
field side wear groove. As many of these
observations come on relative new wagons that
have yet to have brake block changes
overhanging shoes can be dismissed as the cause
of grooving. Rather it is proposed that the cause of
the field side tread grooving is coal fouling of the
brake shoes at the port exit roads. Coal collected
on the wheels at the load out is embedded into the
brake shoes when the train stops for servicing at

Figure 19 Wheel profile showing grooving


wear beyond the running surface
Evidence of brake shoe metal pickup damage
bands is common in the coal wagons, Figure 20,
Figure 21. The normal position of the brake shoe
places the centre of the brake shoe over or inside
the field side RCF. Thus Brake shoe metal pickup
damage is often in line or adjacent to the position
of sub surface cracking initiation. The thermal and
thermo mechanical crack bands in the
metallurgical investigation (Figure 15) are likely
generated from metal pickup.

Figure 20 Wheel brake shoe metal pickup


damage matching Figure 4
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Discoloured slip marks are also regularly observed


around the field side RCF band, Figure 21. The
location of these slip marks is consistent with slip
stick contact associated with wheel squeal. These
visible slip marks also correspond to the location
of WEL found during metallurgical investigations.
Though normal tread hollowing wear is likely to
have removed WEL that may occur closer to the
wheel tread line.

Figure 21 Slip marks and brake shoe


damage bands
Train Operations
The wheel conditions in the Blue Mountains coal
wagons appear to have improved as a result of
several operational factors. The introduction of
new locomotives has allowed ECP braking to be
used on the Blue Mountain descent and increased
dynamic braking power. Fleet management has
meant wagons are now cycled from the front of the
train rake to the rear. Train operations now involve
less operations on the Illawarra line with trains
operating north to Newcastle. Train consist are
now rotated between high mileage Blue Mountains
operations and lower mileage northern line
operations south of Newcastle. These measures
mean wheel wear and RCF conditions are
distributed to all wheels allowing wheel wear to
compete with surface crack initiation.
DISCUSSION
Similarities exist between wheel damage in the
Australian and USA coal wagon wheels. The
occurrence of HIW may be associated with the
choice of harder longer wearing wheel steels
reducing the wear rate truncation of RCF. With
tread braked wheels and tight curves it appears
that there is plenty of opportunity to trigger surface
RCF either through thermo mechanical fatigue or
WEL formation.
The subsurface crack growth of HIW are similar to
rail squat cracks. The sub surface crack can
initiate from either slip induced WEL or surface
checking crack of RCF. Thermal fatigue on wheel

Wheel RCF Issues in Coal Operations


Australia and the USA

enables a further initiating mechanism for


subsurface cracking in wheels. Brake shoe metal
pickup, localises the heat input of tread braking to
a narrow band of the wheel tread risking thermal
cracking or thermo mechanical cracking of wheels.
High volumes of coal dust is likely to increase the
risk of brake shoe metal pickup.
The high volume of curves under 350 m in Blue
Mountains coal operations makes the occurrence
HIW wheels more consistent with the USA coal
wagon experience. The Blue Mountains operations
wheels experience a dominance of leading wheel
occurrences consistent with the field side RCF.
There is strong evidence that lateral force balance
in curving is highly significant in the Blue
Mountains coal wagons and the occurrences of
flange side shelling.
The Hunter Valley coal operations have relatively
few curves under 350 m. The occurrence of HIW
distributed 60-40 to leading wheels does not
match the occurrence of field side RCF. This
indicates that the initiation of subsurface cracking
in the Hunter Valley coal wagons is related to
thermo mechanical cracks and slip damage as
pictured in Figure 8 and Figure 11. Brake shoe
metal pickup is perhaps the most significant
contributor to surface crack initiation.
The significance of wheel profile wear and HIW
wheels
needs
further
investigation.
The
development of high contact stresses in worn
wheel profiles can be linked to wheel hollowing
and the wear groove found beyond the normal
wheel contact band. The occurrence asymmetric
wheel wear is more than likely contributing to
contact stresses. A tighter control of both wheel
hollowing and asymmetric wheel wear is likely to
improve wheel rail interface issues.
Brake rigging design has been identified as the
cause of asymmetric wheel wear in USA coal
wagons. A number trails are in place in the USA to
reduce asymmetric wheel wear in M-976 bogies.
The completion of these trials will enable bogie
manufactures to improve their brake rigging
design.
Tight control of worn wheel profiles is common in
best practice train operations. The practice in iron
ore operations with micro alloy C wheels has been
to re-profile wheels before RCF can progress to
subsurface cracks that produce high impact loads.
Longer wheelset life in higher hardness wheels is
likely to be reliant on higher frequency wheel
profiling program to remove small cracks and
heavily work hardened steel in the rolling contact
fatigue bands.
CONCLUSION
Coal operations in Australia and the USA have
considerable similarities with both either utilising
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M-976 compliant bogies or self steering bogies.


HIW wheels from sub surface RCF occurs both
countries along with asymmetric wheel wear.
Longer wheelset life is likely to be achieved with
more regular re-profiling to control tread hollowing,
asymmetric wear and surface RCF.
Coal wagon wheels in the Hunter Valley
experience RCF damage on right hand wheels
indicating significant issues in the coal load out
loops. HIW in Hunter Valley service appears to be
driven by slip damage and brake shoe metal
pickup rather than field side RCF. Blue Mountains
coal wagon wheels experience low rail flanging
increasing rolling contact fatigue damage due to
high contact stress. Train position of the wagon is
contributing to the lateral force imbalance and
rotation of wagons through train positions and
service corridors is likely to reduce RCF damage.
Acknowledgements
Investigation of Australian coal operations with
Bradken bogies has had contributions from Pacific
National, Comsteel, Southern Short Haul
Railways, Monash IRT and Marich consulting.
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