Quantitative Laser-based Assessment of Top of Rail Friction Modifiers for Railroad Application

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Virginia Tech

The primary purpose of this study is to assess the effectiveness and utility of laser-based sensors for measuring, quantitatively, the presence and extent of top-of-rail (TOR) friction modifiers that are commonly used in the railroad industry for reducing friction between railcar wheels and rail. Modifying the friction between the wheel and rail is not only important for significantly reducing rolling resistance, but it also contributes to reducing wheel and rail wear, lowering rolling contact fatigue, and potentially curving resistance. It is common to monitor rail lubrication empirically by manually observing the sheen of the rail and tactically sensing any residues that may be present on the rail. Often performed by experienced railroad engineers, such methods are highly subjective and do not provide a quantitative assessment of how lubricated or unlubricated the track may be.

A new, quantitative measurement method for accurately assessing the state of lubrication of rail is developed and studied in depth. The method takes advantage of the light reflection and dispersion properties of laser-based optical sensors to provide a repeatable, verifiable, and accurate measure of the presence of TOR friction modifiers on the rail. The measurement system is assembled in a self-contained, portable rail cart that can be pushed on the rail at walking speeds.

Various TOR states are assimilated in the lab for assessing the effectiveness of the laser system. Additionally, the laboratory results are repeated in the field on various tracks, including revenue service track. The results of the tests indicate that the developed system is able to accurately measure the presence of TOR friction modifiers from none to fully-saturated, but is not affected by environmental factors such as rain, sunlight, type of rail, and top-of-rail condition. The measurements provide the means for classifying the state of rail friction in an indexed manner. The results of the study will not only have a significant effect on more efficient use of TOR friction modifiers for promoting better fuel efficiency, but they can also have a major impact on braking practices in applications such as Positive Train Control (PTC).

Tribology, Lubrication, Friction, Wear, Laser