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Author?s Accepted Manuscript
On the wear and damage characteristics of rail
material under low temperature environment
L. Ma, L.B. Shi, J. Guo, Q.Y. Liu, W.J. Wang
To appear in: Wear
Received date: 17 July 2017
Revised date: 12 October 2017
Accepted date: 13 October 2017
Cite this article as: L. Ma, L.B. Shi, J. Guo, Q.Y. Liu and W.J. Wang, On the
wear and damage characteristics of rail material under low temperature
environment condition, Wear,
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On the wear and damage characteristics of rail material under low
temperature environment condition
L. Ma1, 2?L.B. Shi1?J. Guo1?Q.Y. Liu1?W.J. Wang?1
1. Tribology Research Institute, State Key Laboratory of Traction Power, Southwest Jiaotong University,
Chengdu 610031; 2. School of Mechanical Engineering, Xihua University, Chengdu 610039
Abstract: This study presents the wear and damage behaviours of U71Mn rail material with a friction pair of
ER8 wheel material under different temperature conditions, which were explored using a rolling-sliding wear
testing device. It turns out that, compared to those at 20 ? room temperature, the adhesion coefficient, wear
rate and hardness all increase at low temperatures. Meanwhile, three kinds of type damage mechanisms are
proposed according to wear and rolling contact fatigue (RCF) behaviours under different temperature
conditions: (a) room temperature (RT) damage mechanism, (b) ductile-brittle transition temperature (DBTT)
damage mechanism, (c) below ductile-brittle transition temperature (BDBTT) damage mechanism. With the
temperature decreasing from room to low temperature, the wear mechanism transforms from abrasive wear
to adhesive wear and surface fatigue. Meanwhile, the rail material gradually becomes brittle and the
subsurface damage at low temperature is more serious than that at room temperature. Furthermore, the
subsurface damage at -15 ? is the worst. At low temperature, there is a wider size range of wear debris than
that at room temperature.
Keywords: Rail material; Low temperature; Wear; Rolling contact fatigue
1. Introduction
It is worth noting that the service behaviours of wheel/rail, as an opening system, will be
Corresponding author. Tel: +86-28-87634304.
E-mail address: (W.J. Wang).
affected by the external environment, for instance extreme cold, high temperature, high
humidity, rain, snow and so on. In some areas of China and Russia, the temperature reaches
below -40 ? in winter. The international transport vehicle from Beijing to Moscow (Code:
K3/K4) needs to adapt -50 ? (extreme temperature -60 ?) low temperature operating
environment. As one of the service environments, Low temperature remarkably affects the
material properties which gradually drew the attention of researchers [1-6]. In addition, with
thriving high-speed railway construction in recent decades, understanding the effect of
temperature on rail material has become essential for railways running in alpine regions. As the
world?s first high-speed railway running in high cold region shown in Fig.1, the Harbin-Dalian
high-speed railway is in service at -36.5 ? in winter [7]. Accident investigations show that
above 60% of failed rails were damaged in the cold winter period from November to March
[8-9]. It is the alteration of notch sensitivity in steel that gives rise to a series of accidents found
by Shank [10]. Otherwise, a number of studies show that rail material tend to suffer brittle
fracture in winter with deterioration of material performance at low temperatures [11-12].
So far, the research on rail material has mainly focused on the wear and RCF behaviours at
room temperature under dry or lubricated conditions by methods of various simulations and
experiments [13-21]. Since the 1980s, the effect of low temperature on ferritic steel has been
studied through fracture mechanics testing [22-26]. In the 20th century, the main focus for rail
material has been on the improvement of mechanical properties at low temperatures by means
of material processing technology. Tsunemi [27] researched the effect of rolling control in
austenite zone on the rail steel strength, plasticity and toughness. To improve the rail service
reliability at low temperature, Russian scholars put forward a liquid steel processing technology
to improve the structure strength, and applied arc furnace to refine steel for the improvement of
material hardness and mechanical properties [28-29]. In recent years, some scholars have
developed a new kind of vanadium nitride alloy instead of ferrovanadium nitride alloy in rail
steel servicing at low temperature [30]. Aiming at the analysis of fracture failure in rail steel at
low temperature, Wang et al. [31] and Zhang et al. [32] explored the ductile-brittle transition
characteristic and brittle mechanism with toughness index by series of mechanics experiments.
Fig.1. Harbin-Dalian high-speed railway at low temperature.
In this study, the experiments were carried out to explore the influence of low temperature
on wear and damage performance in rail material under dry condition. Especially, the damage
mechanism under different temperature conditions is proposed in terms of wear mechanism and
RCF characteristics.
2. Experimental details
In this study, the experiment was accomplished in a low temperature rolling wear tester,
which is made of four parts (A, B, C and D), as shown in Fig.2. The rolling wear testing
machine (WR-1, China) (B) is driven by a DC motor using different transmission gears to
achieve a rolling-sliding motion (slippage) between the wheel and rail rollers. The normal force
(0~2000 N) acting on the upper sample is loaded with a compressed spring (8). A revolution
counter is assembled on the drive shaft to measure the cycles of the lower specimen. A torque
sensor (2) (measurement error: �) is employed to measure tangential torque, meanwhile, the
tangential force and adhesion coefficient can be recorded automatically on the computer. A
copper cavity (6) fixed on the rolling-sliding wear apparatus offers a low temperature
environment. Wheel/rail specimens are installed in the interior of copper cavity. The operating
parameters of rolling wear device were controlled and adjusted through an industrial PC (A).
Low temperature equipment (C) containing a twin stage compressor unit offered the low
temperature environment to the rollers. The refrigerant (Freon) is impelled by the compressors
to recirculate in the copper tube, which provides a low temperature environment in the copper
cavity. A digital temperature-humidity sensor (3) is fixed into the copper cavity (6) and
monitors the temperature and relative humidity (RH) real-timely. PLC temperature control
system (D) is used to control the temperature approaching the setting value. During the
experiment, the low temperature of wheel and rail rollers will keep stable with a fluctuation less
than 2 ?.
The rail roller (4) (lower specimen) and wheel roller (5) (upper specimen) are installed in
the shafts of the WR-1 rolling wear device (B). As shown in Fig.3a, wheel tread (brand: ER8)
and rail head (brand: U71Mn) provide raw and processed materials for wheel and rail roller.
The roller has a diameter of 40 mm and the scheme size is shown in Fig.3b. Table 1 gives the
chemical composition of wheel/rail materials.
In the testing, the rotational speed of lower specimen was 300 r/min and the number of
cycles was 4.32�5. The normal force of 120 N was used to simulate about 1247 MPa contact
pressure in a wheel-rail contact. A slip ratio of 2.38% was selected for accelerating the wear
and damage of wheel/rail rollers. The experiment was performed at four temperatures: room
temperature (20?), -15 ?, -30 ?, and -40 ?.
1. Servo motor; 2. Torque sensor; 3.Temperature sensor; 4.Rail roller; 5.Wheel roller; 6. Copper cavity; 7.
Rubber tube for temperature cavity; 8. Load sensor; A. Industrial PC; B. WR-1 rolling wear device; C. Low
temperature equipment of twin stage compressor unit; D. PLC temperature control system
Fig.2. Scheme of low temperature rolling wear tester.
Rail roller
Wheel roller
Fig.3. Sampling position and specimen size of wheel/rail roller, (a) sampling position; (b) specimen size.
Before and after testing, the specimens needed to be processed, including alcohol cleaning,
drying and weighing. The weight loss measured by electronic balance (JA4103, accuracy:
0.0001 g) determined the wear rate which is defined as the ratio of mass loss to rolling distance.
Vickers hardness instrument (MVK-H21, Japan) was used to measure the hardness of before
and after the experiment, and scanning electronic microscope (SEM) (JSM-7001F, Japan) to
inspect the wear scar after testing. Afterwards, specimen sections were cut using electric
discharge wire-cutting technology and inlayed in resin prepared for the subsequent grinding.
After the process of polishing and etching treatment, the section damage was observed using
optical microscope (OM) (OLYMPUS BX60M and DSX510, Japan) and SEM. Besides, X-ray
diffractometer (XRD) (Bruker D8 Discover, Germany) was used to analyze the wear debris.
Table 1. Chemical compositions of wheel and rail materials (wt%).
3. Results
3.1 Adhesion coefficient and wear rate
It is known that low temperature significantly affects friction characteristics [33]. Fig.4
shows the adhesion coefficient at different temperatures. It is clear that low temperature
increases adhesion coefficient compared with room temperature. In this study, the humidity in
the copper cavity is not artificially controlled. The result in Fig.4 shows that the humidity is low
at low temperature. During the testing, the water may condense on the outer surface of metal
cavity and the disc surface is relatively dry. So, the lubrication effect can be ignored in this
The wear rate at room temperature is lower than that at low temperatures (Fig.5). High
adhesion coefficient at low temperatures may cause high wear rate of rail material.
Furthermore, the wear rate shows a mild decrease with the temperature reducing from -15 ? to
-40 ?, which is related with the wear mechanism and material properties under low
Adhesion coefficient
Adhesion coefficient 50
Relative humidity
Relative humidity %
temperature conditions.
Temperature (?C)
Fig.4. Adhesion coefficient and relative humidity under different temperature conditions.
Wear rate (?g/m)
Temperature (?C)
Fig.5. Wear rate of rail rollers at different temperatures.
3.2 Hardness and surface damage
Analyzing surface hardness before and after testing, the hardness ratios (the ratio of
surface hardness after testing to before testing) under different temperature conditions are
mapped in Fig.6. It is obvious that the surface hardness of wheel and rail rollers after testing is
higher than that before testing, and the work hardening of wheel roller is severe compared with
that of rail roller. Meanwhile, compared with that at room temperature, the wheel/rail surface
hardness ratio shows a slight increase at low temperatures. While, the ratio gradually decreases
with the temperature reducing from -15 ? to -40 ?, which is concerned with the plastic
deformation caused by work hardening.
Hardness ratio
Temperature (?C)
Fig.6. Hardness ratio of wheel and rail rollers after and before testing.
Fig.7 indicates that the plastic deformation at low temperatures is serious compared to that
at room temperature. Based on the plastic deformation line, the thickness of plastic deformation
layer can be identified as the distance from the position of plastic continuous deformation line
to the contact surface. With the temperature decreasing from -15 ? to -40 ?, the thickness of
plastic deformation layer shows a declining trend in accordance with the variation tendency of
surface hardness ratio. The relationship between section hardness and depth of subsurface is
clarified in Fig.8. With the increase of depth, the section hardness at room temperature
decreases firstly and then keeps stable at about 300HV0.05. When the temperature drops to
below -15 ?, the section hardness decreases firstly and then rise, finally stay stable with a
minimum in the depth of about 40 ?m. Due to the enhancement of material brittleness at low
temperature [34-35], the deformation resistance of rail steels is poor, which may further result
in an obvious difference in section hardness at low temperatures.
Fig.7. Plastic deformation of rail rollers under different temperature conditions, (a) 20?; (b) -15?; (c) -30?;
(d) -40?.
Fig.9 presents the micrographs of worn scars under different temperature conditions. It is
found that the surface damage at room temperature is ploughing. While, large size flake-like
adhesive material exhibits on the worn surface at -15 ?, and small size adhesive material and
surface cracks are dominating at -30 ?. When the temperature further decreases to -40 ?, mild
surface cracks and slight spalling can be seen on the rail surface. In summary, when the
temperature declines from -15 ? to -40 ?, the adhesion wear is gradually alleviated
accompanied with surface cracks. Owing to the increasing brittleness and low fracture
toughness of the rail material [36], it is difficult for the generation of adhesion wear at low
Section hardness HV0.05
Depth of subsurface (?m)
Fig.8. Section hardness of rail rollers vs. depth.
3000 x/mm
Fig.9. Micrographs of worn surface under different temperature conditions, (a) 20?; (b) -15?; (c) -30?; (d)
3.3 Subsurface damage
Fig.10 exhibits the subsurface damage under different temperature conditions. Obviously,
the temperature has an obvious effect on subsurface damage. At room temperature, as shown in
Fig.10a, both surface and subsurface are packed with slight cracks. It is clear in Fig.10b that
main damage is subsurface crack at -15 ?, and the cracks propagate along with the boundary
between lined up arranged pearlite and disorderly arranged pearlite. Furthermore, the
subsurface damage and crack growth mechanism at -30 ? is similar to that at -15 ?. However,
it is clear in Fig.10d that the pearlite is mainly disorderly arranged with small size at -40 ?.
It can be found from the crack statistical results in Table 2 that the surface and subsurface
crack damage at low temperature is more serious than that at room temperature. The
propagation angle and growth depth of surface crack tends to increase firstly and then decline
with the temperature decreasing. Moreover, the angle at -15 ? is the largest, as well as the
growth depth. The effect of low temperature on the subsurface exhibits the same trend as that on
the surface crack and the worst damage also emerges at -15?. Below -30?, both the surface
and subsurface damage would be alleviated and show tiny difference. Meanwhile, there is a
big deviation in subsurface crack length and depth from surface at low temperatures. The length
ranges from 7.05 ?m to 165 ?m, and the depth ranges from 2.5 ?m to 62.5 ?m. Both of them
vary at low temperatures. In addition, with serious subsurface crack damage at low
temperatures, there is a trend of convergence between surface and subsurface cracks as shown
in Fig.10b and d.
Fig.10. SEM micrographs of subsurface cracks at different temperatures, (a) 20?; (b) -15?; (c) -30?; (d)
Table 2. The statistical results of surface and subsurface cracks at different temperatures.
Surface crack
Subsurface crack
Angle (�)/
Growth depth
(?m)/ deviation
Length (?m)/
Depth from surface
(?m)/ deviation
To explore serious section damage at low temperatures, the micrographs of substrate
microstructure at 20 ? and -40 ? are given in Fig.11. It is clear that long lined up pearlite is
presented at room temperature, while with the temperature declining to -40 ?, most of the
pearlite arrays in short and small shape towards various directions, and the lamellar spacing
increases. There is a guess that the number of short and small pearlite increases gradually with
the temperature decreasing. Under the room temperature condition, the pearlite behaves a lined
up arrangement and makes the cracks hard to grow. When the temperature decreases to -15 ?
which is close to the ductile-brittle transition temperature (DBTT) of U71Mn rail material [37],
the partial pearlite becomes more disorderly with small size and the material at the boundary
between lined up and disorder arrangement pearlite is prone to slip under the shear stress.
Therefore, the subsurface crack more easily initiates at the boundary. Furthermore, most
pearlite presents in an irregular short form and multidirectional arrangement at -30 ? and
-40 ?, which prevents the crack extension and relieves the subsurface damage. Compared with
that at room temperature, the subsurface damage of rail material under low temperature
conditions becomes serious, and the cracks mainly initiate at the subsurface with low hardness
as shown in Fig.8.
Fig.11. SEM micrographs of microstructure at different temperatures, (a) 20?; (b) -40?.
3.4 Wear debris
As shown in Fig.12a, the metallic flake wear debris exhibits uniform size at room
temperature. However, a large size range of wear debris can be found at low temperatures in
Fig.12b-d. From the magnification microgram in Fig.12, the wear debris seems to be much
compact at room temperature. The debris at low temperature shows an unconsolidated
microstructure with visible cracks, which may cause the secondary break of large size wear
debris. As a result, the size of wear debris range enlarges.
Fig.12. SEM micrographs of wear debris at different temperatures, (a) 20?; (b) -15?; (c) -30?; (d) -40?.
XRD spectrum in Fig.13 shows that wear debris is mainly composed of metallic iron and
oxide (Fe2O3). The oxide (Fe2O3) content declines while iron increases with the decrease of
temperature. It can be inferred that the oxidative wear weakens at low temperature. The
oxidation wear is dominating under room temperature condition leading to less iron and more
oxide than those under low temperature conditions.
Intensity (a.u.)
2? ( ? )
Fig.13. XRD spectrum of wear debris under different temperature conditions.
4. Discussion
It is obvious that low humidity is accompanied with low temperature in the experiment
process, which leads to the high adhesion coefficient at low temperatures. Recently, Lyu et al
[38] has found that, at the temperature ranging from 3 ? to -15 ?, the adhesion coefficient and
wear rate increased in the absence of snow, which is consistent with the result in this study.
While, due to the difference of testing devices, it is the frosting position that leads to a
divergence between the Lyu?s and this study when the temperature falls below -25 ?.
Meanwhile, the surface damage and debris in this study show the transformation of wear
mechanism from abrasive wear at room temperature to adhesive wear at low temperatures.
Compared to room temperature, with the alleviation of abrasive wear, the increase of adhesion
coefficient at low temperature is due to thin oxidation film and little oxidized debris in the
wheel/rail interface. Furthermore, owing to the increase of adhesion coefficient and
enhancement of adhesive wear, the wear rate at low temperature is higher than that at room
Moreover, the subsurface also shows serious damage at low temperature. The surface
and subsurface crack damage exhibit a trend of increasing firstly and then decreasing with the
temperature declining from room temperature to -40?, which shares the same variation
tendency of wear rate and adhesion coefficient. In general, based on the wear and RCF
behaviors under different temperature conditions, it can be divided into three kinds of type
damage mechanism as shown in Fig.14: RT damage mechanism (20 ?), DBTT damage
mechanism (-15 ?), BDBTT damage mechanism (-30 ?, -40 ?). At room temperature (20 ?)
(Fig.14a), high wear resistance of rail material results in low wear rate with light plastic
deformation. Meanwhile, the cracks extend along with the soft ferrite line.
Surface crack
Subsurface crack
Plastic deformation zone
High content of
Length and depth of subsurface
crack range widely
Angle of surface crack increase
Partial pearlite short and
disorder distribution
Angle of surface crack
declines slightly
Length and depth of
subsurface crack decrease
More pearlite shapes in
short and small form with
large lamellar spacing
Fig.14. Damage behaviours under different temperature conditions, (a) RT damage mechanism (20?); (b)
DBTT damage mechanism (-15?); (c) BDBTT damage mechanism (-30?, -40?).
When the temperature is close to DBTT, the rail material property is influenced by low
temperature, which affects RCF characteristics. When the temperature decreases to -15 ?, the
fracture brittleness of rail material increases [36-37] and partial pearlite could turn to irregular
distribution in short and small form, as shown in Fig.14b. Owing to proximity to DBTT,
gradually increasing embrittlement acts on the rollers aggravating the subsurface crack. Other
than that, with the partial change of pearlite at -15 ?, the long crack is easy to form and the
propagation of cracks is not only along the ferrite but also the boundary between the lined and
disorder pearlite (Fig.10). With the temperature declining to -30 ? and -40 ? (far below
DBTT), the strength enhances and pearlite changes to disorder and short form, as a result, the
cracks get hard to propagate. Therefore, the angle and depth of surface and subsurface cracks
show a declining trend (Fig.14c).
Low temperature brings about the change of ambient humidity in the testing, which affects
the surface oxidation in the rolling contact. Moreover, the microstructure of pearlite such as
shape and arrangement may be affected and changed at different temperatures. The brittleness
of rail material gradually increased with the decrease of temperature, which aggravates the
damage of rail material. It is noteworthy that the dynamic analysis of wear performance in
railway system is important by developing an effective wear model [39-42]. So, a wear model
and wear mapping in low temperature environment is vital for exploring the wear evolution
and damage characteristics of wheel and rail. In view of wear model in low temperature
environment, further work should be carried out by means of a large number of experiments
and various microscopic analysis techniques.
5. Conclusions
1. Compared with those at room temperature, the wear rate, hardness of rail rollers and
adhesion coefficient increase at low temperature. The wear mechanism of rail material
transforms from abrasive wear to adhesive wear and surface crack. The adhesive wear
alleviates with temperature decreasing from -15 ? to -40 ?.
2. The subsurface damage aggravates at low temperatures and gets worst at -15 ? which
is close to DBTT. With the temperature declining to -30 ? and -40 ?, the extension depth and
length of subsurface crack has a decreasing trend.
3. In terms of the wear and fatigue behaviors, three kinds of type damage mechanisms can
be classified. With the temperature decreasing, the rail material gradually becomes brittle and
the pearlite may be affected. The wear debris size range enlarges at low temperature, as well as
the range of subsurface crack depth and length. Based on the experimental result especially the
crack growth characteristics at -15 ?, it is suggested that the microstructure of rail material
should be optimized for high-speed railway running in alpine region.
This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos.
51775455 and 51575460) and Young Scientific Innovation Team of Science and Technology of
Sichuan (No.2017TD0017).
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1. The wear mechanism of rail steels transforms as temperature decreases.
2. Subsur damage in the rail material is aggravated by decreasing temperature.
3. Three kinds of type damage mechanisms is proposed under different temperature
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