Vertical split rim (VSR) failures remain a failure mode for wheels in North America, and are of concern to wheel manufacturers and railroads alike. Both forged and cast wheels have suffered VSRs in service. Extensive testing during the last several years, using x-ray diffraction techniques, has shown the axial residual stress pattern within the railroad wheel rim is significantly different for new AAR Class C wheels vs. AAR Class C wheels that have failed due to a VSR, and non-failed AAR Class C wheels that have been operating in service. VSRs almost always begin at areas of tread damage, resulting from shelling or spalling, and cracking propagates into the rim section under load. At the rim locations tested, the as-manufactured wheels have a relatively “flat” axial residual stress profile, compressive but near neutral, caused by the rim quenching operation, while wheels that have been in service have a layer of high axial compressive stress at the tread surface, and a balancing zone of axial tensile stress underneath. The magnitude and direction of this axial tensile stress is consistent with the crack propagation of a VSR failure. When cracks from tread surface damage propagate into this subsurface axial tensile zone, a VSR can occur under sufficient additional service loading, such as loads caused by in-service wheel/rail impacts from tread damage. Further, softer Class U (untreated) wheels, removed from service and tested, were found to have a balancing axial tensile stress layer deeper below the tread surface than that found in used Class C wheels.

This paper describes recent x-ray diffraction testing to measure the axial residual stress profile in wheel rims operated in the Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST) train at the Transportation Technology Center (TTC), in Pueblo, CO. The goal of the testing was to determine the development rate and magnitude of wheel rim axial residual stress, as a function of known load and service mileage. Four new Class C wheelsets and four new Class U wheelsets were placed in service under the FAST train, and these wheelsets were subsequently removed at various mileage levels for evaluation. Two radial rim slices were cut from each wheel at each mileage level, and x-ray diffraction was used to measure the axial residual stress within the wheel rim section. The last two Class C wheelsets and last two Class U wheelsets were also exposed to an extended drag braking event at FAST, where wheel treads were heated by tread braking. The authors describe the testing and discuss the axial residual stress results in detail, with emphasis on implications for service.

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