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A TOOL AND A METHOD FOR FE ANALYSIS

OF WHEEL AND RAIL INTERACTION

Tanel Telliskivi, Ulf Olofsson, Ulf Sellgren and Patrik Kruse


Machine Elements, Department of Machine Design
Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden

ABSTRACT

1. INTRODUCTION

Damage mechanisms such as surface cracks, plastic


deformation and wear can significantly reduce the service life of
railway track and rolling stock. They also have a negative impact
on the rolling noise as well as on the riding comfort. A proper
understanding of these mechanisms require a detailed knowledge
of physical interaction between wheel and rail. Furthermore,
demands for higher train speeds and increased axle loads implies
that the consequences of larger contact forces between wheel and
rail must be thoroughly investigated.
Two methods have traditionally been used to investigate the
rail-wheel contact, that is the Hertz analytical method and
simplified numerical methods based on the boundary element
(BE) method. These methods rely on a half-space assumption and
a linear material model. To overcome these limitations, a tool for
FE-based quasi-static wheel-rail contact simulations has been
developed. The tool is a library of Ansys macro routines for
configuring, meshing and loading of a parametric wheel-rail
model. The meshing is based on measured wheel and rail profiles.
In order to reduce the size of the computational model, the
superelement technique is utilized. The wheel and rail materials
in the contact region are treated as elastic-plastic with kinematic
hardening. The kinematic constraints are enforced with the Ansys
contact element Contac49. By controlling the values of the
configuration parameters, representations of various driving cases
can be generated. The quasi-static loads are obtained from train
motion simulations with special purpose software. Interaction
phenomena such as rolling, spinning and sliding can be included.
The modeling tool and a methodology are described in the
presented paper. Simulation results are compared with Hertzian
and BE solutions. Significant differences in the calculated state
between the FE solution and the traditional approaches can be
observed. These differences are most significant in situations with
flange contact.

Most railway wheels are rigidly mounted on a steel shaft. A


typical wheelset on a straight track is shown in figure 1. The axle
load may be as high as 220 kN and the contact area between a
wheel and the rail is roughly 1 cm2. The contact region is thus
very highly stressed. The interaction in the contact zone between
wheel and rail is determined by the global dynamic behavior of
the vehicle and by various physical phenomena that occur in the
contact zone. The profiles of wheel treads and railheads are
transformed by the wheel and rail interaction. This
transformation, which may be severe in curves, has a significant
effect on the contact state.

FIGURE 1. A WHEELSET ON A STRAIGHT TRACK.

Since the early 1970s, numerical simulations of the dynamic


behavior of rail vehicles and the interaction between vehicle and
track have been performed. Software, such as Vampire developed
by British Rail, Medyna by Deutsche Luft und Raumfahrt, and
Nucars in the USA, were developed for that purpose. They were
all highly specialized and optimized for a reasonable a turnaround time for a simulation (Andersson et al., 2000). An
example of recently developed commercially available software is
Gensys (1999). General-purpose software for dynamic
simulations of multi-body-systems (MBS), such as Adams,
Simpack, and Dads, have recently included features that enable
efficient dynamic simulations of railway vehicles and vehicletrack interaction. Adams, Gensys, Nucars, Simpack and Vampire
have recently been benchmarked (Iwnicki, 1998)(Iwnicki, 1999).
One-dimensional beam models are usually sufficient for the
frequency range up to three kHz (Knothe et al., 1994). Software
for vehicle motion simulations, are normally concerned with the
orientation of each wheel relative to the track, and thus the pointof-contact between wheel tread an rail head and the contact forces
that are caused by the dynamic interaction (see figure 2).

y
x

FX

MZ

FY

FN

reached. Carter formulated a creepage-force law connecting the


drivingbraking couple and the velocity difference:

k + 0.25k 2
FT
=
FN
sign( )

k 2
k 2

(1)

where FT and FN is the total tangential and normal contact


force, respectively, per unit lateral length, is the coefficient of
friction, =2(VT - VC)/(VT + VC) is the creepage, and k is the
creepage coefficient. is a function of , the radius of the wheel,
and the semilength of the contact area measured in the rolling
direction.
Carters theory is sufficient when we consider the action of
driven wheels, e.g. it is capable of predicting the frictional losses
in a locomotive driving wheel, but it is not sufficient for vehicle
motion simulations. For that we must treat forces in the lateral
direction together with the motion in the rolling direction
(Kalker, 1991).
Johnson (1958) generalized Carters result to circular contacts
and longitudinal and lateral creepage. Vermeulen and Johnson
(1964) generalized this theory to elliptical contact areas. Shen et
al. (1984) improved the results by replacing the approximate
values for the creepage coefficients given by Vermeulen and
Johnson with more accurate values. In these theories, which are
all Hertzian-based, it turned out that the contact area is elliptic in
form, with semiaxes a and b in the rolling and lateral directions
respectively. The ratio of the axes, a/b depends only on the
curvatures of the wheel and the rail. Furthermore, the size of the
contact area depends on the normal force FN but it is independent
of the tangential force FT.

A
FIGURE 2. CONTACT FORCES FROM AN MBSSIMULATION.
Damage mechanisms such as surface cracks, plastic
deformation and wear, see for example Kalousek et al. (1999) for
a survey, can significantly reduce the service life of railway track
and rolling stock. Furthermore, they can have a negative impact
on the rolling noise as well as on the riding comfort. A proper
understanding of these mechanisms require a detailed knowledge
of the wheel and rail interaction. Five theories of rolling are
presently in use: the two-dimensional theory of Carter (1926), the
linear theory (Kalker, 1967), the complete contact theory (Kalker,
1983), the theory of Shen et al. (1984), and the simplified theory
(Kalker, 1982b). All of these theories have limitations and they
can be viewed as complementary.
Continuum rolling contact theory started with a publication
by Carter (1926), where he approximated the wheel by a cylinder
and the rail by an infinite half-space. The analysis was twodimensional and the exact solution was found. Carter showed that
the difference between the circumferential velocity VC of a driven
wheel and the translational velocity VT of the wheel has a nonzero value as soon as an accelerating or a braking couple is
applied to the wheel. This difference increases with increasing
couple until the maximum value according to Coulomb is

FIGURE 3. CONTACT ON STRAIGHT RAIL (A) AND


FLANGE CONTACT ON HIGH RAIL IN A CURVE (B).
In vehicle motion simulations, usually only the global contact
forces, as shown in figure 2, are required. A linearization of the
relation between the tangential contact forces and the creepage, in
railway mechanics usually referred to as the linear theory (Kalker,

up to and above 3 GPa when the wheel is in contact with the


gauge corner of the rail. The former result was based on Hertzian
theory and the latter was calculated with Contact. Such results
highlight the need for a nonlinear elastic-plastic material model
and a thorough three-dimensional approach.
A

rail three years old at test start

height (mm)

30

initial profile (3 years)


one year of traffic wear
two years of traffic

20

10

plastic
deformation

0
0

20

40

60

length (mm)
B

rail new at test start

30

height (mm)

1967), is thus extensively used in this class of simulations. The


linear theory is valid for small motions, without flange contact
(see figure 3A). Flanging may occur on high rail, i.e. the outer
rail in a curve, see the rightmost wheel in figure 3B. Due to the
conicity of the wheel profile, flanging results in a large spin.
In the simplified theory, wheel and rail are modeled as rigid
bodies with a set of three-orthogonal springs located at discrete
points on the interacting surfaces (Kalker, 1973). In the
simplified theory, the surface displacement at one unique point
depends only on the surface traction at the same point, i.e. it is a
so-called Winkler model. The simplified theory was early
implemented in special purpose computer codes (Kalker, 1982b).
It has shown to be able to efficiently interpret a large number of
contact phenomena as long as the contact is Hertzian (Kalker,
1991).
Kalker (1979) generalized the three-dimensional rolling
contact problem of two elastic bodies for combinations of
longitudinal, lateral, and spin creepage. Spin creepage, or spin for
short, is a significant phenomenon in curves. It is caused by a
rotational velocity around the vertical and longitudinal axes of the
wheelset due to different rolling radius of the two wheels in a
wheelset and the conicity of the wheel profile. Spin due to
conicity is comparable to camber in the automotive industry.
Kalker (1982) extended his theory of rolling contact between
arbitrary bodies for the case where the shape of the contact area is
nonelliptical, and thus non-Hertzian. This theory is often referred
to as the complete theory, although it is limited to contact
problems between linear elastic bodies that can be described by
half-spaces. In order to get an approximate solution, the contact
area is divided into rectangular elements. This theory was
implemented in a computer program called Contact (Kalker,
1983), which is based on the boundary element (BE) method.
Contact which is roughly 400 times slower than routines based on
the simplified theory (Kalker, 1991) has been used to validate the
linear and simplified theories as well as to validate the theory by
Shen, Hendrick and Elkins (1984) which also is significantly
faster than Contact.
In strength and fatigue calculations, a common practice is to
assume an elliptic contact area and to use the Hertzian traction for
the normal pressure, while the tangential distribution is found by
multiplying the normal pressure distribution by the coefficient of
friction (Kalker, 1991). This approach is also used in more recent
studies, e.g. by Ekberg (2000).
Higher train speeds and increased axle loads have led to
larger contact forces between wheel and rail. The half-space
assumption in the traditional approaches puts geometrical
limitations on the contact i.e. the significant dimensions of the
contact area must be small compared to the relative radii of
curvature of each body. Especially in the gauge corner of the rail
profile the half-space assumption is not valid since the contact
radius here is of the same order of size to the contact zone i.e.
approximately around 1cm. The form change of rail can be large
over time, see Olofsson and Nilsson (1998) and Olofsson (1999).
Figure 4 shows the transformation of the profile of a UIC 60 high
rail over a period of two years in a narrow curve with a radius of
303m and trafficked by commuter trains. These experimental
results show that plastic deformation must be treated thoroughly
in wheel-rail contact analysis. Previously presented results by
Cassidy (1996) and Knothe et al. (1999) reveal contact stresses

initial profile (new)


one year of traffic
two years of traffic

20

10

wear

plastic
deformation

0
0

20

40

60

length (mm)
FIGURE 4. FORM CHANGE OF AN UIC HIGH RAIL IN A
NARROW CURVE. THREE YEAR OLD RAIL AT START
(A). NEW RAIL AT START (B).
To overcome the limitations inherent in the traditional
approaches, a tool for FE-based quasi-static wheel-rail contact
modeling and simulations has been developed. The tool is a
library of macro routines for configuring, meshing and loading a
parametric wheel-rail model. The routines are written in the
Ansys programming language. The meshing can be based on
measured wheel and rail profiles, i.e. worn profiles. The
kinematic constraints are enforced with the Ansys contact element
Contac49 (Ansys, 1997). The material models are treated as
elastic-plastic with kinematic hardening. By controlling the
values of the configuration parameters, representations of various
driving cases can be generated. The quasi-static loads are
obtained from train dynamic calculations with special purpose
MBS software. Interaction phenomena such as rolling, spinning
and sliding can be included. In order to reduce the size of the
computational model, the superelement technique is utilized for
the linear model features.
The modeling and simulation tool and a methodology are
described below, and simulation results are compared with
solutions obtained with traditional methods.

2. FE MODELLING OF WHEEL-RAIL INTERACTION


A complete FE model of one wheel, a piece of rail, a set of
contact elements and the quasi static loads on the wheel are
interactively created with a library of Ansys macro routines that
are accessed with the Ansys Graphical User Interface (GUI), see
figure 5. Sets of keypoints that define the rail head and wheel
tread profiles are assumed to exist as separate files. Keypoints
that describe the shape of a profile are preferably generated with a
standard Miniprof instrument. The two sets of keypoints are
converted to 2-D spline curves by an Ansys macro routine.
FIGURE 6. SPLINE CURVES GENERATED FROM
MEASURED POINT SETS.

Center node

Superelement
Wheel
Contact region

Superelement
Rail

600 mm

FIGURE 5. THE MODELING TOOL IS ACCESSED


THROUGH THE ANSYS GUI.
The basic steps in the creation of a wheel-rail interaction
model for an X1 motor coach in a curve with a radius of
303m and a standard UIC60 rail is presented below. The
three-dimensional geometric model of the wheel is generated
by revolving the two-dimensional spline curves that describe
the profile of the wheel tread. The rail model is created by
extruding railhead profile curves a distance of 600 mm, which
is the distance between the sleepers. Two sets of curves for a
new wheel and a new rail are shown in figure 6. The two
solid bodies are shown in figure 7. To get a reasonable
configure model, the wheel is spatially oriented relative to the
rail according to the quasi-static state calculated by an MBS
software, e.g. Gensys or Medyna. To aid an efficient
discretization of the contact region, a measure of the expected
contact length and the number of expected contact patches
have to be supplied by the user.

FIGURE 7. SOLID MODEL GENERATED FROM THE


PROFILE CURVES.
The contact region, i.e. the small portion of the two bodies
that are close to the anticipated contact patch, is meshed with the
Ansys linear isoparametric element Solid45 (Ansys, 1997). For
these elements, which almost exclusively are hexahedrons (see
figure 8), an elastic-plastic material model with kinematic
hardening is defined (see figure 9).

The size of the contact zone is approximately 30mm in the


lateral direction of the rail, 50mm in the longitudinal direction,
and 10mm in the normal direction. The size in the longitudinal
direction is based on the size of the contact zone and the distance
of rolling required for the simulation.

The main parts of the wheel and rail bodies are meshed with
degenerated linear isoparametric elements. The hub surface is
covered with shell elements. These two submodels are condensed
to superelements. The size of a typical wheel-rail model is given
in table 1. The nodes on the hub surface are connected to a center
node with constraint equations (see figure 10).
800

Rolling direction
640

A
10

480

320

160

50 mm
Contact region
Wheel

0
0.0

Contact region
Rail

FIGURE 9. THE WHEEL-RAIL CONTACT REGION.


Superelements
Form
Element
Feature type
Rail
SOLID45
Wheel
SOLID45
Hub
SHELL63

Number of
elements
35131
284
52785

Number
of nodes
14796
212741
171

Master
DOFs
1701
2709
0

Contact region
Rail
SOLID45
Wheel
SOLID45
Center MASS21
Contact CONTAC49

4560
5920
1
2978

5439
7056
1
1391

16317
21168
6
0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.0

(%)

FIGURE 9. NON-LINEAR MATERIAL MODELS FOR THE


RAIL (A) AND WHEEL (B) PORTIONS OF THE CONTACT
REGION.

3. A METHODOLOGY

TABLE 1. TYPICAL SIZE OF A WHEEL-RAIL MODEL.

Here, the term methodology is used for a collection of


methods and tools, the use of which is governed by a process
superimposed on the whole (Coleman, 1994). Generally, a
method, which is an organized, single purpose discipline or
practice, evolve as a distillation of the best-practices experience
in a particular domain of cognitive or physical activity (IDEF4,
1995). A tool refers to a software system, such as a FE system,
designed to support the method.

Contact region

Rail

Angel 1/30

Wheel

Constraint equations connect


center node to hub

FIGURE 10. THE WHEEL HUB IS CONNECTED TO THE CENTER NODE WITH CONSTRAINT EQUATIONS.

Contact forces

Motion simulation
Wheel location
Gensys/
Medyna

Simulation
condition
definition

Boundary
conditions

Macros
Rail profile

Rail measurement

Contact state history

FE modeling
of wheel-rail
interaction

Miniprof
Wheel measurement

Simulation control

Wheel profile

Ansys,
Macros

FE model

FE simulation

Ansys,
Macros

Miniprof

measurement

Salient
tribometer

Stress-strain curves

FIGURE 11. A FE MODELING PROCESS AND THE SUPPORTING TOOLS.


FE modeling of the wheel-rail interaction requires the shape
of the geometric, domains, a material model, a value for the
coefficient of friction, and knowledge about the contact forces.
The material model is based on stress-strain curves supplied
by the manufacturers of wheel and rail. The coefficient of friction
is achieved from field instruments such as the Salient system
tribometer. The profiles of railheads and wheel treads are
measured with the Miniprof instrument. MBS-simulations
provide contact point locations and quasi-static contact forces.
These contact forces are transformed to global forces at the center
node. With these data as input, the macro routines described
above is capable of defining a complete FE model and the proper
boundary conditions for a quasi-static simulation that capture the
physical behavior that is caused by the combined rolling and
sliding interaction. In a final step, the contact state history is
extracted from the Ansys result database an exported in ASCIIformat for further analysis and manipulation.

4. A COMPARISON WITH TRADITIONAL METHODS


A sharp curve in a track trafficked by commuter trains serving
the Stockholm area is chosen for a comparison between the FE
simulation results and results obtained with traditional methods.
The chosen track carries almost exclusively unidirectional
commuter trains with an average speed of 75 km/h. Two types of
vehicles are used: the X1 and the X10 both operating in pairs
with one powered unit and one trailing unit. This track and the

rolling stock have been studied in a national Swedish program.


Both rail and wheel profiles have been measured over a couple of
years, see Nilsson (2000). Furthermore, has the X1 and the X10
vehicles been modeled in the train dynamic simulation software
Gensys, see Jendel (2000), giving access to the necessary input
data in form of wheel attitude with optional contact locations and
forces resulted from simulations.
Two cases were used to study the model. Both cases were
from simulation of the X1 powered unit and represent the first
and second wheel set in the leading boogie. The coordinate
system is chosen similar to the Deutche Industrial Norm (DIN)
with positive vertical (z) co-ordinate upwards, y to left and x is
positive to the train motion direction. Figure 12 presents the
contact points location on the wheel and the rail and table 1
shows the forces in the center point of the wheel. From a
geometrical perspective the two load cases represents the contact
points with a large difference in the curvature of contacting
bodies. In case 1, the minimum contact radius was about 300 mm
and in case 2 it was about 20 mm. New rail profiles and a wheel
profile from a X1 train that has been in traffic for two years were
used in the two cases. In both cases, the normal force was
80377N.
The tool for the FE analysis is made and the preliminary
results along with the comparison to the main concurrently
available methods is outlined. In the first stage the differences
between the methods are presented (see table 2 and figure 13).

Case 1

Case 2

FIGURE 12. CONTACT POINT LOCATION FOR THE TWO TEST CASES.

Method
Case 1
Case 2
FEM with plasticity 606 MPa
577 MPa
Contact
3057 MPa
715 MPa
Hertzian max stress
1080 MPa
TABLE 2. MAXIMUM CONTACT PRESSURE
WITH THE FE AND TRADITIONAL METHODS.
The main scope for this work was to enhance the knowledge
of the contact pressure and the maximum stresses in bulk
material. This should give an appropriate basis to study the
degradation mechanism along with the wear simulation. The
results in case 1 could not be compared with the Hertz method
assuming one-point contact. The Hertzian solution showed
approximately twice the contact length in y-direction compared
with the other methods. This remained the same for the regions of
the surface radii of curvature in the range of 0.01 .. 0.015m for
the rail and -0.02.. -0.1m for the wheel. So, the normal force was
split similar way as in program Contact to three parts. After that
the results were very similar for these two classical methods (see
figure 13). Compared to Ansys, the difference was approximately
300% for the contact area and more than 200% for the maximum
pressure. For case 2 the result show that the difference in the
maximum contact pressure and the size of the contact area was
small when the minimum contact radius is large compared with
the significant dimensions of the contact area, i.e. the half space
assumption is valid.
Using the linear-elastic model the differences in results are
significant in regards especially to the relatively new wheel and
rail shapes. Significant flattening of the contact pressure profile
was found with increasing plastic deformation. The maximum
pressure and plastic work moved outward in the direction of the
contact edge along with the increase of friction coefficient.
The distribution of the equivalent vonMises stress shows that,
even with the three contact patches, significant yielding will
occur (see figure 14).

FIGURE 13. RESULTS FROM THE


COMPARISON BETWEEN THREE DIFFERENT
CONTACT MECHANICS METHODS, MAXIMUM
CONTACT PRESSURE AND CONTACT AREA.
Experiments have shown that the losses in the rail crosssectional area remains approximately constant in time, see
Nilsson (2000). Assuming a constant rate of degradation the
relationship between the plastic flow and wear changes. In the
initial phase, i.e. case 1, the plastic work is very large. The
maximum equivalent von Mises stress exceeds even the ultimate
stress limit which for the actual plasticity model was 606MPa
(see table 2). Thus, the material in this phase of the degradation
process behaves perfectly plastic. The plastic flow hardens the
material and makes the contact more conform. In the continuing
process, other wear mechanisms will thus be significant.

give a lot of information necessary for the wear-plasticity


analysis.

7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
This work was performed within the Swedish research
programme SAMBA. The work was financially supported by the
Swedish National Board for Industrial an d Technical
Development (NUTEK), Adtranz Sweden AB, Stockholm Local
Traffic, the Swedish National Rail Administration and the
Swedish State Railways.

8. REFERENCES

FIGURE 14. DISTRIBUTION OF VON MISES


EQUIVALENT STRESS IN THREE YEARS OLD RAIL AND
WHEEL.

5. CONCLUSIONS
A tool for contact mechanics modeling and simulation of the
wheel rail contact has been developed. The geometry of the
contact can easily be changed. The model can be generated from
measured wheel and rail profiles. Traditional methods and
computational tools are limited by an half space assumption and a
linear material model. The results from two test cases show that
the difference in maximum equivalent stress between traditional
methods and the FE model is small when the minimum contact
radius is large compared to the significant dimensions of the
contact area, i.e. when the half space assumptions is valid.
However, in the test case where the minimum contact radius was
of the same order as the significant dimensions of the contact area
the difference between the FE results and results obtained with
traditional Hertzian and BE methods was as large as 3GPa. This
large difference was probably due to limitations in both the half
space assumption and the linear elastic material model in the
traditional methods.

6. ADDITIONAL WORK TO BE PERFORMED


The regime for a rail and wheel contact is frequently
characterized as either stress related or wear related (Tournay,
1996). Crack initiation and propagation are examples of damage
mechanisms that are driven by stresses.
In many situations, wear is a significant damage mechanism.
The wear can be integrated if the the contact state history is
known. A wear model includes a wear coefficient, which has a
scientific base, see for example Archard (1953) and Lim and
Ashby (1987). If the contact pressure distribution and the
accumulated sliding distances are known, the right wear regime
can be predicted for each point that has passed the contact zone.
For a given wear regime, the wear coefficient can be obtained
from lab-tests.
Already the pure static tests along with the degraded profiles

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