Influence of wheel tread damage on wheelset and track loading – Field tests and numerical simulations
Licentiate thesis, 2020

Wheel tread damage leading to high magnitudes of vertical wheel–rail contact forces is a major cause of train delays in the Swedish railway network, in particular during the coldest months of the year. According to regulations, vehicles generating contact forces exceeding the limit value for allowed wheel–rail impact loads must be taken out of service for wheel maintenance. This may lead to severe traffic disruptions and higher costs. Increased wheel‒rail impact loads also cause elevated stress levels in wheels, axles and bearings and may shorten the life of track components, resulting in higher costs for vehicle and track maintenance. Wheel tread irregularities also lead to increased levels of rolling noise, impact noise and ground-borne vibration.

The aim of the thesis is to enhance the understanding of wheel tread damage and its consequences and to identify better means of addressing them. To achieve this aim, the ability for numerical simulations to investigate different operational scenarios is crucial. A versatile and cost-efficient method to simulate the vertical dynamic interaction between a wheelset and a railway track, accounting for generic distributions and shapes of wheel tread damage, has therefore been extended and improved. The wheelset (comprising two wheels, axle and any attached equipment for braking and power transmission) and track with two discretely supported rails are described by three-dimensional finite element (FE) models. The dynamic coupling between the two wheel‒rail contacts (one on each wheel) via the wheelset axle and via the sleepers and ballast is considered. The simulation of dynamic vehicle–track interaction is carried out in the time domain using a convolution integral approach, while the non-linear wheel–rail normal contact is solved using Kalker’s variational method. Non-symmetric wheelset and track designs, as well as non-symmetric distributions of wheel tread damage or rail irregularities can be studied. Based on Green’s functions, a post-processing step has been developed to compute time-variant stresses at locations in the wheelset axle which are prone to fatigue. In an extensive parameter study, wheel–rail impact loads and axle stresses have been computed for different shapes and sizes of wheel tread damage.

The simulations need to be calibrated and validated by tests. To this end, field tests with two different Swedish passenger trains with severe wheel tread damage have been carried out. Time histories of numerically evaluated axle stresses have been compared to measured data from an instrumented wheelset. Simulations have been used to demonstrate that variations in rail roughness level, and the angular position of a strain gauge with respect to that of a discrete wheel tread defect, may lead to a significant influence on predicted axle stresses.

Developed numerical routines to predict stresses at critical locations in the wheelset from condition monitoring data will improve understanding and possibilities to handle wheel tread deteriorations. A discussion on future applications in terms of improved wheelset maintenance procedures is initiated.

axle stress

instrumented wheelset

impact loads

dynamic wheel–rail interaction

wheelset maintenance

wheel tread damage

M2 room 3103, Hörsalsvägen 7
Opponent: Docent Erland Johnson, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Borås, Sweden


Michele Maglio

Chalmers, Mechanics and Maritime Sciences, Dynamics

Digitalisation of condition monitoring data as input for fatigue evaluation of wheelsets

Proceedings of the XIX International Wheelset Congress,; (2019)

Paper in proceedings

Maglio M, Pieringer A, Nielsen J C O, Vernersson T. Wheel–rail impact loads and axle bending stresses simulated for generic distributions and shapes of discrete wheel tread damage

Maglio M, Vernersson T, Nielsen J C O, Söderström P, Regazzi D, Cervello S. Railway wheel tread damage and axle bending stress – Instrumented wheelset measurements and numerical simulations

Research into enhanced track and switch and crossing system 2 (In2Track-2)

European Commission (EC), 2018-11-01 -- 2021-10-31.

Swedish Transport Administration, 2018-11-01 -- 2021-10-31.

Areas of Advance


Subject Categories

Applied Mechanics

Vehicle Engineering


Chalmers University of Technology

M2 room 3103, Hörsalsvägen 7


Opponent: Docent Erland Johnson, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Borås, Sweden

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