Finite element analyses (FEA) were conducted in this paper to understand the underlying mechanisms contributing to a commonly observed failure mode of cut spikes used with the elastic fastening systems for wood ties. This failure mode features fatigue cracking development in the internal cross-sectional spike surfaces located approximately 1.5 inches below the top surface of a tie. Previous computational studies applied elastic material properties with “perfect” material behaviors. The study presented in this paper adopted post-elastic failure models for both the steel spike and wood tie materials, which proved key to reconstructing the observed failure mode in modeling.

The commercial FE software Abaqus was employed in this study. Continuum FE models were developed for a single cut spike embedded in a wood tie. The steel spike was modeled to yield plastically upon reaching a yield strength limit. A user material subroutine documented by Abaqus was adopted to simulate the 3D orthotropic failure of the wood tie. Both the elastic properties and strength limits of the wood material were orthotropic, with the properties in the transverse direction significantly lower than those in the fiber direction. Different combinations of vertical, lateral and longitudinal forces were applied in the analyses, deforming the spike in various bending modes. The forces were increased in magnitude until the steel reached its yield strength (i.e., developed permanent plastic deformations), and the yielding locations were recorded and compared with the observed failure mode.

The FEA showed that damage initiated in the wood tie being pressed by the spike with sufficiently large forces and that wood damage preceded steel yielding. The farther the wood material deteriorated from the top down, the lower the steel yielding location was in the spike shaft. Longitudinal forces were reacted to in the weaker transverse direction of the wood tie and therefore resulted in lower damage initiation forces and lower steel yielding locations than lateral forces did. It was concluded that the orthotropic wood tie failure condition and a substantial presence of the longitudinal force were necessary conditions for the spike to initiate failure at about 1.5 inches below the top surface of a tie. This corroborated the findings in a derailment investigation involving the spike failure. The lateral force alone unlikely caused this failure mode, but the presence of a lateral force on the spike appeared to decrease the magnitude of the longitudinal force needed to initiate damage in the spike.

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