The recent increase of train speed and frequency determines a rise of the loads transmitted to the superstructure. Therefore, railway components might experience service loads that have not considered at the design stage. Moreover, wear and backlash modification between components of a mechanical system might be able to modify the internal boundary conditions of the assembly. According to damage tolerance philosophy, an initial flaw is assumed to exist in the fatigue critical location of a structural component, and the analysis of the crack propagation life for such component needs accurate Stress Intensity Factor (SIF) evaluations.

In this study, the effects of the boundary conditions on the crack propagation life have been evaluated for a semi-elliptical surface crack having semi-axes a and c and growing from the root of a shoulder fillet notch in a round bar loaded in bending. Two cases have been analyzed: - the shoulder is free from external forces; - the shoulder is in contact with an adjacent generic body.

At first, the SIF distribution has been calculated with the Virtual Crack Closure Technique, considering or not the nonlinear effect induced by the contact forces arising from the interaction between the shoulder and the neighboring component. Successively, in both the above cases a two-parameters propagation law has been utilized to predict the evolution of both crack shape and crack depth when a cyclic bending load is applied to the rod. For this purpose, different values of the Stress Concentration Factor at the root of the fillet, and of the initial aspect ratio of the crack front, were considered in the calculations.

It is found that the aspect ratio evolves to a unique asymptote, taking or not into account the non-linearity introduced by the contact at the shoulder, and this value depends on the notch severity.

The ratio between the dimensionless SIFs obtained with and without the unilateral constraint at the shoulder, βcs / βfs, does not depend on the relative crack depth and crack shape. Also, the effect of the notch severity on the dimensionless SIF appears to be evident only for the portion of the crack front in the vicinity of the free surface.

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