The railroad industry currently utilizes two wayside detection systems to monitor the health of freight railcar bearings in service: The Trackside Acoustic Detection System (TADS™) and the wayside Hot-Box Detector (HBD). TADS™ uses wayside microphones to detect and alert the conductor of high-risk defects. Many defective bearings may never be detected by TADS™ since a high-risk defect is a spall which spans more than 90% of a bearing’s raceway, and there are less than 20 systems in operation throughout the United States and Canada. Much like the TADS™, the HBD is a device that sits on the side of the rail-tracks and uses a non-contact infrared sensor to determine the temperature of the train bearings as they roll over the detector. These wayside detectors are reactive in the detection of a defective bearing and require emergency stops in order to replace the wheelset containing the defective bearing. These costly and inefficient train stoppages can be prevented if a proper maintenance schedule can be developed at the onset of a defect initiating within the bearing. This proactive approach would allow for railcars with defective bearings to remain in service operation safely until reaching scheduled maintenance.
Driven by the need for a proactive bearing condition monitoring system in the rail industry, the University Transportation Center for Railway Safety (UTCRS) research group at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has been developing an advanced onboard condition monitoring system that can accurately and reliably detect the onset of bearing failure using temperature and vibration signatures of a bearing. This system has been validated through rigorous laboratory testing at UTRGV and field testing at the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) in Pueblo, CO. The work presented here builds on previously published work that demonstrates the use of the advanced onboard condition monitoring system to identify defective bearings as well as the correlations developed for spall growth rates of defective bearing outer rings (cups). Hence, the system uses the root-mean-square (RMS) value of the bearing’s acceleration to assess its health. Once the bearing is determined to have a defective outer ring, the RMS value is then used to estimate the defect size. This estimated size is then used to predict the remaining service life of the bearing. The methodology proposed in this paper can prove to be a useful tool in the development of a proactive and cost-efficient maintenance cycle for railcar owners.