This study evaluates the wheel-rail contact patch geometry of the VT-FRA roller rig, designed and commissioned at the Virginia Tech’s Railway Technologies Laboratory (RTL). Contact patch measurements are crucial for better analyzing the underlying factors that affect the wheel-rail interface (WRI) contact mechanics and dynamics. One of the challenges is in determining the size and pressure distribution at the contact patch, under various conditions. Although past studies have attempted to reach a method that can be used to make such measurements, more research is needed in reaching a practical and consistent method. This is particularly true for making the measurements under dynamic conditions.

The use of pressure sensitive films was considered as the means for contact patch measurements on the VT-FRA rig, however, the thickness of the film influences the contact patch area and shape. This paper provides the results of the measurements with films with different range of pressure sensitivities.

Three types of pressure-sensitive films are used under static conditions. The films are placed in between the wheel and roller in exact positions to enable comparing the test results for various wheel loads. The contact patch measured by the most sensitive film, which reacts to pressures as low as 0.5 MPa, provides the most accurate outline for the contact patch, although it does not provide the highest resolution for the pressure distribution. The other pressure-sensitive films that are used have a higher pressure range, with minimums of 49.0 MPa and 127.6 MPa.

The relationship between the size of the contact patch and average contact pressure is evaluated as a function of the wheel load. The results indicate that with increasing wheel load, the size of the contact patch changes minimally, with the average pressure increasing in a nearly linear relationship to the wheel load as expected.

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