Simulations of dynamic vehicle performance were used by the Wheel Defect Prevention Research Consortium (WDPRC) to explore which track and vehicle variables affect wheel fatigue life. A NUCARS® model was used to efficiently examine the effects of a multitude of parameters including wheel/rail profiles, wheel/rail lubrication, truck type, curvature, speed, and track geometry. Results from over 1,000 simulations of a loaded 1,272 kN (286,000-pound) hopper car are summarized. Rolling contact fatigue (RCF) is one way that wheels can develop treads defects. Thermal mechanical shelling (TMS) is a subset of wheel shelling in which the heat from tread braking reduces a wheel’s fatigue resistance. RCF and TMS together are estimated to account for approximately half of the total wheel tread damage problem [1]. Other types of tread damage can result from wheel slides. The work described in this paper concerns pure RCF, without regard to temperature effects or wheel slide events. Much work has been conducted in the past decade in an attempt to model the occurrence of RCF on wheels and rails. The two primary methods that have gained popularity are shakedown theory and wear model. The choice of which model to use is somewhat dependent on the type of data available, as each model has advantages and disadvantages. The wear model was selected for use in this analysis because it can account for the effect of wear on the contacting surfaces and is easily applied to simulation data in which the creep and creep force are available. The findings of the NUCARS simulations in relation to the wear model include the following: • Degree of curvature is the single most important factor in determining the amount of RCF damage to wheels; • The use of trucks (hereafter referred to as M-976) that have met the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) M-976 Specification with properly maintained wheel and rail profiles should produce better wheel RCF life on typical routes than standard trucks; • In most curves, the low-rail wheel of the leading wheelset in each truck is most prone to RCF damage; • While the use of flange lubricators (with or without top of rail (TOR) friction control applied equally to both rails) can be beneficial in some scenarios, it should not be considered a cure-all for wheel RCF problems, and may in fact exacerbate RCF problems for AAR M-976 trucks in some instances; • Avoiding superelevation excess (operating slower than curve design speed) provides RCF benefits for wheels in cars with standard three-piece trucks; • Small track perturbations reduce the overall RCF damage to a wheel negotiating a curve.

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