The University of California at San Diego (UCSD), under a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Office of Research and Development (R&D) grant, is conducting research to develop a system for in-situ measurement of the rail Neutral Temperature in Continuous-Welded Rail (CWR). It is known that CWR can break in cold weather and can buckle in hot weather. Currently, there is a need for the railroads to know the current state of thermal stress in the rail, or the rail Neutral Temperature (rail temperature with zero thermal stress), to properly schedule slow-order mandates and prevent derailments.
UCSD has developed a prototype for wayside rail Neutral Temperature measurement that is based on non-linear ultrasonic guided waves. Numerical models were first developed to identify proper guided wave modes and frequencies for maximum sensitivity to the thermal stresses in the rail web, with little influence of the rail head and rail foot. Experiments conducted at the Large-scale Rail NT Test-bed indicated a rail Neutral Temperature measurement accuracy of a few degrees. Field tests are planned at the Transportation Technology Center (TTC) in Pueblo, CO in June 2012 in collaboration with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.