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Ain Shams Engineering Journal xxx (2017) xxxxxx

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Civil Engineering

Prediction of fatigue crack initiation life in railheads using finite element

H.M. El-sayed a,, M. Lotfy b, H.N. El-din Zohny c, H.S. Riad c
Faculty of Engineering, Suez Canal University, Egypt
Faculty of Engineering, British University in Egypt, Egypt
Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University, Egypt

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The current study introduced a numerical procedure to study fatigue crack initiation life in railheads. It
Received 13 February 2017 was mainly performed by a three-dimensional (3D) explicit finite element (FE) model that accounts for
Revised 1 May 2017 bending stresses due to global dynamic response of railway track and local stresses due to wheel-rail con-
Accepted 6 June 2017
tact loads. The results obtained from FE analysis were combined with the critical plane approach and
Available online xxxx
multiaxial low cyclic fatigue mode to predict crack orientation and fatigue crack initiation life. This model
was applied to a case study in the first line of Greater Cairo Underground Metro (GCUM) in Egypt. The
advantages of the proposed model are that it can represent realistic wheel-rail contact geometry and
Rolling contact fatigue
Crack initiation
non-linearity of material behavior together with dynamic response and cyclic loading. A good agreement
Wheel-rail contact of cracks orientations and locations of the field observations with the predicted ones based on FE results
Critical plane approach was achieved.
2017 Ain Shams University. Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under
the CC BY-NC-ND license (

1. Introduction cracks may branch downwards in the rail and, if not detected, brit-
tle fracture may take place which in some cases may cause derail-
In general, the wheel-rail contact phenomenon generates stres- ment, see Zerbst et al. [1]. Fracture at one crack may also advance
ses in the contacting bodies that are among the fiercest to be found stress in the nearby rail increasing the risk of further fractures. To
in engineering applications. This will cause a predilection for mate- get an impression of the magnitude of RCF problem, several severe
rial deterioration depending on operation conditions. Initially, rail accidents have been reported in the world due to unexpected
wear and plastic flow were considered as the major cause of fail- catastrophic rail failure caused by RCF. One of these accidents is
ure. However, with improved wheel-rail profiles, more wear resis- derailment of Hatfield train in United Kingdom (2000). In European
tance materials, and increased lubrication, etc., these failure modes Union, rail problems cost 2 billion Euros annually, Cannon et al. [2],
were suppressed. Instead rolling contact fatigue (RCF) has and North American Railroads spent $600 million per year for the
increased. This phenomenon is known to take place in most of replacement of the deteriorated rails in the early 1980s, Tyfour
the rail steel materials commonly in use today. et al. [3].
Head checks, squats, and shelling are all names for RCF defects. This problem, at its initial stage, can be effectively controlled by
These defects may result in spalling which affect ride comfort, and grinding the rail surface to remove the plastically deformed layer
noise emission as well as dynamic load for both rolling stock and at which cracks are likely to be initiated and/or to re-profile rail-
track. However, for reasons still not clearly understood, isolated head transversely, that is can reduce contact stresses and improve
steering; see Grassie [4] and Zhi et al. [5]. However, for deeply
developed cracks, it becomes insufficient as the grinding cost will
Corresponding author.
be too high and the remaining railhead will be too thin. In this case
E-mail addresses: (H.M. El-sayed), mo- (M. Lotfy), (H.N. El-din Zohny), expensive rail replacement is often inevitable. Therefore, it is safer (H.S. Riad). and more economically efficient to take preventive rather than cor-
Peer review under responsibility of Ain Shams University. rective maintenance action. This requires understanding the mech-
anism of the initiation of RCF defects which is the main goal of this
Production and hosting by Elsevier
2090-4479/ 2017 Ain Shams University. Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V.
This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

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A major axis of the contact patch in rolling direction (mm) Dyr lateral displacement of the contact point from the rail
B minor axis of the contact patch in lateral direction (mm) center line (mm)
b fatigue strength exponent Dc shear strain range
c fatigue ductility exponent De normal strain range
Ck kinematic hardening modulus (MPa) Ds shear stress range (MPa)
d depth below the railhead surface (mm) e0f tensile fatigue ductility coefficient
E elastic modulus (MPa) ep equivalent plastic strain
FP fatigue parameter (MPa) e_p equivalent plastic strain rate
G shear modulus (MPa) h; u orientation of the crack plane (deg)
IG inner gauge of the wheelset (mm) l coefficient of friction
J constant in multiaxial fatigue model q mass density (kg/m3)
Nf fatigue life to crack initiation (cycles) r stress tensor (MPa)
P0 maximum contact pressure (MPa) rmax maximum normal stress (MPa)
Q1 isotropic hardening modulus (MPa) r0 yield stress (size of yield stress in the stress space)
RI rail inclination angle (deg) (MPa)
R isotropic hardening parameter rj0 initial yield stress at zero plastic strain (MPa)
TG standard track gauge (mm) r0f tensile fatigue strength coefficient (MPa)
Wr nominal wheel radius for motor coach (mm) m Poissons ratio
X, Y, Z global coordinate system s frictional stress (MPa)
a back stress tensor which describes the translation of slim limiting frictional stress (MPa)
yield surface in the stress space (MPa) s0f shear fatigue strength coefficient (MPa)
ck kinematic hardening parameter hi MacCauley bracket, i.e. hXi 0:5jXj X
c0f shear fatigue ductility coefficient

Few researches have been undertaken focusing on cracks initi- the exact mechanism of fatigue initiation life is, up till now, not
ation life due to RCF. Ringsberg et al. [6] performed a quasi-static fully understood and need further researches.
tool for the analysis of RCF in railheads. This tool has the ability In the current study, therefore, a numerical procedure was pre-
to evaluate residual stresses, plastic strains, crack orientations, sented to further investigate stresses, plastic strains, and orienta-
depth of crack below the rail surface and fatigue life to crack initi- tions of crack plane as well as to predict fatigue crack initiation
ation owing to global track bending and local material response life in the railhead. The proposed model attempted to overcome
due to wheel-rail contact forces in straight track. However, one the drawbacks of the previous studies. It is capable of combining
drawback of this model is that the contact pressure distribution realistic wheel-rail contact geometry and non-linear material
was modeled according to the Hertzian theory which is thoroughly behavior together with global track response over repeated loading
reported in Johnson [7]. The Hertzian theory assumes elastic, iso- cycles. The proposed procedure presented in this investigation is
topic, and homogeneous material behavior and there is no plastic briefly described in Fig. 1. The fatigue analysis procedure was per-
deformation at the contact zone. Therefore, the contact conditions formed in the following consequence:
were not updated when plastic deformation occurred under
repeated wheel passages. Likewise, Hertzian theory cannot repre- 1. The global dynamic FE model was developed to obtain displace-
sent real wheel-rail contact. This tool was extended by Ringsberg ments to be the boundary condition of the second FE analysis,
and Josefson [8] to include curved tracks considering a more which is called submodel.
advanced material model. This tool was applied to newly manufac- 2. The second FE model was performed. This model is a part of the
tured rails using Hertzian theory, and to rails that have been in ser- global FE model where repeated wheel passages were applied
vice for some times (16 months) using non-Hertzian contact load and an advanced material behavior was assigned. This model
distribution. A set of twin desk tests were employed to validate was connected to the global FE model using time dependent
the fatigue evaluation strategy. The results revealed that newly boundary condition.
manufactured rails are severally damage in comparison with rela- 3. Using the stress-strain history obtained from submodel for the
tively old ones. Another improvement for Ringsberg model was most critical points, the crack plane was identified by using a
performed by Akama [9] by including real geometry of wheel-rail critical plane approach accompanied with a theoretical model
contact, but the global track response was neglected. Furthermore, for low cyclic fatigue (LCF) crack initiation. Having identified
Sandstrm and Ekberg [10] developed 3D elastic-plastic quasi- the crack plane, the fatigue life of crack initiation can be easily
static FE simulations to investigate plastic deformation and fatigue evaluated.
damage in railhead close the insulated rail joints (IRJs). Their FE 4. The predicted results were compared with field observations to
model consists of a part of the wheel and the rail with insulating validate the performed methodology.
material but the wheel conicity, the rail inclination and the
dynamic track response were ignored in their simulations. Due to The influence of global bending and track discontinuity at the
restrictions of the computational time, only six wheel passages IRJs on local material response was also investigated in the present
were applied in their analyses. However, in order to model study.
wheel-rail contact more realistically, the dynamic contact behavior
should be considered. Naeimi et al. [11] performed an explicit 3D
2. Investigation scope
FE model to estimate the angles of squat cracks in rails over one
wheel passage. Furthermore, Xin et al. [12] presented a transient
The simulation case was taken from the first line of GCUM in
FE model to study stress and strain distributions as well as to pre-
Egypt. Fig. 2 shows a schematic drawing of wheel and rail profiles
dict crack initiation life at the crossing. In spite of all these studies,
at contact zone. The standard track gauge (TG) of 1435 mm is used,

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global model in which one wheel is allowed to roll on a finite

Global dynamic Total track profile length of the track. The second one is called submodel using sub-
FE model Elastic behavior
modeling technique which enable of studying a local part of a
model with refined mesh; more details about this technique can
be found in [15]. This model is utilized here to study local distribu-
tions of stresses and strains at the contact region more precisely.
The two FE models were connected together using time dependent
boundary condition. The coordinate directions used in this study
are: X-axis is the lateral direction, Y-axis is the vertical direction,
and Z-axis is the longitudinal direction (rolling direction), as
Only a part of wheel-rail geometry
Submodel FE shown in Fig. 3.
Elastic-plastic behavior
Repeated wheel passages
3.1. The global model

The global model consists of the wheel, rail, rail pad, strands
Stress-strain response
(sleeper reinforcement) embedded into sleeper, ballast, and sub-
under cyclic loading
grade. The main target of this analysis is to study dynamic bending
effect of the rail and to obtain displacements to be the boundary
condition in submodel analysis. The global model consists of 32
sleepers, distance between sleepers = 60 cm [14], summing to
Critical plane and
fatigue life evaluation 18.6 m of track. This length was considered to be sufficient to cal-
culate the global dynamic response of the track accurately. The
track is straight and horizontal. Therefore, symmetry in loading
If good agreement between the two rails was assumed and, hence, only one side of
Comparison with Reliable fatigue the track was modeled using symmetry boundary condition. The
filed observations analysis procedure rail was connected with rail pad and supporting sleeper in the ver-
tical and lateral directions. Moreover, the depth of the subgrade
layer was assumed to be one meter below the ballast layer, the
Fig. 1. Flow chart of the rail fatigue analysis procedure.
base of the model was restricted from any displacement, and the
model was constrained in X-Y plane at the two ends to prevent
135 longitudinal displacement in the rolling direction. Schematic of
Wheel 105 the suggested global track system and the wheel in the FE model
70 is shown in Fig. 3. The solution process in this model consists of
35.7 four steps that can be summarized as follows:

32.5 IG/2=679.5
45 1. Initial step: Boundary conditions were applied to the model
and the Strands were preloaded as initial state of stress. The
magnitude of the preloading stress was taken as 1400 MPa.


R 14.05

R 36 2. First step: The gravity load was applied to the track system, the
70 R 15
20 wheel load was assigned to the wheel and the contact was
21.35 3.8 established between the wheel and the rail, between the rail


RI 1:20

TG/2=717.5 and the rail pad, between the rail pad and the sleeper and

All Dimensions in mm between the sleeper and the ballast layer.

Rail R 13
3. Second step: The wheel was allowed to roll along the rail with a
Fig. 2. Schematic drawing of wheel-rail profiles at contact zone, [14]. distance 120 mm by applying a translational and angular veloc-
ity equal 100 km/hr, and 54.5 rad/sec respectively.
4. Third step: The load was removed from the wheel.
instead of 1000 mm which commonly used in metro lines, and the
inner gauge (IG) of the wheelset is 1359 mm. The axle load of The applied loads and boundary conditions of the wheel part
22 ton in case of exceptional over load condition (13 passenger/ were applied at the reference node, this node is located at the cen-
m2) for motor coach was chosen according to Mohsen [13]. The ter of the wheel and connected with the inside surface of the wheel
nominal wheel radius (Wr) for motor coach is 510 mm and its by using coupling constraint.
grade is R7 wheel steel material. The rail profile is UIC54 with
grade 900 A rail steel material mounted with an inclination (RI) 3.2. The submodel
inwards of 1:20 (2.86). The designed velocity at the test site is
100 km/hr. The rail is fastened to the sleeper with K type fastening, Heva [16] concluded that the depth of plastic zone in the rail-
with rail pad between the rail and the sleeper with 5 mm thick- head is about 12 mm after the first cycle. Consequently, only a lim-
ness. The sleeper is 239 kg concrete monoblock sleeper with spac- ited partition of the rail is required for modeling wheel-rail contact
ing 60 cm. More details of these track properties can be found in efficiently. Furthermore, modeling of a complete wheel is not nec-
[14]. essary, only a small area at the contact zone is sufficient. Therefore,
in the present study only a small partition of wheel-rail was con-
3. The FE model sidered. The suggested FE model of wheel-rail in submodel is
shown in Fig. 4. The length and the height of the rail part are
In order to combine global response of track with local response 140 mm and 70 mm respectively. The width and thickness of the
due to wheel-rail contact loads, two FE models were developed wheel part are 50 mm and 25 mm respectively with a central angle
using FE commercial software ABAQUS. The first model is called of 17 degrees, arc length = 151.32 mm. Both the wheel part and the

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300 210


Y 3000mm

(a) (b)
Fig. 3. Description of railway track system: (a) cross section of railway track components and wheel; (b) the suggested global track system in the FE model. Dimensions of
wheel, rail, rail pad, sleeper and ballast were taken from [14]; whereas dimensions of subgrade layer were assumed.

Upper wheel part

Lower wheel part



15mm 120mm
Fig. 5. Illustration of different material responses to cyclic loading: (a) perfectly
elastic; (b) elastic shakedown; (c) plastic shakedown; (d) ratchetting, Ringsberg
140mm Upper rail part
inclusive description of these types can be found in Fouvry et al.
[17] and Johnson [18]. Case (a), perfectly elastic response, takes
Lower rail part place if the contact load is sufficiently low, and the behavior of
the material is purely elastic and reversible. This response is rare
Fig. 4. The suggested FE model of wheel-rail in submodel.
to occur in both wheel-rail materials at the contact zone. If the
applied contact load is higher than the elastic limit, the plastic
rail part were divided into two parts: the upper part and the lower deformation takes place initially. However, after some cycles, the
part, connected with each other using tie constrain with a view to residual stresses and plastic hardening may shakedown the mate-
assign fine mesh and elastic-plastic material behavior for the upper rial response to the elastic state, this behavior is commonly known
rail part with 15 mm thickness, and the lower wheel part with 5 as shakedown or elastic shakedown, case (b). If the contact
mm thickness. load is more severe than the elastic shakedown limit, the plastic
In submodel analysis, fifteenth wheel passages were applied in deformation occurs after each cycle until the cyclic stress-strain
the ABAQUS/Explicit environment. Each cycle consists of four steps curve stabilized with zero net plastic deformation, this behavior
as follows: is called plastic shakedown, case (c); whilst in case (d) the plastic
strain increments in each load cycle and the plastic deformation
1. First step: The load was applied to the wheel and wheel-rail accumulates until the material ductility is exhausted, the state is
contact was established. referred to as ratchetting.
2. Second step: The wheel was allowed to rotate along the rail To accurately capture material degradation under repeated
with a specified distance by applying the same translational wheel passages, an appropriate constitutive model is required. In
and rotational speed used in the global FE model. the current study, Armstrong-Frederick (AF) plastic model [20]
3. Third step: The load was removed from the wheel. with non-linear kinematic hardening rule was chosen to describe
4. Fourth step: The wheel and the rail were allowed to return to the lower part of wheel material. This rule was adopted in Saint
their initial position. et al. [21] to model the wheel material; while the upper part of rail
material was modeled by using Chaboche and Lemaitre model [22]
3.3. The material model which combines non-linear isotropic and kinematic hardening
laws. This elastic-plastic material model was applied to RCF loads
The material response at the wheel-rail contact region over cyc- in Ringsberg et al. [6], and the obtained results assessed the capac-
lic loading may be any one of the four cases illustrated in Fig. 5 ity of this model to simulate material ratchetting response with
depending on, for example, the character and the intensity of the decaying ratchetting rate. However, Bari and Hassan [23] found
applied contact loads, the material hardening, and the variation that the Chaboche model can predict uniaxial ratchetting
of contact conditions due to wear and/or plastic deformation. An responses quite well, but it over predicts the biaxial and multiaxial

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ratchetting responses. This motivated many researchers to develop Table 1

more advanced constitutive models for improving ratchetting sim- Material properties for wheel, rail, rail pad, sleeper, strands, ballast, and subgrade.

ulation under multiaxial loading conditions with decaying ratchet- Part Parameter Unit Value
ting rate, such as Ohno-Wang model, McDowell model, Jiang- Wheel (grade R7T) q kg/m 3
Sehitoglu model, Bari-Hassan model, and Abdel Karim-Ohno E MPa 205,000
model, etc. Many of these models were compared by Bari and Has- m 0.3
san [23,24] against a set of uniaxial and biaxial experiments that ry MPa 316
c 401
had ratchetting response. It was found that these models give
C MPa 137,000
slight better accuracy comparing to Chaboche model. However,
Rail (grade 900 A) q kg/m3 7800
these models are more complex and include a large number of
E MPa 206,000
material parameters that available only for limited numbers of m 0.28
metals and require more refined experiments to be determined. ry MPa 379
Therefore, it was considered that AF model and Chaboche and c1 , c2 , c3 55, 600, 2000
Lemaitre model are suitable in the present study to model C1 , C2 , C3 MPa 24,750, 60,000, 200,000
R 500
wheel-rail material with reasonable accuracy. The non-linear iso- Q1 MPa 189
tropic and kinematic hardening rules in the Chaboche and Lemaitre r0f MPa 936
model can be described as follows: e0f % 10.6
s0f MPa 468
a_k C k r  ae_p  ck ak e_p ; k 1; 2; 3 1 c0f % 15.45
r0 J 0.2
b 0.089
r0 r0 Q 1 1  eRe c
Rail pad q kg/m3 950
where a is the back stress tensor which describes the translation of E MPa 800
m 0.46
yield surface in the stress space; r is the stress tensor; e_p is the
equivalent plastic strain rate; ep is the equivalent plastic strain; Sleeper q kg/m3 2300
E MPa 36,000
r0 is the yield stress (size of yield stress in the stress space); r0 is m 0.3
the initial yield stress at zero plastic strain; C k , ck , Q 1 , R are material
Strands q kg/m3 7800
parameters that must be calibrated from uniaxial cyclic test data. E MPa 200,000
The material within the volume of the lower part of the rail, m 0.3
upper part of the wheel, and all the material in the global model Ballast q kg/m3 1800
were simulated using linear-elastic material model as they are of E MPa 170
less interest in the present study, and the present simulations ver- m 0.3
ified that the load carried by these parts is low. The material Subgrade q kg/m3 1600
parameters for elastic behavior, isotopic hardening, and kinematic E MPa 30
hardening are listed in Table 1. m 0.25

The wheel steel material parameters were taken from [14] and Saint et al. [21];
while those of the rail steel material were taken from [14], Schleinzer and Fischer
3.4. Wheel-rail contact [25] and Ringsberg et al. [26]; whereas the material parameters for rail pad, sleeper,
ballast, and subgrade were taken from Abdu [27]. Material parameters for strands
In ABAQUS, wheel-rail contact was defined by using surface-to- were taken from Li [28].
surface discretization method. This approach consists of a master
surface and a slave surface. The wheel tread was defined as a
slave contact surface and the railhead was modeled as a master 1. Contact pair 1: between the bottom surface of the rail and the
contact surface. This approach was chosen to minimize the pene- top surface of the rail pad.
tration of the master nodes into the slave surface during analysis, 2. Contact pair 2: between the bottom surface of the rail pad and
to increase contact stress accuracy, and to reduce sensitivity with the top surface of the sleeper.
respect to choice of master and slave surfaces [15]. A penalty fric- 3. Contact pair 3: between the bottom surface of the sleeper and
tion formulation method was applied to the model to enforce the the top surface of the ballast layer.
contact constraints. Finite sliding option was allowed during anal-
ysis and the coefficient of friction between the wheel and rail was The coefficients of friction of the contact pairs, instead of wheel-
selected as 0.35 which simulates lubricated condition according to rail contact, used in the present model were obtained from [30].
Harrison et al. [29]. Coulombs friction law described in Eq. (3) was
applied to describe frictional rolling contact.

slim lP0 ; ksk 6 slim 3 4. Calculation of the fatigue life to crack initiation

where P 0 is the maximum contact pressure; l is the friction coeffi- In wheel-rail contact problem, the rail is suffered from a non-
cient; slim is the limiting frictional stress; s is the frictional stress. proportional multiaxial stress state which causes variation of prin-
For contact position, it was considered that a train running over cipal stress and strain directions during wheel passage. Therefore,
a straight track. Therefore, lateral displacement, Dyr, between the critical plane approach was proposed here together with mul-
nominal wheel radius and rail center line would occur as shown tiaxial low cyclic fatigue (LCF) model developed by Jiang and Sehi-
in Fig. 2. In this study Dyr was chosen equal to 1 mm. Note that, toglu [31]. Chen et al. [32] compared a set of uniaxial and
negative sign means that contact point is moved to the outer rail multiaxial fatigue models against a number of multiaxial non-
side. proportional LCF experiments, and they found that such a model
In additional to wheel-rail contact, three contact pairs were cre- gave the best agreement with experiments. Here, both the normal
ated in the FE model as follows: and shear components of stress and strain contribute to the fatigue

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parameter (FP) and hence damage of the material based on the fol- 1550 140
lowing formula:
FP hrmax i J Ds Dc

Mesh 0.4 x 0.4

4 1500

Peak contact pressure (MPa)

where hi is the MacCauley bracket, i.e. hXi = 0.5 (jXj + X); rmax is the
maximum normal stress; De is the normal strain range; Dc is the

Time (hr)
shear strain range; Ds is the shear stress range; J is constant which
is a load and material dependent and should be obtained from ten- 60
sion/torsion tests. The material plane with the largest fatigue 1400

parameter (FPmax) is called critical plane (crack plane). Contact pressure

For an arbitrary stress-strain history of the point of the interest, Mesh 2.0 x 2.0
the critical plane cannot be known a priori. Therefore, FP max and the
corresponding critical plane were obtained in this investigation by
computing the transformation matrices for a given set of angles at
1300 0
the material point. After the critical plane has been identified, the 0 500000 1000000 1500000 2000000
crack initiation life (N f ) can then be evaluated on the critical plane Number of elements
using Eq. (5). This equation consists of two forms: formula that
includes shear form is adopted to evaluate N f if shear cracking gov- Fig. 6. The relation between peak contact pressure, number of elements, and
required time to complete the analysis for each trial.
erns the fatigue life. However for material that exhibits tensile
cracking, tensile form should be used.
8 02
> the lowest contact pressure (1320 MPa) was obtained with
< rf 2N f 2b r0 e0 2Nf bc
E f f 2.0  2.0 mm mesh, i.e. the finer the mesh was generated, the
FP max 5
: sf 2N 2b s0 c0 2N bc
0 2
higher contact pressure value would be obtained. The mesh con-
f f
G f f vergence was achieved with 0.8  0.8 mm mesh. Moreover, the
where r0f , e0f , s0f , c0f , b and c are the material parameters. Although maximum contact pressure of the 1.2  1.2 mm mesh is reduced
by 3.26% and the computational time is reduced to about 1/5 with
the rail profile in this study is UIC54 with a grade 900 A rail steel
respect to that of the 0.8  0.8 mm mesh. Therefore, to get accept-
material, fatigue parameters utilized in Eq. (5) were considered to
able accuracy with reduction of time consumption, the 1.2  1.2
be equivalent to British Standard BS11 normal grade steel due to
mesh was found to be adequate in the FE analysis in submodel.
lack of documentation and test data for UIC grade 900 A and the dif-
ference of chemical and mechanical properties between the two rail
steel materials is minor. This assumption was also applied in other 6. Results & discussion
studies; for example Ringsberg et al. [6,8] and Wickramasinghe
[33]. The mechanical properties used in fatigue calculations are pre- 6.1. Verification of the global model
sented in Table 1.
Fig. 7 points out a contour plot of global track displacement in
5. Meshing the vertical direction. Large displacements were obtained directly
under the wheel load; whilst the other parts of the modeled track
In explicit analysis the solution time is proportional to the num- were not highly affected. To verify the accuracy of the global FE
ber of nodes and roughly inversely proportional to the smallest ele- model, rail displacement in the vertical direction was obtained
ment size [15]. Thus, a certain strategy was applied to optimize the from the FE model and compared with analytical method based
accuracy and computational time of the model. on Zimmerman model [34] as illustrated in Fig. 8. The maximum
In the global model, fine mesh is only limited to wheel-rail at displacement from the FE model was 1.805 mm, whereas the max-
contact region; whilst coarse mesh was assigned to other parts of imum displacement obtained from Zimmerman method was 1.82
the global model. Fully integrated eight-node linear brick (C3D8) mm when the track modulus was 49.3 MPa. This value in Zimmer-
elements were applied for all elements instead of strands that were man model was adjusted to have the same values of elastic modu-
modeled by two-node linear 3D truss (T3D2) elements. The total lus for materials and the same dimensions applied in the FE model
number of elements and nodes in the global model are 555,323, based on Zhai et al. [35] and Prakoso [36]. In both the two curves,
and 673,384 respectively. the vertical deflection reached its peak value under the wheel load,
In submodel, high level of accuracy needs to be obtained at the and gradually decreased whenever being far from the contact
railhead zone where several stresses and strains are expected with point. The difference between two models was 0.82%. It should
reasonable computational time. Consequently, a mesh sensitivity be noted that the distribution of displacement obtained from FE
analysis was performed to determine the optimum mesh size. model wasnt symmetric due to the effect of dynamic track
Mesh refinement was implemented only at the upper rail part response that cannot be included in Zimmerman model. Hence,
and the lower wheel part, although the stresses of the wheel part the two models give a good agreement with each other.
are not of interest in the current study, but the mesh size of the
wheel will influence the stresses and strains obtained at the rail- 6.2. Verification of the submodel
head. The element size in the lower part of the rail and the upper
part of the wheel remains the same. At the stage of mesh conver- CONTACT program [37] that contains some of rolling contact
gence, the wheel and rail materials were deemed to behave elasti- theories developed by Kalker [38] was proven by various studies
cally in the FE analysis and the global bending was neglected. The to be sufficient to model elastic contact problems accurately, see
relation between the maximum contact pressure, number of ele- for example Yan and Fischer [39]. Therefore, this program was used
ments, and required time to complete the analysis for each trial to verify the accuracy of the FE model by considering elastic solu-
is illustrated in Fig. 6. Fig. 6 indicated that the highest contact pres- tions. Furthermore, in the FE model, two analyses were performed,
sure (1539 MPa) was obtained with 0.4  0.4 mm mesh, whereas which are quasi-static analysis based on implicit time integration

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Fig. 7. Displacement of the global track model in the vertical direction (UY).

0.1 quasi-stac soluon
1400 CONTACT soluon

Contact pressure (MPa)

-0.3 1200
Deecon (mm)


-1.1 Rolling direction 600

-1.5 Zimmerman
FE model 200
-1.9 0
-10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10
-10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10
Distance along rolling direcon, Z(m)
Distance along rolling direcon, Z (mm)
Fig. 8. Deflection curve from FE model and Zimmerman model. The origin is placed
under the peak deflection value. Fig. 9. Contact pressure distributions along rolling direction, Z, for quasi-static
solution and CONTACT solution. The origin is placed under the peak contact
pressure value.

in ABAQUS/Standard and transient analysis using explicit algo-

rithm in ABAQUS/Explicit with the aim to verify the efficiency of
explicit algorithm applied in fatigue analysis. Comparing the on the elastic rail is included in the model due to dynamic effect;
results listed in Table 2. It can be observed that the difference while CONTACT program does not take this effect into account.
between CONTACT program and quasi-static analysis is 0.33%. In The time required to simulate the rolling of a wheel over a distance
addition, difference of major axis in rolling direction, A, between 0.12 m under the rolling speed of 100 km/h. in case of transient
two solutions is 12.97%, and difference of minor axis in lateral analysis is about half of that required in quasi-static analysis. This
direction, B, between two solutions is 19.56%. The difference is one of the benefits of explicit analysis over implicit ones.
between the two solutions comes from the mesh size. Neverthe- The influence of plastic behavior on the contact pressure distri-
less, the influence of this error on contact pressure distribution is bution is demonstrated in Fig. 10. Based on quasi-static analysis,
inconsiderable due to the vanishing of contact pressure at the con- the pressure level is sharply reduced in case of elastic-plastic anal-
tact edges as can be seen in Fig. 9; whereas the difference between ysis. This reduction is due to the increasing conformity of the two
CONTACT and transient analysis is 18.52%. This is because of the contacting bodies and reduced height of the rail surface due to
vibration of the structure excited by the rolling of the elastic wheel plastic deformation. This situation was studied by Saint et al.
[21]. The authors applied the same wheel-rail material properties
and they concluded that the plasticity reduces the maximum con-
tact pressure in comparison with elastic solution by 29.45%. In the
Table 2 present study, the maximum difference between the two solutions
Comparison of the solutions obtained by FE models and CONTACT program.
is 24.78%. Considering the difference between the two FE models in
Approach Maximum contact Contact patch wheel-rail contact position and contact geometry, it can be found
pressure (MPa) that the results between two models correlate well with each
Major axis Minor axis
A (mm) B (mm) other. Moreover, in elastic-plastic solution the contact patch
CONTACT 1210 15.7 11.02 becomes flatter at the trailing edge and wider in the lateral direc-
Quasi-static analysis 1214 18.04 13.7 tion. Also, the contact pressure distribution is almost constant at
Transient analysis 1485 24.18 17.66 the central part of contact patch, and the contact area increased
Diff. between CONTACT and 0.33% 12.97% 19.56% compared with elastic solution which also concluded by Saint
quasi-static FE model
Diff. between CONTACT and 18.51% 35.07% 37.60%
et al. [21], and Wiest et al. [40]. By comparing Fig. 10(a) with
transient FE model Fig. 10(c), it can be seen that in case of elastic-plastic solution,

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Rolling direction Rolling direction



(a) (b)
Rolling direction


Fig. 10. Contact pressure distribution in case of: (a) elastic-plastic quasi-static solution; (b) elastic quasi-static solution; (c) elastic-plastic transient solution.

the difference of peak contact pressure magnitude between tran- 1400

sient and quasi-static solutions not exceeded 0.35% after a distance Transient
of 45 mm from the initial position of the wheel in the rolling direc- 1200
Rolling direction quasi-stac
tion. This means, when plasticity is considered; fluctuation due to
Contact pressure (MPa)

vibration is reduced due to plastic deformation that results in dis- 1000

sipation of kinetic energy, damping. In addition, the distribution of
contact pressure between the two methods after stabilization
occurred is almost the same as in Fig. 11.
Thus, explicit (transient) solution can be used in wheel-rail roll-
ing contact problem when plasticity is included in the model to 400
improve solving speed with suitable efficiency and, therefore, the
proposed model based on transient analysis will be used to analyze 200
stresses and strains for more complex situations.
6.3. Stress and strain results -12 -10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10

Distance along rolling direcon, Z (mm)

Fig. 12 depicts distribution of von Mises stress in the upper part (a)
of the railhead during the first wheel passage just under the wheel;
note that the solution zone was selected at a distance ranges from 1400
60 mm to 90 mm from the initial position of the wheel. The max- Transient
imum von Mises stress reached 476.5 MPa which exceeds yield 1200
Contact pressure (MPa)

strength of rail material (379 MPa). The distribution of von Mises

stress inside the contact patch is illustrated by contour plot for
two lateral cross sections (Sections 1 and 2), and one longitudinal 800
cross section along the symmetrical plane of the rolling direction
(Section 3), as indicated in Fig. 12. For cross Section 1, the maxi- 600
mum von Mises stress (476.5 MPa) located at the railhead surface
and shifted 5 mm from the rail centerline, while at the centerline of 400
the rail, the maximum von Mises stress reached 452 MPa at 3.45
mm below the railhead surface. For cross Section 2 (near to the 200
end of the contact patch), the maximum von Mises stress existed
at the centerline of the rail at 3.45 mm below the surface with a
-10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10
maximum value reached 439 MPa. These descriptions can be seen
clearly in rolling direction (Section 3). These maximum values in Distance along lateral rail direcon, X (mm)
the first cycles lead to plastification and then to the hardening of (b)
the rail steel material. Repeated application of these high stresses
at the contact surface may lead to surface damage, such as plastic Fig. 11. Contact pressure distribution for transient analysis and quasi-static
analysis in case of elastic plastic solution: (a) along rolling direction; (b) along
flow, RCF cracks, and wear, whereas high sub-surface stress may lateral direction. The origin is placed under the peak contact pressure value.
cause initiation of damage below the surface, e.g. shelling.

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Rolling direction
Mises stress (MPa)
2 1

3 3

Maximum Mises
stress location 2 1

5 mm

Rail centerline
Rail centerline
Sec 1-1 Sec 2-2 Sec 3-3

Fig. 12. Von Mises stress distribution in the upper part of the railhead just under the wheel during the first wheel passage.

Railhead surface Railhead surface

PEEQ (%) PEEQ (%)

d=3.45mm d=2.3mm
4.8 mm

Rail centerline
Rail centerline

(a) (b)
Fig. 13. Distribution of equivalent plastic strain in the railhead: (a) after the first cycle; (b) after the fifteenth cycle.


Fig. 13 shows progress of equivalent plastic strain (PEEQ) dur-

ing cyclic loading after the first and the final, fifteenth, wheel 100
passage along the upper part of the railhead depth. After the first
wheel passage, the maximum PEEQ occurred at the centerline of -100
the rail at 3.45 mm below the railhead surface with a value
Stress (MPa)

reached 0.0073%. In addition, the depth of plastic zone extended xx

to 11.5 mm below the railhead top surface. During cyclic loading, yy
it was observed that there is an accumulation of strain compo- zz
nents over cycles. However, due to material hardening, the plastic -500 xy
deformation (progressive damage) gradually increases, while xz
plastic strain rate decays. Moreover, the size of plastic zone -700 yz
increases by increasing number of wheel passages and the loca-
tion of the maximum PEEQ changed in the lateral and vertical -900
directions under cyclic loading but it still below the rail surface 0.143 0.144 0.145 0.146 0.147 0.148 0.149
and stabilized after 13 wheel passages. This behavior is due to Time (sec)
the interaction of global bending with non-linear behavior of
Fig. 14. Variation of stress components for point that suffering from maximum von
wheel material.
Mises stress.
Figs. 14 and 15 show variation of stress and strain components
for the most critical point that suffering from maximum von Mises
stress during the fifteenth wheel passages. This point is located at 6.4. Critical plane and fatigue life calculation
2.3 mm below the rail surface. It is clear that all the normal stress
components (rXX , rYY , and rZZ ) are completely in compression. Using stress and strain history obtained from submodel analy-
Therefore, shear cracking governs the fatigue life and number of sis, crack plane can be investigated by exploring all the possible
cycles to crack initiation should be evaluated using shear form planes at every material point near the railhead surface using ten-
illustrated in Eq. (5). Fig. 15 revealed that shear strain component sor transformation technique. In this study, calculations were car-
cXY and normal strain components eXX , and eYY plays the major ried out for a serious of integer points for elements that suffering
influence on plastic strain accumulation. from maximum von Mises stress at which damage may initiate.

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0.03 yy
Strain (%)

0.02 xy


0.143 0.144 0.145 0.146 0.147 0.148 0.149
Time (sec)

Fig. 15. Variation of strain components for point that suffering from maximum von
Mises stress.

Two spherical angles h; u were utilized to represent the orienta- Fig. 17. Variation of fatigue parameter with plane orientation for the most critical
tion of the crack plane normal vector, ~ n, where h is the angle
between normal vector and rolling direction; while u is the angle
between normal vector, and vertical direction. Fig. 16 indicates
definition of crack plane angles in the railhead. 0
Fig. 17 shows a contour plot of the variation of FP under 4.11 x 106
different material planes for the most critical point. This point is
located at d = 2.3 mm below the surface. It was found that a range -1
of material planes experience a very similar FP value. The most
Vercal posion (mm)

dangerous region for crack initiation occurs when h 2 [93, 162] -2

and u 2 [9, 27]. 1.30 x 106
The fatigue life to crack initiation N f based on Eq. (5) and FP max
which equals 0.7 MPa was evaluated as 1.3  106 cycles. Further- 2.15 x 106
more, average daily train traffic running through the case study
used in the present investigation was collected from Egyptian com- -4
pany for Metro management and operation. It was found that 8.19 x 106
approximately 12,384 wheel passage of motor coach and 6192 -5
wheel passages of trailer running through the test site. In the pre- 15.36 x 106
sent study only wheels of motor coach were studied to obtain
rough estimation of crack initiation life. Based on these data, the -6
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16
predicted crack initiation life would be 70 days which is equivalent Nf (cyclex106)
to 14.3 Mega Gross Tones (MGT) in terms of passage of traffic.
The variation of fatigue life along railhead depth for five subsur- Fig. 18. Variation of fatigue life to crack initiation along railhead depth.
face depths is plotted in Fig. 18. The vertical distances from the
railhead surface to these five points are 0 mm, 2.3 mm, 3.45 mm,
4.6 mm, and 5.75 mm. A significant raise in the fatigue life was In the current study, the critical axial load was assumed and
observed after 2.3 mm below the railhead surface, which demon- design speed 100 km/hr was selected instead of operation speed
strates the great damage that appears near the railhead top surface 80 km/hr. Furthermore, the effect of wear mechanism which can
comparing to the sub-surface layers. alleviate fatigue crack damage, see Wang et al. [41], was neglected.
Therefore, the predicted results must be earlier than the field ones.

Rolling direction Crack seen

from above

Z Railhead surface Rolling direction

Crack plane
Crack plane

Fig. 16. Defination of crack plane angles.

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6.5. Field observations 16

Field observations were performed on the rail in service to 14

Number of rail fractures per year

investigate crack location and orientation at the test site. An exam-
ple of observed cracks on the rail surface is given in Fig. 19. It 12
should be noted that, in railways, initiation may be considered to
have occur when the crack length reached (0.10.5 mm), see Rings- 10
berg [19] and Ringsberg and Bergkvist [42]. However, owing to the
difficulties to measure this length in the field, instead, cracks are
considered to be initiated when they are visible on the railhead
surface. In the field, it was observed that cracks are initiated on
the railhead surface, while the present model predicts cracks initi- 4
ation at some distance below the surface. Moreover, the orienta-
tion of the observed cracks on the railhead surface lies between 2
113 and 123, see Fig. 19, which lies in the range of the predicted
ones. Reasons for the slight deviation of the predicted results with 0
field observations are summarized below:


1. Relatively low value of friction coefficient presented in the FE Date (year)
simulation: From the Shakedown map, which can identify the
response of material and anticipate the position of greatest Fig. 20. Variation of number of rail fractures per year in the first line of GCUM.
damage (surface or sub-surface) for different combinations of These data were collected from Egyptian company for Metro management and
friction coefficient and maximum normal contact pressure,
see Fouvry et al. [17] and Johnson [18], the high friction coeffi-
cient with the present elastic normal contact pressure value
will cause crack initiation to take place at the surface; while is recommended to restore the contact surface to its original state
for low values of friction coefficient, initiation will occur at by removing the plastically deformed layer on the rail surface at
sub-surface. which initiation of cracks is possible by using rail grinding process.
2. The roughness of wheel-rail surfaces that was not considered in Based on the predicted results, grinding interval should be 14.3
the FE analysis. The elastic models for rough surface investi- MGT. However, railway companies, like Burlington Northern rail-
gated by Bucher et al. [43] indicated that surface roughness way (now BNSF), recommended to use grinding interval in the
causes very large local peaks contact stresses. However, as range of 2460 MGT for straight track, which is higher than that
reported by Magel and Kalousek [44], after the first few wheel predicted. The major reason for this discrepancy comes from the
passages, irregularities on the rail surface are quickly obliter- fact that, the preventive grinding strategy designed by these com-
ated and become part of the interfacial layer. panies based on restricting cracks to enter their rapid growth stage,
3. The influence of flash temperature comes from frictional heat- but the present model based on avoiding cracks to be initiated.
ing at the wheel-rail contact that was not considered in this Moreover, due to the complexity of wheel-rail interface phe-
study may result in high thermal stresses concentrated at the nomenon, the grinding interval cannot be constant. Thus, the pre-
top surface layer results in the formation of white etching layer dicted interval should be associated with routine monitoring to
from which cracks are likely to be initiated as reported by Seo insure satisfactory maintenance interval, but not extremely short
et al. [45]. Adding these stresses to the normal and tangential to limit the maintenance cost and rails downtime.
stresses resulting from wheel-rail contact loads, the plastic
deformation and residual stresses would be higher than 6.6. Influence of global bending on local material response
mechanical wheel load only, see Wu et al. [46].
The effect of the global bending on the results obtained from
Nevertheless, field observations achieved a good agreement submodel analysis was studied. Two FE analyses were carried out
with the predicted calculations based on FE results. Moreover, for fifteen wheel passages. In the first analysis (model I) the driven
Fig. 20 shows number of rail fractures collected from Egyptian variables derived in the global model were transferred to the rele-
company for Metro management and operation per year from per- vant boundary nodes of the submodel as discussed in the previous
iod 2002 to 2015 in the first line of GCUM. It can be seen, the num- sections. In the second model (model II), all degrees of freedom
ber of reported rail fractures per year ranges from 5 to 14 fractures. were restrained at both cross sections and bottom to neglect global
This is an evidence that cracks may be initiated below the surface, bending. The results in two models showed accumulation of effec-
and also growth process takes place after crack initiation and the tive plastic strain (ratchetting) after every wheel passage as indi-
natural wear, by its own, cannot prevent fatigue crack initiation cated in Fig. 21. However, the ratchetting rate in model I is
or propagation stages. Thus, from maintenance point of view, it higher than that in model II. Furthermore, the maximum equiva-
lent plastic strain in both cases was located below the rail surface
at depth 2.3 mm and 3.45 mm for model I and model II, respec-
tively after the final wheel passage. This is because of shear strain
Inside 3 cm
that has a maximum value below the railhead surface. The number
113-123 of cycles to fatigue crack initiation in model II was computed as
N f = 19.59  106 cycles which corresponding to FP max
0.208 MPa. In addition, the most dangerous region for crack initia-
tion exits when h 2 [63, 87] and u 2 [99, 114]. Comparing the
Rolling direction
Outside results obtained from two FE models, a great difference of fatigue
crack initiation life and critical plane angle in longitudinal direc-
Fig. 19. Observed defects on railhead surface at the test site. tion between the two FE models was observed. The large variation

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0.09 Rolling direction

model I
0.08 CPRESS (MPa)
model II IRJ

PEEQ (%)



0.03 (a)
0.01 IRJ Rolling direction

Contact presssure (MPa)

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 1000
Number of wheel passages
Fig. 21. Variation of maximum equivalent plastic strain component with number of
wheel passages for the two FE models. 600

between the two FE models demonstrates the importance of
including global bending effect in FE simulations.
-10 -6 -2 2 6 10 14 18
6.7. Influence of insulated rail joints (IRJs) or track discontinuity on
Distance along rolling direcon, Z (mm)
local material response
Modern railways, like GCUM, use IRJs to electrically isolate sec-
Fig. 23. Contact pressure distribution when the wheel passing over the IRJ during
tions of railway track to create single blocks with the aim to control the first wheel passage: (a) on the railhead surface; (b) along the rolling direction.
signaling system for safe train operations and are sometimes useful
in detecting broken rails. The IRJ assembly must include a small
gap between the two rail ends filled with an insulating material
great deviation in the contact pressure distribution and in the con-
called endpost causing structural discontinuity in the longitudinal
tact pressure magnitude was obtained when the contact point is
direction of the rail. Therefore, another FE model was performed to
over the endpost comparing with results obtained from continuous
investigate the effect of such discontinuity on local material
rail, case indicated in Fig. 10. The presence of IRJ increased the peak
response based on IRJ design used in GCUM. Schematic drawing
contact pressure value by 39.4%. This value is concentrated at the
of the modeled wheel-rail parts with IRJ is depicted in Fig. 22. As
rail end 1 resulting in the contact pressure singularity, which
can be seen, the width of the endpost is 8 mm bonded together
may accelerate deterioration not only for the railhead material,
with the two rail ends. The insulating material is made from fiber
but also for all track components. Moreover, the contact area at
glass. In the present investigation, it was modeled as linear elastic
the IRJ is separated into two regions. The first region is on the rail
with elastic modulus 4.5 GPa and passions ratio 0.19, see Chen and
and the second is on the endpost. Over the endpost, the contact
Kuang [47]. This analysis was performed for 10 wheel passages
pressure is reduced significantly by 94% with a relatively uniform
with the same operation conditions previously defined.
distribution. This discrepancy comes from high difference of
Fig. 23 points out the contact pressure distribution when the
youngs modulus between the rail and the endpost material.
wheel passing over the endpost during the first wheel passage. A
Fig. 24 indicates variation of PEEQ under cyclic wheel passages
for four depths at the two rail ends, where highest damage is
observed. The distance from the railhead surface to these depths
Rolling direction
are 0 mm, 0.8 mm, 1.6 mm, and 2.5 mm. The results revealed that,
17 there is an accumulation of plastic deformation over cyclic loading
for both the two rail ends with a decaying in ratchetting rate. How-
80 32 ever, the rail end 1 surface is severally deformed in comparison
with the rail end 2, which agrees with field observation that was
Wheel start point carried out on some of IRJs samples; while at the subsurface, the
Wheel end point
Wheel part situation is rather the opposite. Comparing these results with that
obtained in model I and model II (Section 6.6), the contact singular-
ity at the IRJ increased maximum PEEQ by 103.17% and 236.32%
Rail end 1 Rail end 2 with respect to model I and model II, respectively, after ten wheel
passages, and translated the peak value of PEEQ from subsurface to

Y the top surface layer. This affirms that the main damage mecha-
Endpost nism close the IRJ region is ratchetting rather than LCF, which gives
X All dimensions in mm a good agreement with shakedown map. Estimation and optimiza-
tion of IRJs life will be studied more thoroughly in further work.
Fig. 22. Schematic drawing of the modeled wheel-rail parts with IRJ.

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0.125 4. The developed finite element model has the ability to predict
Depth= 0 mm the critical plane angles at which cracks may be initiated in
Depth= 0.8 mm the railhead. The predicted angles agreed well with observa-
0.1 Depth= 1.6 mm tions at the test site in the first line of Greater Cairo Under-
Depth= 2.5 mm ground Metro in Egypt.
5. The predicted fatigue life to crack initiation for the simulation
0.075 case was 1.3 x 106 wheel passages. Based on the collected data
PEEQ (%)

about average daily train traffic, the predicted crack initiation

life would be 70 days (or 14.3 Mega Gross Tones in terms of
passage of traffic). Therefore, it is recommended to use rail
grinding process as a routine maintenance with 14.3 Mega
Gross Tones in interval between each grinding cycle to protect
rail from initiation of cracks associated with field monitoring
to insure that this interval is satisfactory.
6. The influence of global bending on local material response was
investigated. The obtained results affirmed that the global
0 2 4 6 8 10
bending plays a significant effect on fatigue crack initiation life
Number of wheel passages
and critical plane angles. Therefore, this parameter must be
(a) included in the finite element simulation to give realistic
0.1 results.
Depth= 0 mm 7. The rail end surface at the insulated rail joint is severally
Depth= 0.8 mm strained in comparison with continuous rails. This affirms that
Depth= 1.6 mm the main damage mechanism at the insulated rail joint is
Depth= 2.5 mm ratchetting.
PEEQ (%)


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14 H.M. El-sayed et al. / Ain Shams Engineering Journal xxx (2017) xxxxxx

of the 10th international conference on contact mechanics CM 2015, Colorado Hossam Mohamed El-sayed received the Bachelor
Springs, Colorado, USA. degree in Civil engineering in 2013 and he is a Master
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University Press; 1990. sity. Presently, he is working as a demonstrator in the
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simulation. Int. J. Plast 2000;16:381409. Suez Canal University, Egypt since 2014. His main
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Please cite this article in press as: El-sayed HM et al. Prediction of fatigue crack initiation life in railheads using finite element analysis. Ain Shams Eng J