Abstract Thermal or thermo-mechanical loading is one of the major causes of wheel surface damage in Australian heavy haul operations. In addition, multi-wear wheels appear to be particularly sensitive to thermo-mechanical damage during their first service life. Such damage can incur heavy machining penalties or even premature scrapping of wheels. The combination of high contact stresses as well as substantial thermal loading (such as during prolonged periods of tread braking) can lead to severe plastic deformation, thermal fatigue and microstructural deterioration. For some high-strength wheel grades, the increased sensitivity to thermo-mechanical damage observed during the first service period may be attributed to the presence of a near-surface region in which the microstructure is more sensitive to these loading conditions than the underlying material. The standards applicable to wheels used in Australian heavy haul operations are based on the Association of American Railroads (AAR) specification M-107/M-208, which does not include any requirements for microstructure. The implementation of acceptance criteria for the microstructure, in particular that in the near-surface region of the wheel, may be necessary when new wheels are purchased. The stability of wheel microstructures during thermo-mechanical loading and the effects of alloying elements commonly used in wheel manufacturing are reviewed. A brief guide to improving thermal/mechanical stability of the microstructure is also provided.
This paper is partly based on metallurgical examination of wheel damage arising from a combination of mechanical and thermal loading under heavy haul and freight operations. The authors acknowledge the support of the Australian railway industry for these activities.