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Material Failures in the Rail Industry – What Causes Them?

In 2022, the Federal Railroad Administration reported more than 1,000 train derailments across the US.  In most cases these were minor events held within the confines of the rail yard, however, several high-profile train derailments have drawn regulatory attention to the freight rail industry. Depending on what’s being transported derailment has the potential to be quite harmful. Trains carrying dangerous goods can explode, toxic chemicals can leak and in worst cases injury or deaths may occur. 

To avoid major disasters, businesses and organizations within the railway industry depend on proper functioning materials and components as a way of minimizing incidents.  An independent materials testing laboratory like us, will provide rail testing services to help companies ensure safety, efficient performance, durability and compliance with applicable regulations, standards and client specifications. Nonetheless, even materials that undergo vigorous testing are still vulnerable to in-service failure, and we’ll look at several factors to determine the cause of that failure.

Our failure analysis laboratory has been investigating failures in the rail sector for more than 30 years. We’ve examined defective rail, springs, bolsters, and many other rail components, to determine the cause of failure and recommend performance improvements. Our experts have defined a first-rate process for investigations and use state-of-the-art instrumentation, microscopy analysis and other tools to perform the proper analysis and develop sound conclusions in their reports. 

What factors have we seen cause failure in the rail industry? Here’s a short list of common considerations:

Material Factors 

  • Material processing (steelmaking, casting, forging, heat treatment, welding, etc)
  • Material properties (chemical composition, mechanical properties)
  • Material structure (microstructural phases, grain size)

Other Factors 

  • Service / application end-use (improper installation, poor maintenance, human error)
  • Environment (corrosive, wear, vibration, temperature excursions) 
  • Design (material selection, robustness, stress risers, safety factors)

If you’d like to learn more about metallurgical testing, failure prevention or failure analysis services please contact us.