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Quality Indices and Decision Support Tools for Managing Rail Grinding Programs


Rail grinding is a common, costly and effective method for assuring safety and extending the life of wheel, rail and track fastening system. Because of the cost (both for the grinding itself and many secondary costs such as track access, safety assurance, firefighting, etc.) there is an ongoing push to assure its best possible effectiveness. The transit agency needs to balance productivity and having the work completed in an efficient manner while ensuring the finished product provides value particularly in terms of improved wheel rail interaction. But how is that measured? Quality indices are key to assuring that grinding is achieving the objectives of removing surface damage, installing optimal rail profiles, and ultimately improving the wheel-rail performance and reducing long term costs through more effective grinding practices and extended component life.

Common current grinding quality indices refer to the shape only and relies on the assumption the target rail profile is optimal from a wheel rail interaction standpoint. Quality indices need to be improved in order to assure proper treatment of rail corrugation, surface fatigue and shape provide value to the transit agency. This RNS proposes to support ongoing efforts to rectify this deficiency.


To support the development of rail grinding quality indices that will enable railroads to objectively manage rail shape, rail corrugation, and rail surface damage to improve wheel rail interaction.


Transit agencies invest considerable money into rail grinding in order to improve safety and wheel/rail performance. The current methods to quantify work quality could be improved to assure the work is achieving these goals. This research will provide railroads with an approach for objectively assessing the effectiveness of the rail grinding program.

Related Research:

There are several ongoing efforts to establish improved metrics for rail grinding as part of

· Commercial grinding programs at BART, Sound Transit, New York City Transit and Vancouver Skytrain.

· A new rail grinding initiative at the CSX railroad.

Additionally, a research effort was recently started at the University of Manitoba to look specifically at measurements of rail corrugation and the impact of corrugation on track and vehicle performance.

Next, this general topic has also been identified by the International Collaborative Research Initiative on RCF and Wear of Rails and Wheels (ICRI-RCF) as a candidate for international collaboration. This means that in-kind contributions from its many international participants could be available.

Lastly, the FRA is currently sponsoring a research project to compare visible surface damage with the “actual” depth of damage as measured using eddy current systems and destructive sectioning. This work will inform and contribute to the development of a surface damage index.


In support of the initiatives listed above, specific research funding is need to coral those efforts and arrive at an industry applicable set of guidelines and processes for assuring the quality of a rail grinding program.

  1. Since there have been recent literature reviews, it remains only to check for even more recent contributions on this issue.

  2. Engage the ICRI-RCF and its international community to identify potential experts for contribution to the work.

  3. Engage the support of at least two transit agencies to participate in a program of measurement and reporting that allows evolving quality indices to be trialed and implemented in the field.

  4. Collection of pre- and post-grind rail profile data, along with wheel profile data for use in wheel-rail interaction analysis to assess with respect to performance impacts of rail grinding, and from there to a rail shape index.

  5. Collection of pre- and post-grind surface condition data (both visible surface damage and eddy current measurement) for use in developing the rail surface quality index.

  6. Collection of pre- and post-grind rail corrugation data for use by the University of Manitoba and other participants in models of vibration, noise and fastener damage.

  7. Specific analyses to be performed include

· Determining allowable deviations of rail profiles from the prescribed shape, based on the impact to wheel-rail performance (based on contact stress, steering performance, stability, shakedown and wear energy).

· Developing and comparing more appropriate shape indices or measures, including running band radius/position, conformality, conicity and PQI through the use of static, quasi-static and dynamic analyses.

· Correlating rail deterioration rates (profile, surface damage and corrugation) with track curvature, wheel profile shapes, train speeds and steel types.

  1. General evaluation of the cost impacts of noise, vibration, RCF and poor wheel/rail performance (rail wheel life, ride quality) and the impact of rail grinding on those.

The expectation is that this research will be incorporated into both APTA and AREMA standards and so readily available to all. Its guidelines and approaches will be implemented by rail grinding companies, wheel-rail and rail grinding specialist organizations.


While there has always been scrutiny on budgets, the increasing profile of noise and vibration especially, but also safety and ride quality, has raised the profile of rail grinding and current practices are being questioned. There is an immediate need for objective means of measuring the effectiveness of rail grinding in achieving its objectives.

Sponsoring Committee:AR050, Railroad Infrastructure Design and Maintenance
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Eric E. Magel, Principal Engineer, Rolling Contact Fatigue, National Research Council, Canada, eric.magel@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca, +1 250 317 0205 Mark Reimer, Director of Projects, Advanced Rail Management Corporation, Indialantic, Florida, mreimer@arm-corp.com, +1 204 792 7555
Date Posted:01/08/2021
Date Modified:05/20/2021
Index Terms:Decision support systems, Rail grinding, Maintenance of way, Rail profiles, Rolling contact, Service life,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Maintenance and Preservation

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