Methods for Qualitative and Quantitative Measurement of Top of Rail Friction Modifiers (TORFM) in Revenue Service

Start December 4, 2020, End: September 30, 2022

Principal Investigator/Researcher

Dr. Mehdi Ahmadian, Virginia Tech

Project Description

The primary objective of this study is to continue the efforts toward evaluating, designing, and building highly accurate devices for qualitative and quantitative measurement of Top of Rail Friction Modifiers (TORFM) in Revenue Service. Specifically, the project aims at:

  1. Determining the capability of the sensors that we have developed for measuring Top TORFM layer thickness at speeds up to 10 – 15 mph, to make the sensor suitable for installation on Hy-rail trucks for railroad applications, and
  2. Evaluate the most effective approach for commercializing the sensor to another entity that would be able to make it available to the railroads as a commercial product.

The current effort will mainly emphasize the application of innovative laser-based technology for measuring the layer thickness of TORFM at speeds far higher than those we have tested in the lab and field, thus far. This is a continuation of the efforts currently underway at the Railway Technologies Laboratory (RTL) for designing and implementing various optical technologies for reliably and reasonably accurately measuring how much TORFM is present on the railhead. This effort is intended to reduce reliance on empirical assessments, which is the only available method for assessing whether there is an adequate amount of TORFM available on the rail.

The U.S. railroads spend a considerable amount of money on TORFM lubrication material to reduce wheel-rail rolling resistance, improve fuel economy, and improve curving forces. The methods for determining the adequacy of the TORFM application are empirical. An experienced engineer examines the rail visually, tactilely, or both; to determine if enough lubricant has been applied. Such methods, however, are highly subjective and ultimately rely on the track engineer's experience. The subjectivity in assessing the extent to which the rail is lubricated can lead to applying too much TORFM, unnecessarily, or applying too little, not realizing all of the benefits. Additionally, at times the lubricant applicators can run dry or stop working, resulting in rail not being properly lubricated until the failure is detected, often days later. Such incidents can go undetected by track engineers or the track master because it is often difficult to determine if the rail has been lubricated when the train passes. More effective lubricity measurements will remedy such problems.

Implementation of Research Outcomes

The technologies related to determining the early stages of ballast fouling are currently under development as part of our efforts. The next step in our development is field testing of the approaches and technologies that are being evaluated. Once they are proven, we intend to pursue implementation as a pilot program, in collaboration with industrial partners.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation

There exists no proven method for detecting, qualitatively or quantitively, the amount of friction modifiers or other third body layers on top pf the rail. The technology that is under development in this project will provide the first-ever method of measuring third body layers. When implemented, the method will have a major impact on the rail industry by allowing better management of maintenance of way and enabling major cost savings.

Web Links

Photo of white car on railings