What happens where the wheel meets the rail (conference)

Posted by Tyler Trahan
on Wednesday, June 07, 2017

This week in Montreal, railroad professionals are meeting to learn from each other about the interaction between flanged wheels and steel rails at the 23rd annual Wheel-Rail Interaction conference. Trains Magazine is the presenting sponsor again this year, the magazine's sixth year.

And the conference is just as focused and technical as it sounds.

On Tuesday, presenters immersed about 75 attendees in the physics and math behind phenomena such as rolling contact fatigue, wheel creepage, truck hunting, and how different rail and wheel profiles (cross sections) are suited for different applications known as the "Principles" or back-to-basics day. Did you know that a more conical wheel is better at negotiating sharp curves, while a more gently angled wheel tread is better for high-speed stability? Right, I was unaware until this conference.

Most, if not all, of the subjects at hand relate to reducing wear and damage of rails and wheels, or detecting said wear or damage. Depending on the presentation, my reaction has been somewhere between "lightbulb moment" and "back to feeling dumb in pre-calculus." There is a lot of math in describing many of these phenomena.

From my outsider's perspective, the current trend is moving towards automation which allows more infrastructure and vehicles to be inspected more often, with less human action required. This means collecting data, at times to the tune of 100 gigabytes per vehicle, per day.

Data shines when algorithms are used to find relationships between different types of data, say to record how loud a subway train screeches around a corner with a certain rail profile versus another, perhaps with a rail greaser installed. At times, case studies in wheel rail interaction feel like one big science project with trains where engineers test one variable at a time and compare the results. The end goal is to make a railroad safer and more efficient.

This basics day is a good refresher for the experts, but the red meat of this conference is the three themed days: one focusing on transit and two focused on heavy haul freight. Transit was on Monday and attended by managers and engineers from many of the major transit systems in North America. Heavy Haul, (today and Thursday) is expected to attract railroaders from the major roads, particularly Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. The conference hotel is accessible directly from CN's headquarters via Montreal's famed underground city which shelters residents from harsh winters.

What’s next? Well right now, I’m headed into “Info Zones,” which are special break-out sessions staffed by railroad vendors to demonstrate new products or highlight their latest methods. Look for more on this throughout the week.

But in the meantime, if you want more information, visit the Wheel-Rail Seminars website, you'll be glad you did.

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.