Michaël Steenbergen of the TU Delft Railway Engineering section has been commissioned by ProRail to research which smarter materials can be used to prevent degradation of the running surface of rails and how the operational lifespan of rails and switches can be extended.
Steenbergen takes up the challenge every day to find out more about how surface cracks, known as ‘squats’, originate and develop. When these squats continue to develop unchecked, they can lead to a fracture of the rail. These defects are also a source of noise pollution.
Steenbergen is attempting to find out more about how they originate and their growth mechanisms by conducting measurements in the field, destructive material research using sectional samples and test specimens, modelling and computational research. Steenbergen explains: “We are steadily gaining a better understanding of what exactly the defect is and how the rail materials behave under the extremely high and complex stress loads from the train. This means we can start thinking about smarter materials and other ways of exerting stress loads which extend the operational lifespan. Millions are spent each year on monitoring and prevention. Gaining an extensive picture of the mechanisms behind degradation is clearly the first step towards significantly reducing the costs of maintenance.”