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Wheel keeps repairs on track

MATERIALS Cutting Edge

ENGINEERS at a German research centre have unveiled a rail damage measuring wheel that can help maintenance companies plan their programmes.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability in Darmstadt, south-west Germany, have developed a rail track measuring wheel that can differentiate between the different stresses on the rail during the acceleration and braking of trains and trams.

Tradit ionally, measu r ing wheels are used to determine the load that is transferred to the vehicle via its wheels when travelling around bends and over sleepers.

This helps engineers design the train to withstand these stresses.

Measuring wheels are also used by railway system operators to locate any uneven sections of rail or junctions that are putting extra strain on the carriages.

But until now it has been difficult for engineers to fully assess the stresses where vertical and horizontal forces interact when a train is travelling around a bend or where it accelerates or brakes coming into a station.

This latest system can differentiate between the differently aligned forces and also accurately determines the contact forces occurring between wheel and rail.

Research head Michael Kieninger revealed that the secret to the new method was to weaken the measuring wheel by drilling holes through it.

This creates a spoke-like pattern that produces areas that pick up vertical forces and others that only pick up lateral forces.

Full scale tests on the system are due to be carried out in Frankfur t dur ing the autumn.