Limits for acceptable use of worn rails on UK standard gauge heritage railways

Gareth Dennis, Martin Crapper

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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In 2011, UK heritage railways carried 7.1 million passengers on over 530 miles of track, accounting for £92 million of direct revenue. Much of this operation uses steam locomotives with relatively high axle loads and reciprocating motion which can lead to uneven track loading. However the majority of track components on heritage lines are antiquated due to reliance on cascaded components and in some cases on the deliberate retention of chaired bullhead rail for conservational purposes. This research provides an assessment of current methodologies regarding the management of steel rails on heritage railways: the measurement of rail wear, the assessment of the residual strength in worn rails and the subsequent determination of a rail’s critical wear limit. It describes the effectiveness and adequacy of some of the inspection regimes in use and addresses the risks associated with the variation in these regimes across the sector. A survey of permanent way supervisors on UK standard gauge heritage lines is reported and the permanent way in use is and the perceived requirements for its renewal are summarised. Due to low speeds and traffic levels, the main line standards for rail wear are generally thought to be inappropriate for heritage railway use whilst ‘high-tech’ methods for measuring crack propagation and rail wear are inaccessible due to cost. A common approach is to employ inspection and maintenance regimes developed by British Rail for use on rural lines. Utilising a fracture mechanics approach to predicting rail failure developed in the USA, the research highlights a more relevant set of guidelines, providing a matrix detailing acceptable wear limits based on inspection frequency, rail type, formation condition and traffic levels. The findings will benefit the heritage rail industry by minimising risk whilst accounting for resource limitations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
EventRailway Engineering 2013 - London
Duration: 1 Jul 2013 → …


ConferenceRailway Engineering 2013
Period1/07/13 → …


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