To attract more customers and compete with other modes of transportation, railway transport needs to ensure safety, punctuality, high comfort, and low cost; wheel–rail adhesion, i.e., the transmitted tangential force in the longitudinal direction during driving and braking, plays an important role in all these aspects. Adhesion needs to be kept at a certain level for railway operation and maintenance. However, wheel−rail contact is an open system contact. Different contaminants can present between the wheel and rail surfaces, forming a third-body layer that affects the adhesion. Prediction of wheel–rail adhesion is important for railway operations and research into vehicle dynamics; however, this prediction is difficult because of the presence of contaminants.
This thesis deals with wheel–rail adhesion from a tribological perspective. The five appended papers discuss wheel–rail adhesion in terms of dry conditions, lubricated conditions, leaf contamination, iron oxides, and environmental conditions. The research methodologies used are numerical modelling, scaled laboratory experiments, and field tests. The research objective is to understand the mechanisms of the adhesion loss phenomenon.
A numerical model was developed to predict wheel–rail adhesion based on real measured 3D surfaces. Computer simulation indicates that surface topography has a larger impact on lubricated than on dry contacts. Plastic deformation in asperities is found to be very important in the model. Ball-on-disc tests indicate that water can give an extremely low adhesion coefficient on smooth surfaces, possibly due to surface oxidation. Investigation of lubricated contacts at low speed indicates that oil reduces the adhesion coefficient by carrying a normal load, while adhesion loss due to water depends on the surface topography, water temperature, and surface oxidation. A field investigation indicates that leaves reduce the friction coefficient because of the chemical reaction between leaves and bulk materials. The thickness of the surface oxide layer was found to be an essential factor determining adhesion reduction. Pin-on-disc experiments found a transition in the friction coefficient with regard to the relative humidity, due to a trade-off between the water molecule film and the hematite on the surface.