White etching layer (WEL) is a frequently observed microstructural phenomenon in rail surface, formed during dynamic wheel/rail contact. It is considered as one of the main initiators for rolling contact fatigue cracks. There are several hypotheses for the formation mechanism of WEL. However, due to the complicated wheel/rail contact conditions, none is directly proven. Currently, the most popular hypotheses refer to either formation of martensitic WEL by phase transformations or formation of nanocrystalline ferritic WEL by severe plastic deformation. In this work, WEL formation by martensitic transformation in R260Mn grade pearlitic rail steel was simulated by fast heating and quenching experiments. Microstructural characteristics of the simulated WEL and WEL observed in a field rail specimen were characterized by microhardness, optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and electron backscatter diffraction. Microstructures of the two WELs were compared and similarities in morphology were identified. Numerical simulation shows the possible temperature rise up to austenitizing temperatures. Combining comparisons of experimental simulation with observation of WEL in the rail and the thermodynamic calculations, the hypothesis for WEL formation via martensitic transformation is supported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-20
JournalInternational Journal of Fatigue
Issue numberPart 1
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Laboratory simulation, Martensite formation, Temperature rise, Thermodynamic calculations, White etching layer

ID: 4444775