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Does Rail Grinding Reduce Rail Defects?

The effectiveness of grinding in reducing rail defects is examined in a long-term study over thousands of miles on Class 1 track.
One of the primary benefits associated with rail profile grinding is the control of rail defects, particularly rail fatigue related defects. While numerous studies and papers have looked at this effect1, most studies to date have been on limited test zones or for limited time periods. However, one recent study took a long-term global view, examining the benefits of rail grinding on more than 20,000 miles on a major U.S. Class 1 railroad over a five year period2. More than 30,000 rail fatigue defects were included in this study.

The primary focus was an assessment of the effectiveness of rail grinding in reducing the occurrence of rail defects and the associated need for rail replacement. Thus, the detailed analyses focused on those rail defects that are affected by rail grinding, specifically fatigue related defects to include detail fractures, transverse defects, etc. The specific objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of the railroads grinding program from the point-of-view of effectiveness in maintaining rail in track, reducing the rate of development of rail fatigue defects and thus extending rail fatigue service life based on actual railroad experience with rail grinding. This effectiveness study used data from a major U.S. Class 1 railroad for the five year period 2003 through 2007. Using railroad data showing territory (track) ground by the contractors grinding equipment, the effect of rail grinding was examined by separating the railroad main line tracks into two broad categories; ground vs. not ground territories. These territories were then compared based on tonnage and traffic characteristics. It should be noted that the ground territories included lines with both single and multiple grinding cycles and, thus, the data was further reduced into one grinding cycle and two or more grinding cycle territories.

Because of the scope of the study in terms of both time and territory, the data was of sufficient validity and scope as to allow for a statistically significant analysis of the rail defect behavior. This included sufficient data in both the no-grind and the grind data groups to allow for a valid comparative analysis.

Analysis of defects
The analysis approach focused on the relationship between grinding and rail fatigue defect development. Defect rates were determined for both ground and not ground territories and then compared after normalization for mileage and tonnage. Analysis by curvature class was also performed. The initial step involved the correlation of the railroad defect data with the rail replacement and tonnage data for all defect classes, as well as the fatigue only defect classes. This data was further broken down into grind and no-grind areas as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Shows railroad defect history by primary category.

The fatigue category contains only those defects that are associated with fatigue of the rail steel under traffic loading and as such is the primary category of defects affected by rail grinding. This fatigue defect category includes Detail Fractures, Transverse Defects, Vertical Split Heads and Horizontal Split Heads defects.

Table 1: Comparison of defect rates: grind vs. no grind.

Since there were significant differences in annual tonnage (mgt) and total mileage between the different categories and, in particular, between the grind and no-grind territories, it was necessary to convert the total defects into defect rates, defined as defects/mile/mgt or defect per mgt-mile. Table 1 and Figure 2 present the resulting defect rate statistics. Note that the weighted average annual tonnage was 41.4 mgt for the grind territory and 8.4 mgt for the no-grind territory.

Figure 2: Graphical comparison of defect rates: grind vs. no grind.

As can be clearly seen in Figure 1 and in Table 1, the normalized defect rate (defects/mile/year) was consistently lower for the ground territory than for the no-grind territory. In order to further examine the effect of grinding, the defect data was broken down by number of grinding passes (none, single and multiple), tonnage category (light, moderate, high) and curvature class (tangent/light, moderate, severe).

These categories were defined as follows: Annual traffic density categories < 10 mgt o Note: track with tonnage levels below two mgt were deleted from the final analysis to avoid the effect of very low density lines. 10 to 40 mgt > 40 mgt Curvature categories 0 to 2 degrees 2 to 5 degrees > 5 degrees The corresponding defect rates (defects/mile/year) for each of these categories, together with summary categories corresponding to all curves (per traffic category) and all tonnages (per curve category) are presented in Table 2. Note that for most of the elements, there was a significant population of both defects and miles, resulting in a statistically significant analysis population. However, there were a few elements that had a limited number of miles and/or defects, (shaded boxes in Table 2) which should be considered with caution. These defects rates are presented graphically in Figure 3, which presents the defect rates for all three grind categories plotted with respect to the three curve categories for all mgt levels. The benefits of grinding can be clearly seen in this figure, as the rail fatigue defect rates for the nogrind territories are significantly higher than those for the grind territories. Also, note that defects increase with increased curvature, as expected and that the one grind and 2+ grind curves follow each other very closely. This is consist with the actual grinding tonnage intervals for the one grind and 2+ grind categories (35 mgt for the one grind and 60 mgt for the 2+ grind categories) and further suggests that the railroads grinding practices and grinding cycles are effective. As can be clearly seen in Figure 3, there is a well defined reduction in defect rate (defects/mile/mgt) associated with grinding. Specifically, the rate of fatigue-related defect occurrence is 0.024 def/mi/mgt for the no-grind territories and 0.011 def/mi/mgt for all of the grind territories, a significant reduction of more than 50 percent or 0.013 def/mi/mgt.

Table 2: Detailed matrix of defect rates by category.

Figure 3: Defect rates by curve and grind category.

Table 3: Difference in defect rates: grind vs. no grind. Economic benefit analysis
In order to quantify the value of the reduction in rail defects associated with rail grinding, an economic benefit analysis was performed (using 2007 data) to define the value of this reduction in annual defects. The specific economic benefits addressed were two classes of benefits associated with reduction in defect rate: Savings in rail repair costs; i.e. savings due to the reduced number of repair rails (plugs) needed because of the reduced number of rail defects. Savings due to deferred rail replacement costs; i.e. savings due to the extension of rail fatigue life (due to reduced level of fatigue defects) and corresponding deferral of rail replacement [scheduled for replacement due to excessive defects]. Other economic benefits associated with rail grinding1 but not considered as part of this analysis include: Improved wheel/rail contact Reduced rail wear Reduced rail corrugations Extension in surfacing cycle Reduced fuel consumption

Using data from the 2007 grind and no-grind categories5, the defect rates (defects/mile/mgt, see Table 3) were determined to be: No-grind defect rate mile/mgt Grind defect rate mile/mgt 0.024 defects/ 0.011 defects/

This results in a reduction on defect rate due to grinding of 0.013 def/mi/mgt, which translates into 5,517 fatigue type defects that were avoided as a result of grinding. This, in turn, results in 5,517 fewer rail defects that have to be removed and replaced (by a welded rail plug). While there is significant variation in defect repair cost between defects found behind detector (test) cars (approximately 85 to 90 percent of total defects3) and service defects where a crew has to be called out specially for the repair (approximately 10 to 15 percent of total defects3), a reasonable cost to repair a defect with a welded-in rail plug is of the order of $1,500 (labor plus materials, to include two thermit weld kits). Thus, for the 5,517 defects avoided by grinding, this translates into a total value (savings) of $8,274,789. The second area of savings is that of deferred rail replacement costs, i.e., rail which can be allowed to remain in track longer than otherwise would have occurred if no-grinding took place (and the defect rate continued at the higher no-grind rate). Using Weibull defect rate growth theory1,4,5, together with the actual defect and tonnage data, it is possible to calculate the difference in rail fatigue defect degradation behavior between the grind and no-grind territories. This resulted in an extension of the rail fatigue life (due to the reduction in defect growth rate due to grinding) of 4.4 percent2 and a corresponding reduction in annual replacement rail needed. For the study railroad, the avoided rail replacement is 24.3 miles. At an industry average cost of rail replacement of $480,000 per mile, this translates into an avoided rail replacement savings of $11,668,464. Thus, the total savings associated with rail grinding due to reduced rail repair and extension in rail life is: Avoided rail repair benefit $ 8,274,789 Avoided rail replacement cost $ 11,668,464 Total Savings (rail only): $ 19,943,253 Note, this does not include savings in reduced corrugations and improved wheel/rail contact related areas such as fuel consumption, reduced surfacing requirements, etc.1 Overall, the study strongly confirms previous studies on the effectiveness of rail grinding in reducing the rate of development of fatigue defects and associated rail (and other track) maintenance costs.

1. Zarembski, A.M. The Art and Science of Rail Grinding. Simmons-Boardman Books, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska. August 2005. 2. Zarembski, A.M., Palese, J.P. Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Rail Grinding on Reducing Rail Defects on North American Class 1 Railroad. AREMA 2010 Annual Conference and Exposition, Orlando, Florida. August 2010. 3. Zarembski, A.M., Palese, J.P. Characterization of Broken Rail Risk for Freight and Passenger Railway Operations. AREMA 2005 Annual Conference and Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 2528 September 2005. 4. Armstrong, R.A., et al. Impact of Rail Car Loads on Rail Defect Occurrence. Second International Heavy Haul Railway Conference, Colorado Springs, Colorado. September 1982. 5. Zarembski, A.M. Forecasting of Track Component Lives and its Use in Track Maintenance Planning. International Heavy Haul Association / Transportation Research Board Workshop. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. June 1991.