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Importance of Iron & steel, elemental iron, alloy
steel for rails and wheels, methods of increasing
hardness of rail steel, effect of environmental
conditions on mechanical properties of railway rail
and wheel steel, Effect of alloying elements on rail
Material selection for- Suspension springs, chassis,
bogie, body, etc.
Heat treatment for – Rail, wheels, railway
components, etc.

Rails, rail-fastenings and many other track components are

made from iron and steel due to their certain fundamental
characteristics enabling them to withstand varying stresses
and strains, which these components are subjected.
The properties of iron are influenced by heating and
cooling. Indiscrete heating and cooling can create
problems. The formations of iron alloys with other
elements such as carbon, manganese and silicon etc.
change the properties of iron. It is expedient to have a
reasonable idea about the metallurgical behavior of these
materials and how they are produced.


 Iron is produced traditionally from iron-ore. Iron, which is

mainly iron-oxide, is mixed with carbon (coke) and a flux
(lime-stone), and the mixture is heated in a blast furnace. The
carbon (coke) burns to produce Carbon-Monoxide (CO) and
heat. CO is a highly reducing gas, which reduces the iron-
oxide to iron. The iron melts due to the high temperature
generated as the coke burns in the blast of hot air. Other
impurities are absorbed by the flux to form a slag, which being
lighter than iron floats on the surface. The slag also protects
the iron from further re-oxidation. The molten iron is tapped
from blast furnace and cast into pigs. This is called “Pig-Iron”,
and this process of producing iron from iron-ore is known as
“Smelting of Iron-Ore”.

 Pure iron exists at room temperature in a crystalline form

known as “Alpha-Iron”. It is the magnetic allotrope of iron,
moderately hard and ductile. When heated to 760° C it loses its
magnetic property, and at 910° C its crystalline structure is
transformed into Gamma-Iron. The iron undergoes a
significant change as a result of this rearrangement of atoms. It
becomes softer and more ductile. The process is reversed if the
iron is allowed to cool slowly to its original temperature.

As a liquid metal from the blast furnace solidifies, it takes up the Gamma
form and in this state it can take up to 2.0 % solid carbon into solution. The
iron in this form is called “AUSTENITE”. If there is excess of carbon in the
liquid, it combines with iron to form a compound called “CEMENTITE”
(Fe3C). With carbon level of 3% and above and dependent upon the cooling
rate, “free GRAPHITE” – also called “GREY IRON” – will be precipitated
from solidifying liquid at the same time as the formation of austenite. On
further cooling, the austenite itself transforms into Alpha-Iron (a low carbon
content phase) called “FERRITE” and a lamellar structure called
“PEARLITE”. PEARLITE is composed of alternating layers of FERRITE
and CEMENTITE. When final cooling has been achieved and dependent
upon cooling rate and presence of other elements particularly silicon, pig-
iron can have a structure of PEARLITE and GRAPHITE called “GREY-
IRON” or of PEARLITE and CEMENTITE called “WHITE-IRON”, or of
Blast furnace pig-iron is generally not suitable for the production of castings.
It is further remelted and refined to obtain steel.
Alloy steel for rails and wheels

Steel is an alloy of the element iron with a very small percentage of

carbon and other elements such as manganese. Steel is made from pig-
iron by heating it once again till it melts. Then oxygen is blown
through the melt, which combines with some of the carbon to reduce
the proportion of this element in the alloy. To produce steel the carbon
content must be brought below the percentage at which free graphite
will be formed in austenitic phase (i.e. less than 3%). With a carbon
content as high as 2%, the steel consists of granules of cementite in a
matrix of pearlite. As the carbon content decreases to 0.8%, the
proportion of free cementite in the alloy reduces to 0.8%. When slowly
cooled through the austenitic-pearlite transformation, the steel consists
entirely of pearlite. Below this carbon content the steel takes the form
of a mixture of ferrite and granules of pearlite, considered ideal for rail
steel. Normal and wear resisting rail steel of grade A and B contains
0.45% to 0.8% (by weight) carbon. Hence, the rail steels are usually
referred to as pearlite steel with medium to high carbon content.
Effect of alloying elements on rail steels.

Normal grade steel has the following chemical composition:

Element Percentage
Carbon 0.45 - 0.60
Silicon 0.05 – 0.35
Manganese 0.95 – 1.25
Phosphorous 0.04 max.
Sulphur 0.04 max.
The implication of carbon in rail steel has already been discussed.
Phosphorous and Sulphur are present as impurities mainly because
they form a proportion of the naturally occurring iron-ore and it is
difficult to eliminate them altogether in the smelting and refining
Effect of alloying elements on rail steels.

It is difficult to eliminate them altogether in the smelting and

refining process. Silicon is also present in most steels
obtained from the refractory materials used in the lining of
blast furnace and steel convertor. Siliceous materials are also
generally present in most of iron-ores. Generally, silicon at
controlled level is beneficial to the properties of steel and is
added deliberately to liquid steel prior to making ingots or
continuous castings to remove excess oxygen from steel.
This process is called “Killing” of the steel and is most
essential. The other common element used for killing steel is
aluminium. But silicon is preferred for rail steel production,
as oxides of silicon, which solidify as inclusions in the
solidified steel are less harmful than aluminium derivatives
during subsequent service life of rails.
Effect of alloying elements on rail steels.

In contrast, sulphur is a highly injurious impurity. At high

temperatures, involved in steel making, sulphur combines with iron to
form iron sulphide (FeS).
This is soluble in molten steel, but is incapable of blending with steel
in the solid state. Consequently, as the molten steel solidifies, FeS is
ejected from the solid part of the ingot and is deposited as a thin layer
along the grain boundaries of steel making the steel useless. To prevent
the formation of FeS, Manganese (Mn) is added to the steel at the
conversion stage. The sulphur and manages form Manganese-sulphide,
and most of it floats off the surface of the molten steel in the slag. The
remaining MnS forms independent globules, which get distributed
throughout the steel during solidification. MnS is harmless unlike FeS.
Manganese readily combines in solution with steel and its derivatives;
so it has no disadvantageous effect on the properties of steel. On the
contrary, it is advantageous as it increases the hardness of steel thereby
improving its strength and toughness.

Austenitic Manganese Steel (AMS) is produced by adding a

comparatively large dose (around 12.5%) of manganese to high
carbon-steel (i.e. steel containing about 1.2% carbon) during the steel
making process. This steel, which possesses austenitic structural
properties at normal ambient temperature, is extremely tough and
shock resistant. In the ‘raw’ state AMS is relatively soft (Brinell
Hardness is 200, slightly softer than normal grade rail steel) but in use
it becomes extremely hard very quickly (BH of 400 to 500). AMS is
extensively used by railways throughout the world in the form of
castings to make mono-block crossings.
Methods of increasing hardness of rail steel

The hardness value of the rail steel can be increased by:

1.Changing its chemical composition by adding Chromium, Vanadium
etc. (High alloy rails),
2.heat treatment/controlled cooling of conventional rail steel and by
3.a combination of methods 1. and 2. above.
Table gives the chemical composition of various rail steels including heat treated rails

Rail makers have produced for many years rails of high wear resistance by
changing the chemical composition. Additional wear resistance was achieved
by the use of alloy steel e.g. with one percent Chromium. But this made it
more notch and thermally sensitive than with conventional carbon-steel rail.
Such rails also incurred a high risk to breake if not properly handled.
Methods of increasing hardness of rail steel

High-alloy steels have also a greater sensitivity to welding. To avoid

brittleness at the rail weld, it is necessary to pay special attention to
the cooling down period during the welding of rails. The minimum
cooling time of Chromium-Manganese steels, in the temperature range
of 800-5000 C, is about 220-200 seconds. As a consequence the flash-
butt welding machines have to provide after shearing-off process
reheating of rails, to keep the cooling rate within the safe range. The
method of increasing hardness of rail steel by heat
treatment/controlled cooling of plain carbon-steel provides a better
option. But volume hardening of the complete rail leads to lower
ductility causing breakages on rail foot. Head-hardened rails, where
only the rail-head is hardened, give the best results. Head-hardened
rails also provide a good safeguard against the phenomenon of rolling
contact fatigue of rails, which lately is becoming a great safety hazard
in the heavy haul and high speed operation.
Bainitic Steel, a new Generation Rail Steel

Bainitic Steel, a new Generation Rail Steel It is believed that pearlitic

steels have reached virtually their limit for further technical
advancement. Rail manufacturers are therefore looking forward to the
next generation of rail steel, which is surfacing in the form of bainitic
rail steel. Pearlite comprises a mixture of relatively soft ferrite and a
hard brittle iron carbide called “Cementite” taking the form of
roughly parallel plates. It achieves a good resistance to wear because
of the hard carbide and some degree of toughness as a result of the
ferrite’s ability to flow in an elastic/plastic manner.
Fig. 2.8 shows the microstructure of a pearlitic rail steel. The cementite is white and ferrite is
black. The inter-lamellar spacing is about 0.3 microns.

Pearlite Bainite
Correct choice of alloys and an intermediate cooling rate can produce
during the manufacture of rail steel a bainitic structure. This structure,
like pearlite, normally contains ferrite and carbide. But in this case the
ferrite is semi-coherent with the high temperature austenite phase,
from which it was formed. Alloying additions are made to prevent the
formation of carbides resulting in very fine interlath films of austenite,
which are retained between the ferrite plates.