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Analysis of defects occuring on rail tracks
Basson, Conrad Charl Peter
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South Africa’s railway system is the most highly developed in Africa. There are different kinds of transport systems in South Africa but rail transport is considered as one of an important element of the country’s transport infrastructure. In South Africa, over 2.4 million passengers make use of rail transport to get them to their destinations. However, evidence shows that train accidents have become a common occurrence across the country. Train-related accidents such as collision, derailments, platform change incidents and commuter accidents, cost South Africa over R400 million per year. The analysis of derailments indicates that the most significant single contributor to derailments is rail breaks. This contrasts considerably with prescribed relevant local and international benchmarks, which show a much lower percentage of derailments due to rail break. The frequency of derailments due to rail breaks in South Africa seems to be higher in the northern than the southern region. Furthermore, the proportion of rail breaks that result in derailment is considerably higher than the set benchmarks and therefore, if there is a rail break, then the probability of this translating into a derailment is astonishingly high. Equally, the high incidence of derailments due to rail breaks is affected by the train length and axle load and further exacerbated by the absence of track circuitry. Since derailments are a direct function of the incidence of rail breaks, focus is required to characterize the factors causing defects on rail lines. This study investigated steel rail material by characterising the piece of the damaged rail with the aim to gain a better understanding of the wear mechanism. Chemical composition analysis of steel rail sample was conducted with the use of a Scanning Electron microscopy. Hardness of steel rail was measured with a Vickers hardness tester. An Optical Microscopy was used to examine the microstructure features of the worn rail samples. This study discovered that the worn out rail, which was produced from high carbon steel with pearlite and ferrite microstructure, undergoes decarburization and a plastic deformation process. The decarburization process happens when the rail track is heated to 700 oC and above when the carbon atoms at the surface interact with the atmospheric gases and are removed from the steel as a gaseous phase. Plastic deformation is created when the iron atoms are heated above the elastic point resulting in the permanent movement of iron atoms.
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