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Exploring the Potential for the Application of Ceramic Bearing Technology to the Wheel/Rail Interface

[+] Author Affiliations
Gerald E. Arnold

Booz Allen Hamilton, Washington, DC

Paper No. JRC/ICE2007-40043, pp. 53-59; 7 pages
  • ASME/IEEE 2007 Joint Rail Conference and Internal Combustion Engine Division Spring Technical Conference
  • ASME/IEEE 2007 Joint Rail Conference and Internal Combustion Engine Division Spring Technical Conference
  • Pueblo, Colorado, USA, March 13–16, 2007
  • Conference Sponsors: Rail Transportation Division and Internal Combustion Engine Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-4787-X | eISBN: 0-7918-3795-5
  • Copyright © 2007 by ASME


Ball or roller bearings have much in common with a railway wheel running on a rail. Both have high Hertzian stresses and are subject to rolling contact fatigue. Silicone Nitride (Si3N4), a Technical Ceramic, has now firmly established itself in the engineering marketplace as part of a hybrid bearing, where the rolling elements are silicone nitride and the races are steel. The paper explores the possibility of a Silicon Nitride/steel wheel/rail combination and finds that, because Silicon Nitride has a higher Modulus of Elasticity, it is not suitable as a direct replacement on existing systems, because it would produce a smaller contact patch and greater contact stress. The low toughness of Silicon Nitride in comparison to steel could be an obstacle to its general railway use, however, it could made into a composite material in the same manner as Carbon Reinforced Silicon Carbide (C/SiC) is used in brake discs. There is a possibility that, under the right conditions, Silicon Nitride could return very low wear rates, because of its extreme hardness, and because it’s excellent resistance to rolling contact fatigue (noted in hybrid bearings). This could give a wheel high mileage, without the need to remove fatigued material by controlled wear or by turning. A promising future application for the material is a cable-hauled system, where the predicted lower adhesion between Silicon Nitride and a steel rail is not a problem and the wheels are not required to be conductive.

Copyright © 2007 by ASME
Topics: Ceramics , Bearings , Rails , Wheels



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