New rail technology keeps trains on track
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New rail technology keeps trains on track

Trains have been running on steel rails since the 1850s, but the science behind both safety and performance is constantly evolving.Stretching for up to three kilometres, iron ore trains wind through Western Australia’s hot Pilbara region hauling a massive 24,000 tonnes at a time. The trains and their loads are huge – yet the contact between each wheel and the rail is barely the size of a five cent piece, a mere centimetre in diameter.Such a massive weight and such a small contact area creates huge stresses and wear on both the wheel and rail with direct consequences for performance and safety. It is where engineering and rail technology are tested to the limit, says Ravi Ravitharan, director of the Institute of Railway Technology (IRT) at Monash University.The consequences of a materials or design failure can be tragic if a derailment involves a passenger train, such as the Hatfield derailment north of London in 2000, in which four people were killed and 70 injured, with huge financial ramifications.For more than 40 years IRT has been driving the science involved in understanding what happens in such accidents and preventing recurrences; developing innovations to reduce wheel–rail stresses and improve rail network safety.

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New rail technology keeps trains on track