Railhead Damage


I have worked on railhead damage of various types for almost my entire working life. During that time, my main areas of interest have been in rail corrugation (for which RailMeasurement provide measuring equipment, as shown elsewhere on this website), rolling contact fatigue (RCF) and a defect that my colleagues and I have christened a “stud”. I have been lucky in working extensively in academia, as a consultant and in the railway industry, most pertinently for a company that supplies rail grinding trains. During my career I have stood on the shoulders of giants not only in rail damage, but also in vehicle dynamics, acoustics and other areas.

This section of the website provides an essentially personal overview of railhead damage. This contribution is intended to complement rather than replace well-established references on rail defects1, 2, 3. It would be presumptuous to propose otherwise.

There are many similarities in the types of damage that occur on rails and wheels. For example, wheelburns and wheelflats are a consequence primarily of concentrated thermal input to rails and wheels from traction and braking effects respectively. Although we are aware of these similarities, we do not draw attention to them here.


I am grateful to several people for permission to use photographs. These include David Fletcher of Sheffield University, René Heyder of DB, Maurice Verheijen of Schweerbau GmbH, Brian Whitney of Network Rail and Charles Frederick, formerly of BR Research, to whom I am particularly grateful.

This contribution was initially drafted as a booklet for publication by a major supplier of railway equipment. This web-based presentation is intended to complement and be more widely accessible than that hard-copy publication. It can also be more readily updated.

Dr Stuart L Grassie
Stuart Grassie Engineering Ltd, March 2018


1 Atlas of wheel and rail defects
UIC, Paris, April 2004 (ISBN 2-7461-0818-6)

2 An international cross reference of rail defects 2nd edition, Cannon DF
UIC, Paris, June 2003 (ISBN 2-7461-0688-4)

3 Rail Defects Handbook: Some Rail Defects, their Characteristics, Causes and Control
RC 2400, Issue A, Revision 0, March 2006, Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd.