High-Speed Defect Detection in Rails by Noncontact Guided Ultrasonic Testing

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - reliability, infrastructure - track, mode - rail


Ultrasonic waves, Transverse cracking, Tracks, Reliability, Railroad tracks, Inspection, High speed defect detection, Fissures, Ductile fracture, Detection and identification, CWR, Cracks, Cracking, Continuous welded rail, Continuous rail


Recent train accidents have reaffirmed the need to develop rail defect detection systems that are more effective than those used today. This paper proposes new inspection systems for detecting transverse-type cracks in the rail head, notoriously the most dangerous flaws in rails. In principle these systems can be applied to both continuous welded rail and jointed tracks because bidirectional inspection can be implemented. However, the systems may fail to detect defects located close to a joint. The proposed technology uses ultrasonic guided waves that are detected by remote sensors positioned as far away as 76 mm (3 in.) from the top of the rail head. An impulse hammer is used to generate waves below 50 kHz that can successfully detect cracks larger than 15% of the head cross-sectional area. For smaller cracks—those as shallow as 1 mm—a pulsed laser is used for generating waves above 100 kHz. The inspection ranges are at least 10 m (32 ft) for cracks larger than 15% of the head area and at least 500 mm (20 in.) for surface head cracks as shallow as 1 mm. The defect detection reliability is improved by using both reflection and transmission measurements.