Rails are a major capital and maintenance cost for railways in North America. While manufacturers produce clean steels with high quality, most rails made today retain the basic carbon-manganese chemistry of traditional pearlitic rails. This paper describes the development of a bainitic rail steel with potential additional resistance to rolling contact fatigue damage. It is shown that rails can be produced in bainitic steel without the need for complex heat treatments after rolling, and that bainitic rails can have higher hardness and fracture toughness than pearlitic rails. Although small- and full-scale tests indicate that the wear performance of bainitic steel depends considerably on test conditions, the indication is that bainitic steel rails can have significantly better rolling contact fatigue performance compared to pearlitic rails. Reasons for the superior fatigue performance are not fully understood, although a number of hypotheses exist. A conclusion is that continued research would be useful to understand quantitatively the physics and metallurgy of wheel/rail contact.
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