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Microstructural evolution of white and brown etching layers in pearlitic rail steels

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Kumar,  Ankit
Delft University of Technology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Mekelweg 2, 2628CD, Delft, the Netherlands;
Materials Science of Mechanical Contracts, Microstructure Physics and Alloy Design, Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH, Max Planck Society;

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Herbig,  Michael
Materials Science of Mechanical Contacts, Microstructure Physics and Alloy Design, Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Kumar, A., Agarwal, G., Petrov, R., Goto, S., Sietsma, J., & Herbig, M. (2019). Microstructural evolution of white and brown etching layers in pearlitic rail steels. Acta Materialia, 171, 48-64. doi:10.1016/j.actamat.2019.04.012.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-ACE6-8
Abstract
The formation of White (WEL) and Brown Etching Layers (BEL) on rail raceways during service causes the initiation of microcracks which finally leads to failure. Detailed characterization of the WEL and the BEL in a pearlitic rail steel is carried out from micrometer to atomic scale to understand their microstructural evolution. A microstructural gradient is observed along the rail depth including martensite, austenite and partially dissolved parent cementite in the WEL and tempered martensite, ultrafine/nanocrystalline martensite/austenite, carbon saturated ferrite and partially dissolved parent cementite in the BEL. Plastic deformation in combination with a temperature rise during wheel-rail contact was found to be responsible for the initial formation and further microstructural evolution of these layers. The presence of austenite in the WEL/BEL proves experimentally that temperatures rise into the austenite range during wheel-rail contact. This is in agreement with finite element modelling results. Each wheel-rail contact must be considered as an individual short but intense deformation and heat treatment cycle that cumulatively forms the final microstructure, as shown by diffusion length calculations of C and Mn. The presence of secondary carbides in the BEL indicates that the temperature in the BEL during individual loading cycles reaches levels where martensite tempering occurs. Partially fragmented primary cementite laths, enriched in Mn, depleted in Si, and surrounded by a C-gradient and dislocations were found in the BEL. The initial step in the formation of BEL and WEL is the defect- and diffusion-assisted decomposition of the original microstructure. © 2019 Acta Materialia Inc.