Customizing Lubes, Applicators for Rail Systems


Customizing Lubes, Applicators for Rail Systems
A locomotive at Bergen central station in Norway. © Gunnar E Eide

Researchers with a technical foundation and a university in Norway said their efforts to develop new knowledge on the interaction between lubricants, train wheels and rails is leading to new environmentally friendly rail lubricants and customized rail lubricant application systems with potential for substantial savings in annual maintenance costs.

Researchers with the Foundation for International and Technical Research, known as Sintef, and with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, or NTNU, posted an update Jan. 11 on their ongoing efforts. They noted that lubricants used in the Norwegian rail sector and the systems that apply them have changed little in recent decades despite the fact that there has been much development in other areas of lubricants that are less detrimental to the environment. The organization said traditional trains, trams, metro systems and urban light railways in Norway continue to use the same lubricants even though the difference in wear and tear from online line to another can vary widely, and wheel and rail lifetimes may be up to 60% shorter in some areas.

The Sintef and NTNU research project, Winter – funded since 2021 by the Research Council of Norway – has focused on delivering more environmentally friendly lubricants and application systems adapted to the lubricant, to tailor those to specific regions and to develop separate and customized application systems for various types of railway transportation.

Based on tests conducted on the Flam line – the most demanding stretch in the Norwegian rail network – the foundation estimates that the innovations developed in the Winter project could result in annual savings in maintenance costs exceeding 5 million kroner (U.S. $477,000) on that line alone.

“Even though the line is only 20 kilometers long, the difference in elevation between the Flam line’s terminals at Myrdal and Flam exacerbate the wear and tear on wheels and rails,” the researchers said in the announcement. “Our results and experience from the Flam line thus cause us to anticipate savings of several hundred million kroner per decade across the entire Norwegian rail network.

Sintef and NTNU have collaborated on research into green lubricants for more than 10 years. The organizations said that involved collaboration with German independent lubricant manufacturer Fuchs and lubricant system supplier Elba, along with several companies from the Norwegian rail sector.

According to Sintef, rail sector investigations have focused on degradation mechanisms that impact train wheels and rails exposed to wear and tear. Along the Flame line, the organization used a thermal camera mounted on a train wheel axle and microphones to obtain information on wear and tear mechanisms and the impact they make on noise and vibrations.

“We have also carried out chemical analysis on the surfaces of both wheels and rails in an attempt to understand how different lubricant additives affect the performance of these components,” the researchers said. “These analyses are used in turn not only to develop new lubricants, but also new methods of applying them. Issues that we have addressed include region-specific criteria for both the correct selection of lubricants and the amount of lubricant to be applied, the correct localization of application systems and appropriate application methods.”

In addition to better protection against wear and reduced maintenance costs, the organization claimed the new lubricants should benefit passengers by reducing whistling and screeching from train wheels and trains.

Sintef is an independent, not-for-profit organization carrying out research in the natural sciences, technology, health and social sciences in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, known as NTNU. Sintef’s head office is in Trondheim, and it has offices in 15 other locations in Norway.