Assessing the deflection behaviour of mechanical and insulated rail joints through finite element analysis

Rail joints constitute a weak component in the railway system. In this paper three- dimensional (3D) finite element analyses (FEA) are carried out to study the structural deflection performance of rail joints under a fatigue static test through vertical stiffness assessment. Four different types of 4-bolted joints are investigated under a dynamically enhanced static load including a glued insulated rail joint (IRJ), a dry encapsulated IRJ, a dry non-glued IRJ and a mechanical RJ. The analysis focused on the accurate simulation of the contact types between the interfaces of rail joint components, namely among the rail, fishplate faces, bolts, insulating materials and on the effect of the elastic supporting structure of the joint on the overall joint deflection. The effect of bolt pretension is included in the model. The vertical displacement of IRJs is measured experimentally both by dial gauges and Video technique both in laboratory and in field. The numerical modelling investigated the effect of different contact types on the interfaces of the rail joint components during the performance of fishplates, and of the rail in the vicinity of the RJ under a given support condition. The vertical displacement of the rail joint were presented and assessed against specified endurance tests’ limits and field measured deflection values that validate the model. Stress distribution in the fishplates was presented that could allow the calculation, through a stress-life approach, the fatigue life of the fishplates and consequently of the joints due to repeated wheel passage. A comparison of the performance of the aforementioned RJ types is included. The results indicate this FE model to be practical to be routinely applied to industry, as it was used in UK Rail industry study to allow designers to optimise life expectancy of IRJs.