The National Academies

TCRP Synthesis J-07/Topic SE-07 [Active (Synthesis)]

Maintenance Planning for Rail Asset Management – Current Practices
[ TCRP J-07 (Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $45,000
Authorization to Begin Work: 5/24/2019 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Research Agency: University of Delaware
Principal Investigator: Allan Zarembski
Fiscal Year: 2019

Final Scope


As rail infrastructure ages, risks of failure increase. For the rails themselves, risks of fatigue defect development and resulting rail break risks grow exponentially. Some transit system use track circuits which can aid in detection of broken rails. Track circuits can identify some kinds of broken rails but they cannot identify rail defects that lead to rail breaks. Rail transit systems worldwide use ultrasonic rail testing (UT) as a means for inspecting rail to detect internal rail flaws. Eddy current testing and visual inspections are a means used for detecting external flaws. Emerging rail defects must be removed by replacing the rail before they grow to the point where a rail breaks.


Non-destructive testing is used in various combinations with visual track inspection on different transit properties. The frequency at which rail is inspected is heavily dependent on a number of factors such as the age of the rail, the amount of traffic, environmental conditions, the characteristics of the rail, the historic defect population, and track support conditions. It is important to understand the interaction of these factors to ensure that rail defects can be effectively located before defects grow to become actual rail breaks. 


Many transit systems use experience based and regulatory guidelines for scheduling inspections and non-destructive testing. Currently the transit industry does not have uniform methodologies for track inspection to detect rail flaws. The objective of this synthesis is to research and document the current state of the practice of transit systems in the area of rail inspection and maintenance as it relates to preventing rail breaks.  Information to be gathered includes but is not limited to:


·         Testing/Inspection Methodologies (i.e. UT)

·         Costs (Labor and Equipment)

·         Testing/Inspection Frequencies

·         Challenges and Constraints (i.e. maintenance windows)

·         Regulations, Policies and Procedures

·         Measures of Effectiveness


The information will be gathered by conducting a Literature Review or background chapter of available technologies and the use of these technologies worldwide, a survey of U.S. transit systems to determine available data, rail defect history, and in–depth case examples of transit agencies who have developed innovative track maintenance practices. The case examples should highlight successes, challenges and lessons learned. Gaps in information and future research needs will also be identified.

Information Sources:

[1] US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration Report, “Railroad Safety Statistics”, July 1999.

[2] Orringer, O., “Control of Rail Integrity By Self-Adaptive Scheduling of Rail Tests”, US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration Report, DOT/FRA/ORD-90/) 05, June 1990.

[3] Orringer, O., “Self Adaptive Guide for Scheduling Rail Inspection in Service”, Residual Stress in Rails: Effects on Rail Integrity and Railroad Economics, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992, pp.99 - 120.

[4] Palese, Joseph W., Wright, Thomas W., “Application of a Risk Based Ultrasonic Test Frequency Scheduling System on Burlington Northern Santa Fe”, TONE:  Volume 5: Nondestructive Testing & Evaluation (NDT&E) for the Railroad Industry, 2000.

[5]  Palese, Joseph W., Wright Thomas W., “Risk-Based Ultrasonic Rail Test Scheduling on Burlington Northern Santa Fe”, American Railway Engineering Maintenance Association Annual Technical Conference, 2000.



 TRB Staff

Mariela Garcia-Colberg

Phone:  202/334-2361

Email:  mgarciacolberg@nas.edu


Meeting Dates

First Panel: October 11, 2019

Teleconference with Contractor: October 24, 2019

Second Panel: June 10, 2020


Topic Panel

Ravi Amin, WMATA- Alexandria Yard

Richard Boadi, Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions

Tina Ignat, METRA

Edwin Kraft, TEMS, Inc

Aderemi Omotayo, Los Angeles County Metro

Erik Stoothoff, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

Athena Ullah, STV

David C. Wilcock, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB)

Mshadoni Smith, Federal Transit Administration


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