New Lubricants and Application Techniques to Revolutionize the Norwegian Rail Sector

As the world grapples with the challenge of climate change, many countries are looking towards sustainable transportation options such as rail networks. In Norway, there is a growing desire to shift more transport from air and roads to railways. However, there has been a notable neglect in research concerning the interaction between lubricants, train wheels, and rails in the country. This neglect is paradoxical considering the significant implications this interaction has on energy consumption, safety, maintenance costs, passenger comfort, noise levels, vibration, and particle pollution within the rail network. Fortunately, a new research project called WINTER, funded by the Research Council of Norway, aims to bring about three crucial improvements to the rail sector: more environmentally-friendly lubricants, precise lubricant application systems, and customized application systems for different types of rail networks.

Despite the advancements in lubricant technology and their improved environmental friendliness, the use of lubricants in the Norwegian rail sector has remained largely unchanged for decades. Uniform lubricant application across all regions of the country, irrespective of variations in wear and tear, is a significant issue. The lifetime of wheels and rails can vary by up to 60% between different parts of the country, resulting in unnecessary maintenance costs. To address this problem, the WINTER project aims to develop region-specific lubricants and application systems that take into account the specific wear and tear conditions of each area.

To demonstrate the potential benefits of the innovations developed through the WINTER project, tests were conducted on the Flåm line, the most demanding stretch in the Norwegian rail network. The results of these tests indicate that the project’s innovations could lead to annual savings of more than five million kroner in maintenance costs on this line alone. Extrapolating these findings to the entire Norwegian rail network, it is estimated that savings of several hundred million kroner per decade can be achieved. This groundbreaking research has the potential to revolutionize not only the Norwegian rail sector but also rail operators worldwide, as wear and tear on wheels and rails is a universal challenge.

The WINTER project is the result of a fruitful collaboration between SINTEF, NTNU, and various partners from the Norwegian rail sector. Stakeholders such as Bane NOR, Flåm Utvikling, Vy, Sporveien, Boreal, Norske tog, Elba (a lubricant system supplier), and Fuchs (the world’s largest independent lubricant manufacturer) have contributed their expertise to this research endeavor. Over the past decade, the project has delved into various aspects of green lubricants and their impact on train wheels and rails. From studying degradation mechanisms to analyzing the effects of different lubricant additives, the research team has gained invaluable insights that have led to the development of new lubricants and improved application methods.

The research conducted by SINTEF and NTNU may be unfamiliar to the general public, but its impact will be far-reaching. By reducing maintenance costs, society as a whole stands to benefit from lower expenses for a crucial transport infrastructure. Train passengers, as well as communities and businesses located near rail lines, can look forward to less noise and vibrations from train wheels and rails. Moreover, the industrial companies involved in the project will have superior products to offer the rail, metro, and tram sectors, further enhancing the overall railway experience.

The WINTER project represents an innovative and groundbreaking initiative that seeks to revolutionize the Norwegian rail sector. Through the development of more environmentally-friendly lubricants and precise application techniques, the project aims to significantly reduce maintenance costs, improve passenger comfort, and enhance the overall sustainability of the rail network. The lessons learned from this research are not limited to Norway alone. Rail operators worldwide can benefit from these findings, paving the way for a greener and more efficient future for the global rail industry.

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