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Journal of Minerals & Materials Characterization & Engineering, Vol. 10, No.7, pp.573-581, 2011
jmmce.org Printed in the USA. All rights reserved
Study on Corrosion Behavior of Pearlitic Rail Steel
, A. Bhattaacharyya
and S.K. Mitra
Information Materials Lab., School of Materials Science and Engineering, Inha University,
253, Yonghyun-Dong, Nam-Gu, Incheon 402-751, Korea
Department of Metallurgical and Material Engineering, National Institute of Technology,
Durgapur 713 209, India
*Corresponding Author: email@example.com
The present study is an attempt to find out the effect of environmental corrosion on the
commonly used pearlitic rail steel. The cases of corrosion of rail under Indian environment
have been studied. It has been found that in marine environment both the yield strength and
tensile strength decreases with increasing corrosion rate. In acidic environment yield
strength increased with increasing corrosion rate, although the tensile strength decreases
with increasing corrosion rate.
Keywords: atmospheric corrosion, marine environment, quasi-cleavage fracture, peralitic
Modern Railway systems are subjected to use with fast trains and large loads. The primary
requirement is structural integrity, which determines the suitability of steel for rail track
applications. It depends on interactions between engineering parameters, material properties
and the environment. The track material must obviously be capable of being manufactured
into rails with a high standard of straightness and flatness in order to avoid surface and
internal defects, which may cause failure.
Corrosion of rails has been recognized as one of the serious cause of damage railway track.
The corrosion of rail along with cyclic loading may lead to corrosion fatigue failure of the
railway track. Cases of failure of rails have come to light at load much below the safe load
mainly due to deterioration of rail as a result of corrosion. It is therefore, essential that all
Railway Engineers should have a broad knowledge of composition of rail and environmental
574 S. Samal, A. Bhattaacharyya and S.K. Mitra Vol.10, No.7
effect on it. Railway track comes closely to different environment during its service life like
seacoast environment, various humidity of the atmosphere, different temperature of the
atmosphere and tunnel area which is acidic in nature. Strength of the rail material changes
with the change in atmosphere.
Chowdhary have made investigation to assess the condition of rail, presence of corrosion
activity and the extent of severity of corrosion . They pointed out that presence of NaCl
in the atmosphere may cause concern. Bhadeshia  has studied the utility of
different steel as rails namely pearlitic, bainitic etc. Pearlite presumably achieves a high
resistance to wear because of the hard cementite and it’s containment by the more ductile
Studies on the fatigue and fracture of both pearlitic and bainitic rail steel have been reported
by same researchers. Kenderian et-al  examined the dislocation movement during fatigue
of pearlitic rail steel. Aglan and co-workers [4-5] analysed the mechanical and fracture
behavior of bainitic rail steel, which has proved to be superior to pearlitic rail steel, so far
mechanical properties are concerned. As it is established that corrosion may be considered as
one of the precursor for the initiation of fatigue failure of rails, in the present work, an
attempt has been made to study the corrosion behavior particularly in saline as well as acidic
in tunnel) atmosphere along with its effect on mechanical properties of pearlitic rail
2.1. Corrosion Test: Determination of Rate of Corrosion
Rate of Corrosion (miles per year), m. p. y., is represented in equation 1
M.P.Y = (534 x w) / (d x a x t)
Where, W is the weight loss in mg, d is the density in gm/cm³, the surface area (a) of the
specimen is in sq. inch and t is defined as the exposure time in hrs.
2.2. Experimental Procedure
Volume of the specimen is determined by displacement of water method. We were taken
measuring beaker in which the sample could be totally submerged without overflow of water.
We observed the level indicating the volume of the water without sample and with sample.
The difference of the two volumes indicates the volume of the sample. Then we were taken
corrosion solution and put the sample (3.4% NaCl-solution or H
of pH-1.45, 2.5 and
3.46). When we maintained the temperature of the solution at 65°C then place the beaker on
the electrical resistance heater for pre-determined length of time. Then the sample was
withdrawn from the solution and taken the final weight.
Vol.10, No.7 Study on Corrosion Behavior of Pearlitic Rail Steel 575
Corrosion rate of the sample can be determined as follows shown in equation 2
Corrosion rate ( gm/cc ) = ( W
) / ( V
) = W/ V (2)
Where, density of Steel, d= 8.17 gm/cm³ with exposure time for 7hrs.
Density D = W
/ V=64.688 / 8 =8.086gm/c.c.
Corrosion rate (m.p.y): (534 W) / (D A T) = (534 x 17) / (8.086 x 4.9445 x 7) = 32.4367 (4)
3. RESULTS & DISCUSSION
3.1. Chemical Analysis
Composition analysis report of as-received materials (Rail Steel) are represented below, in
Table 1, which is obtained from Research and Control Laboratory (RC Lab.) of Steel Plant,
Pearlitic rail steel used in the present study, the chemical compositions are represented below
in Table 2.
Table 1. Chemical analysis of rail steel samples
C Mn S P Si Al Cr Mo
I. 0.659 1.04 0.025 0.029 0.24 0.004 0.009 0.004
II. 0.66 1.05 0.025 0.031 0.24 0.006 0.009 0.004
Table 2. Samples with specification grade, chemical composition and mechanical properties.
Specification Grade Chemical Composition, % Mechanical
C Mn P
IRS-T12/96 880 0.60-
0.035 0.035 0.10-
0.060 0.060 0.03-
Industrial Use Rail.
(as per IRS)
0.055 0.055 0.10-
Industrial Use Rail.
(result of present study)
0.025 0.24 905 7.5
* For IRS: T-12/96, Hydrogen content <3ppm and Al max 0.02%
576 S. Samal, A. Bhattaacharyya and S.K. Mitra Vol.10, No.7
3.2. Corrosion Test
Corrosion tests were carried out in two different mediums such as in 3.4% NaCl solution at
C and 65
C and sulfate medium (H
, pH-1.49) at RT, 45
C and 65
Experiments were carried out in the VOLTALAB 21, keeping duration of time for 3 hours.
The results are represented in Table 3.
Table 3. Rate of corrosion of pearlitic rail steel in different environment
Test-1 Test-2 Test-3 Test-4 Test-5 Test-6
Sample No Sample
Test temperature RT 45°C 65°C RT 45°C 65°C
Initial wt. in gm
65.049 783.120 65.350 67.202 64.688 69.235
Final wt. in gm
65.045 73.111 65.322 67.180 64.671 69.229
Wt. loss in gm
0.004 0.009 0.028 0.022 0.017 0.006
Initial vol. in cc
90 90 85 90 90 90
Final vol. in cc
88 99 93 98 98 98
Total vol. in cc
8 9 8 8 8 8
Exposure time in
3 3 3 7 7 7
Corrosion rate in
Density in gm/cc.
8.13 8.12 8.17 8.40 8.086 8.654
surface area (A) in
5.056 5.5149 5.3 5.265 4.944 5.313
Corrosion rate in
17 36 115 38 32 10
Vol.10, No.7 Study on Corrosion Behavior of Pearlitic Rail Steel 577
3.3. Evaluation of Mechanical Properties
Tensile tests were carried out on the as-received corroded pearlitic steel samples in a servo
hydraulic closed loop Instron Machine (Model No. 8516) and the results obtained are shown
below in Table 4.
Table 4. Effect of environment on mechanical strength of rail steel
3.4% NaCl solution in different temp H
solution of different pH (1.49)
at room temp.
at room temp.
MPY YS UTS MPY YS UTS
RT 17 470 970 RT 38 416 865
45 36 451 932 45 10 437 883
65 115 401 824 65 2 461 950
The microstructure of as-received is shown in Figure 1. The sample was taken from the
transverse direction of the rail. Microscopic examination of samples in as received condition
shows that structure contains nearly 82.5% pearlite and 17.5% ferrite. So, the microstructure
indicates that the as received rail steel is medium to high carbon pearlitic rail steel. The
micrographs of the pearlitic rail steel show a fine lamellar aggregate of soft and ductile ferrite
and hard cementite.
Figure 1: SEM micrograph of pearlitic rail steel (as-received).
The material (Industrial Use Rail) used in the present investigation was received from
Durgapur Steel Plant (SAIL). The chemical composition of the steel determined by Research
and Control Laboratory, Durgapur, indicates that the material is medium carbon steel
containing over 1.0% Mn and therefore the steel is expected to have reasonably high
tensile/yield strength and high susceptibility due to the presence of higher amount of Mn.
578 S. Samal, A. Bhattaacharyya and S.K. Mitra Vol.10, No.7
As-received Rail Steel samples were subjected to different environments like 3.4% NaCl
solution and H
solution of pH-1.49 at 45°C and 65°C, for the period of 3 hours.
Corrosion pits of these different environment treated samples were examined using Scanning
Electron Microscope (SEM). The scanning electron micrographs (Figure 2, 3, 4 and 5) show
clearly the severity of corrosive environment on rails.
Figure 2: Scanning electron microscopy image on the surface of
corrosion pit on rail in the medium of 3.4% NaCl solution of 45°C.
Figure 3: SEM electron microscopy image of corrosion pit on rail in the
medium of 3.4% NaCl solution of 65°C.
Vol.10, No.7 Study on Corrosion Behavior of Pearlitic Rail Steel 579
Figure 4: SEM micrograph of corrosion pit on rail in the medium of H
solutions pH-1.49 at 45
Figure 5: SEM micrograph showing the fracture surface.
( Fracture appeared after tensile test of rail steel sample treated in corrosion medium
of 3.4%NaCl solution of 65°C for the period of 3 hours)
The fractrography (Figure 6) of corroded sample shows mainly quasi-cleavage fracture with
some marks of plastic deformation along with facet, which corresponds to the prior austenitic
grain size. No distinct feature is observed.
Figure 6: SEM micrograph at X500 magnification showing the fracture surface.
(Fracture appeared after tensile test of rail steel sample treated in corrosion medium of
solution of pH-1.49 for the period of 7 hours at 65
By comparing the result of corrosion rate of pearlitic rail steel in different corrosive medium
it can be predicted that corrosion rate of rail in 3.4%NaCl solution, at room temperature is as
high as 17 m.p.y. It seems that with increasing temperature, corrosion rate increases in the
saline atmosphere. Contact medium of chloride accelerates the rail corrosion. Sodium
chloride acts as strong electrolyte. It also interferes with the protection film already formed
580 S. Samal, A. Bhattaacharyya and S.K. Mitra Vol.10, No.7
and thereby breaks the bond with metal thus promoting further corrosion. Tunnels in non-
electrified area due to presence of exhaust gases of steam engine, contains H
. It was
found that with pH value of 1.49 may cause serious corrosion.
It has seen that, the tensile test result and chemical composition of as received sample is
comparable with the Indian Railway Standard.
The mechanical properties of rail steel are found to be affected by different corrosion
medium. The relation between corrosion rate (m.p.y) of rail and tensile properties is shown in
Table 4. Here the tensile specimen is subjected to tensile test after treating those samples in
different corrosive medium and conditions for a pre-determined period of time. But tensile
test of corroded samples were conducted at room temperature. The reason for the above
results may be written as follows:
In marine environment both the yield strength and tensile strength decreases with
increasing corrosion rate i.e. with increasing temperature corrosion rate increases and
strength decreases. This may be due to the protection film breaks the bond with metal with
increasing corrosion rate at elevated temperature thus promoting further corrosion at every
In acidic environment yield strength increased with increasing corrosion rate. At the
high strength of acid (pH-1.49) there is a tendency of formation of strong passive layer over
the surface of the specimen which causes increasing the yield strength. In acidic environment
tensile strength decreases with increasing corrosion rate. This is because the passive layer-
metal bond does not stable at high stress level. So the passive layer may not have any
influence on tensile strength.
The study of corrosion of pearlitic rail steel in different environment has yielded the
following results such as:
1. In marine environment both the yield strength and tensile strength decreases with
increasing corrosion rate.
2. In acidic environment yield is directly proportional to corrosion rate and tensile
strength inversely proportional corrosion rate.
The above results of corrosion and mechanical studies on pearlitic rail steel in different
environmental conditions reveal that, since mechanical properties of the above steel decreases
significantly due to environmental corrosion, the periodic in-situ metallographic examination.
Failure analysis of the rails reveals that it is necessary for careful investigation which will
help to avoid premature failure of the rails. In highly aggressive corrosion zones like the sea
coast areas and wide underground tunnels, the rail tracks made of pearlitic steel may be
replaced with bainitic rail steel which is expected to have higher mechanical properties than
pearlitic rail steels.
Vol.10, No.7 Study on Corrosion Behavior of Pearlitic Rail Steel 581
The authors are thankful to Durgapur Steel plant, Durgapur for providing the research
material along with its chemical composition. They are thankful to HOD, Metallurgical and
Materials Engineering, NIT, Durgapur for giving permission to carry out the work
1. S.K. Chowdhary, Journal of Metallurgy and material science, 43(4),2001, 265
2. H.K.D.H. Bhadeshia, “Steels for Rails”, Encyclopedia of Material Science and
Technology, 2002, p 1-7, Elsevier science.
3. S. Kenderian, T.P. Berndt, R.E. Green, B.B. Djardjevic, Material Science and
Engineering, A 348, 2003, 90.
4. H.A. Aglan, Z.Y. Liu and M.F. Hassen, Journal of Mat. Proc. Tech., 2004, 0924-0136/s.
5. Mars G. Fontana, Corrosion Engineering, 3
edition, 1987, p 14, McGrow Hill Book
Company, New York.