Have you ever wondered what keeps those heavy train cars rolling smoothly down the tracks? A big part of the answer lies in the bearings used in railways.

In this blog post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the different types of bearings used in railways and the important role they play.

What Are Bearings?

Before jumping into the specific railway applications, let’s step back and look at what bearings are and what they do. Bearings are mechanical components that enable constrained relative motion between two parts, while also reducing friction between the moving pieces.

The main components are the inner and outer races which are precision-machined metal rings, the rolling elements that roll between the races like balls or rollers, and the cage that keeps the rolling elements spaced evenly.

Bearings allow smooth motion between two parts, usually by minimizing friction and handling stress loads. For example, in a wheel, a bearing allows the wheel to rotate freely around the axle. The inner race attaches to the axle while the outer race attaches to the wheel. Ball bearings or roller bearings roll between the races, handling radial and axial loads while letting the wheel spin.

The key functions of bearings are:

  • Reduce friction between moving parts
  • Handle loads and absorb shock/vibration
  • Allow high-precision rotation or linear movement
  • Support high speeds
  • Facilitate alignment and positioning

Now let’s see how these functions apply specifically in railway applications.

Bearings for Railways – Heavy Loads and Demanding Conditions

Railways place unique demands on bearings due to the heavy loads, high speeds, and demanding operating conditions. Passenger and freight trains weigh thousands of tons fully loaded. The bearings must handle these extreme loads across long distances day after day with high reliability.

Trains achieve speeds over 300 km/hr, subjecting bearings to intense centrifugal forces. The vibration, shock loading, and temperature extremes take a toll on bearings. Contaminants like water, dirt, and sand infiltrate the environment. Railway bearings require specialized engineering to withstand this punishing combination of loads, speeds, and environmental conditions.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important railway bearing applications and the types designed for them.

#1 Axle Bearings

Axle bearings support the wheelsets and allow them to rotate around the axle with minimal friction. They must handle the entire vehicle load while accommodating misalignment. The most common types used are:

Tapered Roller Bearings

These bearings handle combined radial and axial loads. The inner and outer races have a tapered profile. The rollers are tapered to match, riding between the races and providing stiffness for handling heavier loads. Axle bearings often use paired tapered roller bearings mounted in opposition to balance axial loads.

Tapered Roller Bearing Cartridges

Cartridges are pre-assembled tapered roller bearing units that simplify mounting and maintenance. Axle bearing cartridges combine the inner and outer bearing races in a self-contained casing along with the tapered rollers and seals. Operators can conveniently mount the sealed cartridge unit onto the axle rather than assembling individual components.

Cylindrical Roller Bearings

These accommodate pure radial loads with high rigidity thanks to the large roller diameter. The cylindrical rollers provide a slim profile for compact designs. They handle misalignment well but require supplemental axial bearings.

Spherical Roller Bearings

The barrel-shaped rollers and concave inner/convex outer raceway contours allow omni-directional capability. They accommodate combined loads and misalignment in every direction. The large roller surface area distributes loads evenly.

Axle bearings must withstand years of non-stop duty. They feature optimized cage designs, labyrinth and contact seals to keep contaminants out, and anti-fretting solutions between the inner ring and axle. With engineering focused on railway demands, robust axle bearings keep the wheelsets turning for the long haul.

#2 Transmission Bearings

Transmissions in railway vehicles rely on specialized bearings engineered for smooth power transfer and efficiency. Key transmission applications include:

  • Gearboxes
  • Traction motors
  • Wheeled bogies
  • Drive shafts
  • Wheel-mounted gear units

Bearing types used in railway transmissions include:

Cylindrical Roller Bearings

With high load ratings and stiffness, these handle heavy radial loads in transmission shafts and gear shafts. The cylindrical rollers can accommodate some misalignment.

Tapered Roller Bearings

Used in gearbox applications where they take combined radial and axial loads. Their tapered profile provides stiffness while the large rollers distribute loads over more surface area.

Ball Bearings

High precision ball bearings allow smooth low-friction rotation in high-speed transmission applications. They handle pure radial loads. The ball bearing’s flat inner/outer raceway surfaces and spherical rolling elements allow for some axial misalignment.

In addition to handling loads, transmission bearings must resist wear and fatigue. With integrated sensors, they support condition monitoring for early problem detection. Optimized cages and special heat treatment provide prolonged service life. Keeping transmissions turning under demanding railway conditions requires bearings engineered specifically for the task.

#3 Traction Motor Bearings

Electric trains rely on traction motors for propulsion. These motors operate under extreme electrical, mechanical, and environmental conditions. Traction motor bearings face challenges like high speeds, frequent starts/stops, sustained overload operation, voltage spikes, high temperatures, and contamination.

Bearing types used in traction motors include:

Cylindrical Roller Bearings

Their high load capacity suits the radial forces exerted on motor shafts during acceleration and braking. Rigid cylindrical rollers provide stiffness.

Ball Bearings

High precision ball bearings handle pure radial loads on armatures and other motor components spinning at high speeds. The ball shape allows for some axial misalignment.

Ceramic Bearings

Electrically insulating ceramic balls and races prevent electrical damage from current flow. Ceramic withstands high temperatures for reliable performance.

Special features tailored for traction motor bearings include:

  • High insulation properties
  • Protection against electrical erosion
  • Optimized internal geometry to handle acceleration forces
  • Cage designs to prevent ball/roller skewing at high speeds
  • Seals that exclude contaminants ingressed with cooling air

The right bearings keep traction motors driving under demanding conditions.

#4 Bearings for Passenger Comfort

Passenger comfort depends on smooth train operation free of excessive noise and vibration. Bearings play a key role in areas like:

Bogie Bearings

Bearings used in wheeled bogies include tapered roller bearings for axleboxes and spherical roller bearings to connect bogies with wheelsets. They allow bogies to pivot and steer the train around curves. Proper bearing selection prevents problematic vibration.

Interior Fan Bearings

Keeping passengers cool requires high capacity bearings in ventilation fan motors to handle continuous duty. They must run quietly at low noise and high airflow.

Door Equipment

Doors need bearings that operate smoothly and reliably in opening/closing mechanisms and power transfer joints. Passengers notice when door components vibrate or make excessive noise.

For quiet comfort, specialized railway bearings feature noise-reducing internal geometries, integral vibration sensors, low-noise cages, and noise absorption slingers and seals. With passenger experience a priority, bearings ensure a smooth silent ride.

Bearing Solutions for Railways from NYZ Manufacturing

With 30+ years of railway bearing experience, NYZ Manufacturing provides customized bearing solutions for rail applications. A focus on quality, service, and the latest technology makes NYZ an ideal partner for bearing needs.

Customized Railway Bearing Design

  • Bearing simulation and 3D modeling optimize internal geometry
  • Materials analysis improves load capacity and life
  • Application-specific cage designs enhance performance
  • Specialized sealing protects against contaminants
  • Integrated sensors enable condition monitoring

Assembly and Guidance

  • Prototype testing validates railway bearing designs
  • Assembly support helps achieve correct fits and preload
  • Installation guidance prevents errors
  • Field engineers assist with proper on-site bearing mounting

Responsive Manufacturing and Supply

  • Flexible production scales to meet demand
  • Large stock of standard bearings speeds delivery
  • Fast customization when unique designs are needed
  • Global sales and distribution network

With an emphasis on engineering, quality, and service, NYZ strives to maximize bearing performance and life at a competitive price.


How are bearings lubricated on high-speed trains?

High-speed trains often use specialized solid lubricants rather than oil lubrication. Oil lubrication is challenging at extremely high speeds due to centrifugal forces that push the oil away from the bearing surfaces. Solid lubricants like molybdenum disulfide or graphite are embedded in the bearing races and rolling elements. This provides low-friction lubrication without the need for circulated oil.

What bearing design distributes loads most evenly in railcars?

Spherical roller bearings are an excellent choice for distributing loads evenly in railcar applications. The curved raceway surfaces and barrel-shaped rollers allow them to handle loads at various angles and accommodate misalignment. This distributes forces evenly for long service life.

How do bearings handle the G-forces on high speed train curves?

Centrifugal forces place intense loads on bearings in the bogies when trains take curves at high speeds. High capacity cylindrical and tapered roller bearings are designed to handle these radial forces. The larger rolling element diameter provides stiffness and strength. Bearing pairs are preloaded during installation to eliminate internal clearance that could cause impact loading.

Why are axlebox bearings often cartridge style?

Using cartridge style tapered roller bearings simplifies installation and maintenance for axleboxes. The cartridges come pre-assembled with matched components in a sealed unit. Workers can conveniently slide the full cartridges on the axles rather than tediously fitting individual inner rings, rollers, cages, and seals piece by piece.

Final Thoughts

Axle units, transmissions, traction motors, bogies, fans, and doors all rely on bearings engineered specifically for the demands of railway service.

Using the advanced designs and manufacturing, bearings handle the intense loads, high speeds, and harsh conditions inherent to locomotives and train cars. Their low friction, smooth rotation, and quiet operation ensure reliable performance mile after mile. Trains can’t run without them.

Contact NYZ today to explore bearing solutions optimized for your railway applications.



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