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Rail Sector

The rail industry has been transporting people and goods around the world since the 19th century. The public's safety using the network and those living near lines and stations is paramount.

Non-destructive Testing (NDT) is a key part of the safety culture in the industry, with inspections being carried out on everything from the rails, axels, steam engines, rail bridge infrastructure etc., to ensure the continuing safe operation of our rail networks.

Ultrasonic inspection methods can be found in all aspects of rail manufacture and in-service testing. Regular inspections of the rail lines highlight cracking and corrosion. The rail axles and wheels are routinely inspected to ensure there are no defects from the manufacturer or service that may lead to failure.

1. Inspection Targets

  • Rail line: Rail lines are inspected for corrosion and cracking in critical areas; these are mainly in-situ inspections requiring access to the line.
  • Train Axels and wheels: Axel and wheel inspection is carried out at manufacture, and periodically during service life; the inspector is looking for cracking or mechanical damage.
  • Cabin Structural welds:  Modern train cabins are constructed from welded aluminium; critical welds and plate thicknesses are inspected to ensure compliance with standards.

2. Challenges

  • Access to rail lines: Access to rail sections is often only available at night or low traffic times to ensure safety for workers.
  • Access to axels in service: Inspection of rail axels requires access to certain test surfaces; this may need full removal from the train and inspection in a workshop.
  • The complex geometry of axles: Axels can have complex geometries depending on the attachments; this requires highly skilled inspectors to carry out the inspections.

Sonatest offers a range of ultrasonic inspection solutions for the rail industry; the Railscan 125+ is specifically designed for rail inspection and has improved on the industry feedback and requirements from the previous Railscan generations. The Wave introduced the live scan plan with CAD file downloads allowing for axle and rail profiles to be viewed live and any possible defect signal to be plotted accurately. 

Phased array inspection is a growing method in the rail industry, with more and more applications being found where this advanced technology can be used. The VEO3 comes with all the capabilities and power needed to carry out scanning of any project in the rail industry.


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