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A failure analysis case study on railroad rails is presented. The work, performed under the sponsorship of the Department of Transportation, addresses the problem of shell and detail fracture formation in standard rails. Fractographic and metallographic results coupled with hardness and residual stress measurements are presented. These results suggest that the shell fractures form on the plane of maximum residual tensile stresses. The formation of the shells is aided by the presence of defects in the material in these planes of maximum residual stress. The detail fracture forms as a perturbation from the shell crack under cyclic loading and is constrained to develop as an embedded flaw in the early stages of growth because the crack is impeded at the gage side and surface of the rail head by compressive longitudinal stresses.

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