Total Friction Management

Total Friction Management (TFM™)

  • Posted by Lex Smith

Understanding the implications of modifying friction at the wheel/rail interface is the overriding mission of global sector leaders, L.B. Foster.

In the world of friction management, we talk about “the deliberate introduction of materials between the wheel and rail to influence friction.” In simple terms, it’s about increasing traction (grip) or modifying lubrication to affect the behaviour of passing wheels.

The returns are not just for network owners and operators. The human, social and community benefits of reducing noise caused by wheel squeal are incalculable and a hidden return often overlooked in favour of reduced capital outlay.

Top of rail or gauge face?

It is our mission to help specifiers and engineers understand the real advantages of installing friction management solutions. The reasons we apply friction products on the gauge face or top of rail - and in certain instances both - vary according to the location and track characteristics.

We look at the range of solutions in three groups, Rail Lubrication , Friction Modification and Track Enhancement. All our solutions in these three areas, whether applied on the track by trackside equipment or applications on-board the train itself will offer immediate benefits to operators.

These include reduced noise, improved fuel efficiency, protection of rail assets or extended asset life. The returns are not just for network owners and operators. The human, social and community benefits of reducing noise caused by wheel squeal are incalculable and a hidden return often overlooked in favour of reduced capital outlay.

Listen to the noise reduction benefits in our video below:

So, where do you find our different applications and what issues do they solve for our customers?

On the Rail Gauge Face and Check rail

L.B. Foster Rail Lubrication solutions or the application of grease to the gauge face help resolve issues brought about by excessive friction. So, our solutions will:

  • reduce Rail / Wheel Wear (Gauge Face, Flange)
  • reduce Rolling contact fatigue (RCF) Development
  • increase Fuel Efficiency
  • reduce Flange Noise
  • reduce Derailment Potential (Wheel Climb)
  • reduce Lateral Forces (indirect).

On the Top of Rail TOR friction modifiers are primarily used to reduce noise and rail head corrugations. They are also known to improve curving behaviour, as well as reducing wear and damage to both wheel and rail. In North America one of the main drivers for use is to improve fuel efficiency.

L.B. Foster Friction Modification solutions or the application of friction modifying material called KELTRACK to the top of the rail (TOR) help to control friction at the wheel/rail interface. So, our solutions will:

  • reduce Lateral Forces
  • reduce rail / wheel wear (TOR, tread)
  • reduce rolling contact fatigue development
  • increase fuel efficiency
  • reduce squeal noise
  • reduce flange noise (indirect)
  • reduce corrugations
  • reduce vehicle hunting and improve ride quality.

L.B. Foster Traction Enhancement solutions or the application of a material called ALLEVIATE™ to the top of the rail (TOR) where vehicles may experience a reduction in adhesion levels. This can occur with well-known problems of leaf fall but also can include, changes in speed, at Stations and signals, Inclines/Declines and during Cold temperatures. ALLEVIATE™ is applied using our trackside TGA system.

L.B. Foster Europe

Rail journal

Read our article on the new approaches to top-of-rail friction management below

On board or Trackside?

L.B. Foster have developed a comprehensive range of solutions for every challenge faced by train or track operators looking to improve performance and save costs. We can apply friction management anywhere it is required, on board a train, in a tunnel or in a remote trackside location and this is why L.B. Foster are market leaders.


Friction Management has traditionally been provided as part of the infrastructure. The L.B. Foster range of hydraulic and state of the art electrical lubricators such as the PROTECTOR systems are placed in key places where lubrication or modifiers are needed. Trackside applications are managed by track owners or asset maintainers who will benefit from the Remote Performance monitoring systems available in L.B. Fosters trackside systems. Our trackside PROTECTOR system also controls wear on Switches with our KELTRACK Switch protection system.


Deployment of Friction Management on-board trains is far more common in mainland Europe. However, several train operators in the UK are using L.B. Foster’s Kelsan solid stick lubrication (LCF) and solid friction modifier systems (HPF). London Underground represents a typical metro customer, while other deployments range from commuter multiple unit fleets to freight wagons. All have the common aim of prolonging wheel life by reducing wear.

Key reasons for deploying onboard friction management systems include cost and safety aspects associated with upkeep and refilling. As track access time becomes more restricted, the option of refilling and maintaining equipment in depots has become increasingly attractive and reduces the need for personnel to undertake trackside work in hazardous conditions.

Friction Management is delivered directly to the wheel flange or wheel tread by a solid stick product via a spring-loaded bracket/applicator assembly which is attached to the train.

Our HPF (High Positive Friction) Solid Stick is an on-board friction modifier designed to reduce corrugation and tread wear applied directly to the wheel treads of the rail vehicle.

The LCF (Low Coefficient of Friction) Solid Stick is a 100% dry, on-board lubricant specifically designed to reduce flange wear applied directly to the wheel flanges of a rail vehicle

KOB (KELTRACK On-Board) is a vehicle-based application system utilising GPS/GSM communication technology to apply water-based TOR FM materials location specific in the required, precise amount with the additional benefit of the system frequently returning to the depot for refilling/maintenance.