Stuart Grassie receives Wheel Rail Seminars' 2024 Worth Award

July 5, 2024
Grassie has worked in the railroad industry for nearly 50 years, helping railways and transit systems around the world.

Stuart Grassie, principal, Rail Measurement Limited (RML) and Stuart Grassie Engineering Limited, is the recipient of the 2024 Worth Award. The award was presented by Wheel Rail Seminars at the annual Wheel/Rail Interaction Rail Transit conference, with presenting sponsor Mass Transit, in May. It is named for Art Worth, who was Manager of Standards and retired as senior manager – advanced technology at Canadian National and was known throughout the industry as a walking encyclopedia of railway engineering, standards and practices.  

The Worth Award is given to someone who has worked in the industry for 25 years or more for a railroad, transit system, research institute/university, or as a consultant or supplier, published a significant book, number of articles or papers on railway or rail transit operations, maintenance, technology and/or safety, been an active teacher, coach and/or mentor and made an impact on operations, practices and/or safety in the industry. 

Grassie has worked in the railroad industry for nearly 50 years, going back to his doctoral studies at Cambridge University. From the early days, his primary focus has been on rail damage mechanisms, particularly rail corrugation and rolling contact fatigue (RCF). He later cofounded RML, a company best known for developing hardware and software designed to measure and predict damage mechanisms like corrugation. RML’s Corrugation Analysis Trolly (CAT) is considered the pre-eminent corrugation measurement device, which is used worldwide by railroads, academics, and consultants, according to Gordon Bachinksy, president of Advanced Rail Management/Global Rail North America and founder of Wheel Rail Seminars. 

At London Underground and Railtrack/Network Rail, Grassie developed and helped to implement some of the earliest RCF-mitigation regimes in the United Kindom. He later helped draft the European Standard on rail reprofiling and is currently a British Standards Institute expert on railway ground borne vibration.  

Grassie is also responsible for much of the foundational research on squat-type defects (studs) that continue to grow in prevalence on railroads and transit lines around the world.  

“Stuart was the first to realize that the stud phenomenon could be distinguished from classical squats,” said Eric Magel, principal consultant with EM-WRI Consulting, Inc., and project consultant with Global Rail North America.  

This distinction is important because squats can lead to a catastrophic rail break and must be dealt with aggressively while studs, though similar in appearance, are significantly less dangerous. 

Richard Stock, global head of rail solutions, Plasser American/Plasser & Theurer, recalled the significance of Grassie’s expertise in the early days of the squat/stud phenomenon in Europe. Stock, who was working at Voestalpine at the time, walked track with Grassie in Helsinki in an area with extensive defects believed at the time to be squats.  

“The two nights I spent on track with Stuart was the greatest learning experience I’d ever had in the field,” Stock said. “it changed the way I look at track.”  

“Stuart has always been an advocate of tracing rail damage back to the source — the wheel/rail interface, said Paul Baker, who worked as an infrastructure manager at London Underground and later crossed paths with Grassie many times. “Damage and wear mechanisms that stumped me and my supervisors at first, made perfect sense to Stuart and he made sure we understood the root causes.”  

In addition to being an effective teacher, Grassie has also been known by his colleagues to be somewhat of a provocateur. 

“He does so in service of getting people to think outside the box — something we could use a lot more of,” Stock said.  

As an early advocate of using regular rail grinding to mitigate RCF growth, Baker notes Grassie was not a stranger to push-back. 

“He was able to combine theory and practical application in a way that made perfect sense,” Baker said, adding the wheel/rail courses that Grassie organized at Cambridge in the 1990s exemplify this approach.  

Kevin Oldknow, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University with more than 20 years’ experience in friction and management and wheel/rail interaction, first met Grassie at one of Grassie’s Vehicle/Track Interaction Workshops at Cambridge.  

“As someone relatively new to the industry at the time, Stuart made me feel welcome — not just at the workshop, but in the industry,” Oldknow said.  

Oldknow also echoed a sentiment shared by many of Grassie’s colleagues, stating, “Stuart has no hesitation in telling us quite clearly when we’re misguided in our thinking but he does so because he cares about us and our industry and he wants us to do better.” 

In addition to the practical application of his expertise in the field, Grassie has contributed significantly to academia as well.  

“He has an intellect that spans from the deeply theoretical to the sublimely practical,” Oldknow said.  

Eric Magel noted that he first encountered Grassie’s name as a student, in Contact Mechanics by K.L. Johnson — a foundational text of the eponymous field.  

“There’s a recognition [in the text] of Stuart, who read the manuscript and provided recommendations prior to publication,” Magel said. “At that point, I knew that Grassie was not just a practitioner, but quite an academic, too.”  

Magel and Grassie have since worked on projects together and crossed paths at conferences and workshops. Magel told of the story of how, more recently, he worked on a consulting project in Kuala Lumpur. The rail line had several wheel/rail issues over time and was falling behind on maintenance. Despite these issues, the system had no problem with corrugation.  

“I was frankly astounded. Corrugation is everywhere,” Magel said. 

Magel later learned that Stuart Grassie had designed that system, to the finest detail, to be corrugation-free.  

“I later saw a presentation [by Grassie] boldly titled: ‘Rail Corrugation, A Problem Solved,” Magel said, noting Grassie’s work on the project involved measuring and modeling numerous components, their masses, stiffness, resonances and other parameters. “The success he achieved in the field and in practice is a testament to the quality of Stuart’s work.” 

Some of Grassie’s other more recent work can be seen (and heard) on Seattle, Wash.,’s Sound Transit. Shortly after Sound Transit began operations, the system experienced several severe noise and vibration issues.  

“We became a story of rail grinding gone wrong,” said Shankara Rajaram, Sound Transit’s executive project director – revenue vehicles.  

Working as a consultant, Grassie developed a rail maintenance program that lowered noise system-wide by 10dB. Nearly a decade later, Sound Transit was struggling again with excess noise and vibration — again due to the particularly rough and resonant grind signature left in the rail.  

Rajaram said he happened to next to Stuart on his way back from a conference in Sydney, Australia. Their conversation on acoustic rail grinding and short wavelength rail roughness started a chain of events that lead to Sound Transit’s current grinding program, which has once again significantly improved vehicle/track and wheel/rail interaction. 

“You might say that Stuart saved Sound Transit twice,” Rajaram said.  

“When I started working on this in 1976, we thought there was only one way in which corrugation formed,” Grassie said.  

Over the next 20 years, Grassie developed a theoretical framework for corrugation-development that showed that there were multiple mechanisms that could lead to corrugation of different types and characteristics — knowledge that is now instrumental in mitigating and correcting corrugation.  

“Seeing the practical results of [this theoretical framework] has given me great satisfaction,” Grassie said, noting he is proud to have been closely involved in a series of conferences on contact mechanics, founded by Joe Kalousek, a previous Worth Award winner himself, in 1982. “I spent the next 20-plus years helping to make sure the conference continued,” Grassie said, adding that such gatherings play an important role in disseminating knowledge throughout the railroad industry.  

Upon further reflection, Grassie noted that it was unusual to be honored by one’s colleagues in the industry.  

“In academia, there are piles of honorary degrees and awards, from Nobel Prizes through Fellows of the Royal Society and Members of various academies downwards,” Grassie said. “Their work certainly sows the seeds from which practical change is grown but those who are responsible for the practical changes, in engineering or anything else, are seldom honored by their colleagues.” 

“We’re proud to present this award to Stuart and to recognize the significance of his work and its application on railways and transit systems around the world,” said Wheel Rail Seminars Founder Gordon Bachinsky.” 

About the Author

Jeff Tuzik

Jeff Tuzik is managing editor of Interface Journal. His work appears through an agreement with Wheel/Rail Seminars of which Mass Transit is the Presenting Sponsor.

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Sept. 26, 2013