The health effects of inhalable airborne particles are well documented. In the European Union the European Council mandates that the level of airborne particles with a diameter smaller than 10 µm (PM10) must not exceed an annual average of 40 µg/m3. Examples of possible sources from rail transport are mechanical brakes, wheel rail contact, current collectors, ballast, sleepers and masonry structures. In this regard, a series of field tests have been conducted on a regular Swedish track using a regional train instrumented with: particle measurement devices, temperature sensors in brake pads and sensors to measure the magnitude of train speed and a GPS.
Two sampling points for airborne particles were designated in the train under frame. One of the sampling points was near a pad to rotor disc brake contact and a second global sampling point was chosen under the frame, but not near a mechanical brake or the wheel-rail contact. The first one was highly influenced by brake pad wear debris and the other one was influenced by all of the brake pads, wheel and rail wear debris as well as re-suspension. In each sampling points, three tubes were linked to three particle measurement devices. Two sets of Ptrak, Dustrak and Grimm devices were used. The Ptrak 8525 was an optical particle measurement device which could measure particle diameter in the size interval of 20 nm up to 1 micrometer. The Dustrak was used to measure particle mass concentration. The Grimm 1.109 was an aerosol spectrometer which counted number of particles from 0.25 micrometer to 32 micrometer in 31 intervals. These two Grimm devices were equipped with Millipore filters in the devices outlets to capture particles for further studies on morphology and matter of particles.
The total number and size distribution of the particles for these two sampling points were registered and evaluated in different situations such as activating and deactivating electrical brake or train curve negotiating.
During braking, three peaks of 250 nm, 350 nm and 600 nm in diameter, with the 350 nm peak dominating were identified in the fine particle region. In the coarse particle region, a peak of around 3-6 µm in diameter was discovered. The brake pad temperature effects on particle size distribution were also investigated and the results showed that the peak around 250 nm increased. Furthermore, the activation of electrical braking significantly reduced the number of airborne particles.
A SEM was used to capture the images from collected particles on filters. Furthermore, an ICP-Ms method was used to investigate the elemental contents of the particulates on the filter. In this case the main contribution belonged to Fe, Si, Al, Ca, Cu, Zn. The higher amount of some elements weights such as calcium, silicon, sodium and aluminum in the global sampling point filters revealed that ballast and concrete sleepers were the main sources for these particles although some of them originated from rail, wheel, brake disc and brake pad as well.