In this work models with nonlinear wheel-rail contact forces are considered for analysing the dynamic interaction between high speed trains and bridges, in order to study dynamic effects both in the bridge and in the vehicles resulting from the coupling. Nonlinear contact models may be necessary for evaluating the stability and the safety of running traffic in situations such as vehicle overturn when the train is crossing a bridge under strong lateral winds or when an earthquake occurs. For studying the coupled dynamic response of trains and bridges, models of multibody dynamics are used for vehicles and the finite element method for structures. Special relevance is given here to the consideration of contact interaction forces between railway vehicles and the track. Four different interaction models are compared in this work: (1) a model where the vehicle wheelset is considered to be rigidly coupled to the track; (2) a staggered uncoupled method in which vehicle and structure are analysed separately; (3) a linear contact model in which lateral relative displacements between rails and train wheels are allowed, assuming biconic wheel and rail profiles and linear Kalker theory for tangential contact; (4) a nonlinear model in which realistic wheel and rail profiles, Hertz's nonlinear theory for normal contact and Kalker's nonlinear theory for tangential contact are used. The different models are applied and compared to experimental measurements for a test case of a high-speed train in China. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.