An approximate analytical method is proposed for calculating the contact patch and pressure distribution in the wheel-rail interface. The deformation of the surfaces in contact is approximated using the separation between them. This makes it possible to estimate the contact patch analytically. The contact pressure distribution in the rolling direction is assumed to be elliptic with its maximum calculated by applying Hertz' solution locally. The results are identical to Hertz's for elliptic cases. In non-elliptic cases good agreement is achieved in comparison to the more accurate but computationally expensive Kalker's variational method (CONTACT code). Compared to simplified non-elliptic contact methods based on virtual penetration, the calculated contact patch and pressure distribution are markedly improved. The computational cost of the proposed method is significantly lower than the more detailed methods, making it worthwhile to be applied to rolling contact in rail vehicle dynamics simulation. Such fast and accurate estimation of contact patch and pressure paves the way for on-line modelling of damage phenomena in dynamics simulation packages.