A model-based condition monitoring strategy for the railway vehicle suspension is proposed in this paper. This approach is based on recursive least square (RLS) algorithm focusing on the deterministic ‘input–output’ model. RLS has Kalman filtering feature and is able to identify the unknown parameters from a noisy dynamic system by memorising the correlation properties of variables. The identification of suspension parameter is achieved by machine learning of the relationship between excitation and response in a vehicle dynamic system. A fault detection method for the vertical primary suspension is illustrated as an instance of this condition monitoring scheme. Simulation results from the rail vehicle dynamics software ‘ADTreS’ are utilised as ‘virtual measurements’ considering a trailer car of Italian ETR500 high-speed train. The field test data from an E464 locomotive are also employed to validate the feasibility of this strategy for the real application. Results of the parameter identification performed indicate that estimated suspension parameters are consistent or approximate with the reference values. These results provide the supporting evidence that this fault diagnosis technique is capable of paving the way for the future vehicle condition monitoring system.