Unsupported sleepers or void zones in ballasted tracks are one of the most recent and frequent track failures. The void failures have the property of intensive development that, without timely maintenance measures, can cause the appearance of cost-expensive local instabilities such as subgrade damages. The reason for the intensive void development lies in the mechanics of the sleeper and ballast bed interaction. The particularity of the interaction is a dynamic impact that occurs due to void closure. Additionally, void zones cause inhomogeneous ballast pressure distribution between the void zone and fully supported neighbour zones. The present paper is devoted to studying the mechanism of the sleeper–ballast dynamic impact in the void zone. The results of experimental in situ measurements of rail deflections showed the significant impact accelerations in the zone even for lightweight slow vehicles. A simple three-beam numerical model of track and rolling stock interaction has shown dynamic interaction similar to the experimental measurements. Moreover, the model shows that the sleeper accelerations are more than 3 times higher than the corresponding wheel accelerations and the impact point appears before the wheel enters the impact point. The analysis of ballast loadings shows the specific impact behaviour in combination with the quasistatic part that is different for void and neighbour zones, which are characterised by high ballast pre-stressed conditions. The analysis of void size influence demonstrates that the maximal impact loadings and maximal wheel and sleeper accelerations appear at a certain void depth, after which the values decrease. The ballast quasistatic loading analysis indicates an increase of more than 2 times in the ballast loading in neighbour zones for long voids and almost full quasistatic unloading for short-length voids. However, the used imitation model cannot explain the nature of the dynamic impact. The mechanism of the void impact is clearly explained by the analytic solution using a simple clamped beam. A simplified analytical expression of the void impact velocity shows that it is linearly related to the wheel speed and loading. The comparison to the numerically simulated impact velocities shows a good agreement and the existence of the void depth with the maximal impact. An estimation of the long-term influences for the cases of normal sleeper loading, high ballast pre-stress and quasistatic loading in the neighbour zones and high impact inside the void is performed.
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