Railway tracks are conventionally built on compacted ballast and structural fill layers placed above the natural (subgrade) foundation. However, during train operations, track deteriorations occur progressively due to ballast degradation. The associated track deformation is usually accompanied by a reduction in both load bearing capacity and drainage, apart from imposing frequent track maintenance. Suitable ground improvement techniques involving plastic inclusions (e.g., geogrids) and energy absorbing materials (e.g., rubber products) to enhance the stability and longevity of tracks have become increasingly popular. This paper presents the outcomes from innovative research and development measures into the use of plastic and rubber elements in rail tracks undertaken at the University of Wollongong, Australia, over the past twenty years. The results obtained from laboratory tests, mathematical modelling and numerical modelling reveal that track performance can be improved significantly by using geogrid and energy absorbing rubber products (e.g., rubber crumbs, waste tire-cell and rubber mats). Test results show that the addition of rubber materials can efficiently improve the energy absorption of the structural layer and also reduce ballast breakage. Furthermore, by incorporating the work input parameters, the energy absorbing property of the newly developed synthetic capping layer is captured by correct modelling of dilatancy. In addition, the laboratory behavior of tire cells and geogrids has been validated by numerical modelling (i.e., Finite Element Modelling-FEM, Discrete Element—DEM), and a coupled DEM-FEM modelling approach is also introduced to simulate ballast deformation.
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