Publication Details

Ngo, N., Indraratna, B. & Rujikiatkamjorn, C. (2017). Micromechanics-based investigation of fouled ballast using large-scale triaxial tests and discrete element modeling. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 143 (2), 04016089-1-04016089-16.


Railway ballast comprises unbounded discrete grains that are often used to form a load-bearing platform for tracks. Ballast degradation as trains pass over the tracks and infiltration of external fines including slurried (pumped) fine subgrade soils are two of the main reasons for ballast fouling. Fouling causes tracks to settle and also reduces the load-bearing capacity, which is associated with a reduction in internal friction and increased lateral spreading of the ballast layer. This paper presents a study of mobilized friction angle, volumetric behavior, and associated evolutions of contact and fabric anisotropy of fouled ballast subjected to monotonic triaxial loading using a series of large-scale triaxial tests and discrete element modeling. Monotonically loaded and drained triaxial tests were carried out on ballast with levels of clay fouling that varied from 10 to 50% void contamination index (VCI) subjected to three confining pressures of 10, 30, and 60 kPa. The results showed that an increase in the level of fouling decreased the mobilized friction angle and increased the ballast dilation. The discrete element method (DEM) was used to study the mobilized friction angle and fabric anisotropy of fresh and fouled ballast by simulating actual large-scale triaxial tests. Irregular shaped grains of ballast were simulated by clumping bonded circular balls with appropriate sizes and positions together. Ballast fouling was approximately simulated in DEM by adding 1-mm particles into the pore spaces of the fresh ballast. The predicted mobilized friction angles and volumetric changes obtained from the DEM simulations agreed well with those measured in the laboratory, indicating that the peak friction angle of fouled ballast and dilation decreased as the degree of fouling increased. The DEM simulations provided an insight into the distribution of contact force chains, contact orientations, and evolution of fabric anisotropy of fresh and fouled ballast that could not be captured in the laboratory. These observations are important for a better understanding of the load-deformation behavior of fouled ballast from the perspective of micromechanics.