© 2020, The Author(s). The rapid growth in railway infrastructure and the construction of high-speed heavy-haul rail network, especially on ground that is basically unsuitable, poses challenges for geotechnical engineers because a large part of the money invested in the development of railway lines is often spent on track maintenance. In fact around the world, the mud pumping of subgrade fines is one of the common reasons why track performance deteriorates and track stability is hindered. This article presents a series of laboratory tests to examine following aspects of mud pumping: (1) the mechanisms of subgrade fluidisation under undrained condition, (2) the effects of mud pumping on the engineering characteristics of ballast, and (3) the use of vertical drains to stabilize subgrade under cyclic loads. The undrained cyclic triaxial testing on vulnerable soft subgrade was performed by varying the cyclic stress ratio (CSR) from 0.2 to 1.0 and the loading frequency f from 1.0 to 5.0 Hz. It is seen from the test results that for a specimen compacted at an initial dry density of 1790 kg/m3, the top portion of the specimen fluidises at CSR = 0.5, irrespective of the applied loading frequency. Under cyclic railway loading, the internal redistribution of water at the top of the subgrade layer softens the soil and also reduces its stiffness. In response to these problems, this paper explains how the inclusion of vertical drains in soft subgrade will help to prevent mud pumping by alleviating the build-up of excess pore pressures under moving train loads.