Large-scale testing facility for heavy haul track
Given the substantially increased demand for increased axle loads of heavy haul trains, there is an imperative need to develop sustainable track infrastructure. When subjected to heavy axle loading, ballast aggregates rapidly break down, compromising the particle friction and associated load bearing capacity. Therefore, understanding the deformation and degradation (breakage) of ballast subjected to various boundary and loading conditions is crucial for improved track design and performance monitoring. Ideally, field testing should be carried out in real-life tracks to avoid laboratory scale and boundary effects, but field tests are often expensive, time-consuming and may disrupt rail traffic, hence not always feasible. A prototype test facility that can simulate appropriate axle loading and boundary conditions for standard gauge heavy haul tracks is presented in this paper. In collaboration with more than a dozen Universities and Industry organisations, Australia's first and only National Facility for Heavy-haul Railroad Testing (NFHRT) has recently been constructed and is now fully operational. This new facility enables a real-size (1:1 scale) instrumented track section to be subjected to continuous cyclic loading simulated via two pairs of dynamic actuators in synchronized operation. The results of a typical test are presented in this paper including the measured track settlement and lateral deformation, transient vertical and lateral stresses, rail and sleeper accelerations, resilient modulus and breakage of ballast. The test results show that an average track settlement of about 14 mm and lateral displacements up to 9 mm are recorded after 500,000 load cycles. Subjected to a 25-tonne axle load, the maximum vertical stress measured at the sleeper-ballast interface is about 225 kPa and this attenuates with depth. The test results of this iconic facility are generally consistent with actual field measurements obtained in heavy-haul tracks located in the towns of Singleton and Bulli in the state of New South Wales, Australia.
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