Discrete Element Modeling for fouled railroad ballast

Hai Huang, Erol Tutumluer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Fouling refers to the condition of railroad ballast when voids in this unbound aggregate layer are filled with relatively finer materials or fouling agents commonly from the ballast aggregate breakdown, outside contamination such as coal dust from coal trains, or from subgrade soil intrusion. This paper aims to investigate the effect of fouling on ballast strength and stability. Fouling mechanism was first explained followed by investigation of mechanical properties of fouling agent. Coal dust was chosen as the fouling agent due to its poor mechanical properties and it had been reported to mostly decrease aggregate assembly strength comparing to other fouling agents. An image-aided Discrete Element Modeling (DEM) approach was introduced to simulate the coal dust fouled track field settlement performance. To that end, DEM model parameters for clean and coal dust fouled ballast were validated by matching the DEM direct shear box simulation results to the laboratory shear box testing results for both samples. By assigning laboratory calibrated model parameters to the "half-track" ballast sample generated in DEM, effects of different fouling percentage as well as different fouling locations on ballast settlement performance are studied. Results from the "half-track" DEM simulation revealed that fouling could lead to unfavorable track distresses such as "hanging tie". Further, shoulder fouling scenario was proven to be critical in track maintenance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3306-3312
Number of pages7
JournalConstruction and Building Materials
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • General Materials Science


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