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A quantitative evaluation of the impact of soft subgrades on railway track structure Open Access


Other title
Track rehabilitation
Soft subgrade
rolling deflection measurement system
railway track strcuture
Track geometry
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Roghani, Alireza
Supervisor and department
Hendry, Michael (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Doucette, John (Mechanical Engineering)
Chalaturnyk, Rick (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Martin, Derek (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Priest, Jeffrey (Civil Engineering, University of Calgary)
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Geotechnical Engineering
Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The railway networks in Canada traverse from coast to coast, and pass over diverse terrain with large stretches of very soft soils, including clay deposits and peat formations. The majority of these lines were constructed approximately 100 years ago. Railway loads have since increased significantly, resulting in the imposing of higher loads on older infrastructure, particularly those constructed on soft soil foundations. This combination has resulted in the need to upgrade these lines to handle the increased loads and the expected increase of volume of traffic. The main challenge in upgrading these lines is the limited knowledge about the location of poor subgrades as the extent and relative stiffness of the foundation have not been mapped and documented over long distances. The lack of this information has also limited the studying of the influence of subgrade on track performance as well as quantifying the value obtained from the investment in improving track and substructure. An extensive trial with a newly developed rolling deflection technology, over 12,000 km of track, was conducted to assess its potential to map the variability in subgrade conditions over long distances. It was evident from the collected data that unprocessed deflection measurements are heavily affected by the track surface condition such as joints and geometry irregularities so as to obscure the deflections because of poor subgrade support. A methodology was developed to minimize the influence of the surface condition that occur at short wavelengths and show the variations in track deflections because of changes in subgrade conditions which occur at longer wavelengths. The comparison of the processed data at different subgrade and geology condition confirmed that they are consistent with field conditions and are representative of the subgrade conditions. Mapping the subgrade condition over extensive lengths of track presented the opportunity to investigate the impact of subgrade stiffness on the prevalence of track geometry defects and degradation of track quality indices (TQI). This investigation was consisted of the analysis of 800 km of subgrade data and track geometry measurement from two subdivisions from different physiographic region of Canada. The analysis showed that the geometry defects have a strong correlation with both subgrade condition and its variability whereas the TQI are only related to the variability of subgrade condition. These results showed that the locations that have a large deflection and a high variability in deflection are those that are difficult to maintain, and at which maintenance is not always able to keep up with the degradation of the track geometry. It also suggested the processed data from rolling deflection measurement systems provides an evaluation of the underlying causes that result in the degradation of track conditions and allow for the identification of sections where it most likely that maintenance will not always be able to keep up with degradation; even if maintenance has done so recently. A methodology was also developed for quantifying the effectiveness of different methods used to improve the railway track performance on soft subgrades. This methodology is comprised of quantifying the changes in track stiffness from before and after vertical track deflection (VTD) measurements, and the evaluation of the roughness of the track that has developed since the track upgrades. A project was discussed as a case study to explain the steps of this methodology. The result showed that replacement of joints with heavier continuously welded rail (CWR) can reduce the track deflection up to 60%. The results of replacing the suggested 600 mm of subballast with 300 mm of subballast and a geogrid showed no change in the performance of the track under the CWR.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Roghani, A. and Hendry, M.T. (2016). "Continuous Vertical Track Deflection Measurements to Map Subgrade Condition along a Railway Line: Methodology and Case Studies." J. Transp. Eng., 10.1061/ (ASCE)TE.1943-5436.0000892 , 04016059, in Press.Roghani, A., Hendry, M., Ruel, M., Edwards, T., Sharpe, P. and Hyslip, J. (2015). A case study of the assessment of an existing rail line for increased traffic and axle loads. Proceedings of the 2015 IHHA, Perth, WA, Australia.Roghani, A., Macciotta, R. and Hendry, M. (2015). Combining track quality and performance measures to assess track maintenance requirements. Proceedings of the 2015 Joint Rail Conference, San Jose, CA, USA.

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