The Stiffening of Soft Soils on Railway Lines

Kaitai Dong, David P. Connolly, Omar Laghrouche, Peter K. Woodward, Pedro Alves Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Railway tracks experience elevated rail deflections when the supporting soil is soft and/or the train speed is greater than approximately 50% of the wave propagation velocity in the track-soil system (i.e. the critical velocity). Such vibrations are undesirable, so soil replacement or soil improvement of the natural soil (or alternatively mini-piles or lime-cement treatment) is often used to increase track-ground stiffness prior to line construction. Although areas of existing soft subgrade might be easily identified on a potential new rail route, it is challenging to determine the type and depth of ground remediation required. Therefore, major cost savings can be made by optimising ground replacement/improvement strategies.

This paper presents a numerical railway model, designed for the dynamic analysis of track-ground vibrations induced by high speed rail lines. The model simulates the ground using a thin-layer finite element formulation capable of calculating 3D stresses and strains within the soil during train vehicle passage. The railroad track is modelled using a multi-layered formulation which permits wave propagation in the longitudinal direction, and is coupled with the soil model in the frequency-wavenumber domain. The model is validated using a combination of experimental railway field data, published numerical data and a commercial finite element package. It is shown to predict track and ground behaviour accurately for a range of train speeds.

The railway simulation model is computationally efficient and able to quickly assess dynamic, multi-layered soil response in the presence of ballast and slab track structures. Therefore it is well-suited to analysing the effect of different soil replacement strategies on dynamic track behaviour, which is particularly important when close to critical speed. To show this, three soil-embankment examples are used to compare the effect of different combinations of stiffness improvement (stiffness magnitude and remediation depths up to 5 m) on track behaviour. It is found that improvement strategies must be carefully chosen depending upon the track type and existing subgrade layering configuration. Under certain circumstances, soil improvement can have a negligible effect, or possibly even result in elevated track vibration, which may increase long-term settlement. However, large benefits are possible, and if detailed analysis is performed, it is possible to minimise soil improvement depth with respect to construction cost.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-191
Number of pages14
JournalTransportation Geotechnics
Issue numberPart A
Early online date15 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


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