Simulating Ballast Breakage Under Repeated Loading Using the Discrete Element Method

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The ballast layer in a railroad track helps distribute loads from the superstructure to the formation; a well-designed ballast layer is also meant to prevent excessive vertical, lateral and longitudinal movement of the track under loading. When subjected to repeated loading, the granular ballast particles often undergo breakage leading to significant changes in the shear strength as well as drainage characteristics of the ballast layer. Excessive ballast degradation leads to increased vertical settlements, and is often associated with speed restrictions and increased passenger discomfort. Several researchers in the past have studied the phenomenon of ballast breakage in a laboratory setting. However, due to complexities associated with these large-scale laboratory tests, detailed parametric studies are often not feasible. In such cases, numerical modeling tools such as the Discrete Element Method (DEM) become particularly useful. This paper presents findings from an ongoing research effort at Boise State University aimed at studying the phenomenon of ballast breakage under repeated loading using a commercially available Discrete Element Package (PFC3D®). Ballast particles were simulated as clusters of balls bonded together, and were allowed to undergo breakage when either the maximum tensile stress or the maximum shear stress exceeded the corresponding bond strength value. Different factors studied during the parametric analysis were: (1) load amplitude; (2) loading frequency; (3) number of cycles of loading; (4) bond strength; and (5) particle size distribution. The objective was to identify the relative importance of different factors that govern the permanent deformation behavior of railroad tracks under loading.