Deformation and Dynamic Load Amplification Trends at Railroad Bridge Approaches: Effects Caused by High-Speed Passenger Trains

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Railroad track transitions such as bridge approaches may experience differential movements due to variations in track stiffness; impact loads due to train speed and excessive vibration; ballast settlement from fouling, degradation, or both; tie–ballast contact condition and gap; and settlement of fill, subgrade, and foundation layers. A research study completed recently at the University of Illinois focused on identifying the major causes of this differential movement and implementing suitable rehabilitation measures to mitigate recurrent problems with settlement and geometry. Transient and permanent deformation trends were observed in track substructure layers at two instrumented bridge approaches along the Amtrak Northeast Corridor. Multidepth deflectometer systems installed through crossties successfully recorded both permanent (plastic) and transient deformations of individual track substructure layers. Strain gauges mounted on the rail effectively measured vertical wheel loads applied during train passage and monitored the support conditions under the instrumented crossties. Track settlement (or permanent deformation) data revealed that the ballast layer was the primary source of differential movement contributing to recurrent settlement and geometry problems. Transient layer deformations recorded under train passage were higher in the ballast than in any other substructure layer. Transient displacement and wheel load data were consistently higher at near-bridge locations than at open-track locations. Rail-mounted strain gauges indicated that load amplification levels were significantly higher at near-bridge locations than at open-track locations.