A full-scale experimental and modelling study of ballast flight under high speed trains

Andrew Quinn, M Hayward, Christopher Baker, Felix Schmid, JA Priest, W Powrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

72 Citations (Scopus)


Recent experience with the operation of high-speed railways in the UK and elsewhere has revealed the phenomenon, termed 'ballast flight', of ballast particles becoming airborne during the passage of trains, potentially causing damage to both the railhead and the vehicle. This article reports the results of an investigation into the mechanical and aerodynamic forces acting on ballast particles that are generated during the passage of a high-speed train and addresses the question whether these might offer a possible explanation for the initiation of ballast flight. As the high-speed trains passed, measurements were made of the air pressure and velocity at various locations across the track, and of the velocity and acceleration of the track system (sleeper and rails) and the ballast itself. The aerodynamic forces exerted on a suspended ballast particle were also measured. An analytical model of the behaviour of small ballast particles was constructed to assist in the interpretation of the measured data. Analysis of the data and modelling suggest that neither mechanical forces nor aerodynamic forces in isolation are likely to be sufficient to initiate ballast flight under the conditions investigated, but that the phenomenon could arise from a combination of the two effects. It appears that the process is stochastic in nature: further work, with an increased number of measurements, is required to explore this.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-74
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part F Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • high-speed railways
  • pressure
  • transport
  • aerodynamics
  • vibration


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