Comparison of structural design methods for railway composites and plastic sleepers and bearers

Érica Andrade Silva, Dominik Pokropski, Ruilin You, Sakdirat Kaewunruen

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26 Citations (Scopus)
1465 Downloads (Pure)


Railway sleepers are safety-critical and essential components in a ballasted railway track system. Sleepers could principally be made of different materials, such as, timber, steel, concrete, composite and plastic. The deterioration process of sleepers depends largely on the materials of which they are made. The most popular material for manufacturing sleepers nowadays is concrete. In very recent years, a new type of railway sleeper has been developed using composite and plastic materials. These plastic sleepers have been trialled as bridge transoms and, to a limited extent, as switch and crossing bearers. A limited application of composite (a combination of cement, steel and plastics) to bridge transoms can also be seen. At present, there is no unified design method or standard for these new plastic and composite sleepers and bearers. The lack of design information can compromise public safety. This paper thus highlights the design aspects for plastic and composite sleepers in comparison with traditional materials. It reveals that limit states design concept is the most optimal approach for sleeper design and manufacture. The insight will help rail asset owners and managers establish predictive and condition-based track design and maintenance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAustralian Journal of Structural Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2017


  • sleeper
  • crosstie
  • transom
  • plastic
  • composite
  • structural design
  • railway
  • track component


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