Influence of unsupported sleepers on the dynamic response of a heavy haul railway embankment

Jin Shi, Andrew Chan, Michael Burrow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
281 Downloads (Pure)


It is not uncommon for conventional ballasted railway track systems to have unsupported sleepers due the uneven settlement of the ballast or subgrade. In order to investigate the possible implications of unsupported sleepers, this paper describes the development of a dynamic finite element model which includes wheel/rail friction. The developed model was used to investigate the behavior of a section of existing track on the ballasted Shuohuang heavy haul railway line in China. The investigation showed that the maximum displacement of the rails and sleepers increases significantly with the number of consecutive unsupported sleepers. Furthermore, the magnitude of the displacement between an unsupported sleeper and the ballast is likely to greatly exacerbate ballast/sleeper attrition and reduce the fatigue life of the hanging sleeper. An increase in the number of unsupported sleepers amplifies these effects. In addition, it was found that the sleepers adjacent to unsupported ones carry an additional load resulting potentially in their increased wear and additional damage to the substructure. To better understand the wider implications of the presence of unsupported sleepers on track performance, the stability, safety (in terms of derailment) and potential for rail and substructure damage were computed as a function of the number of unsupported sleepers (one to four) and compared with specifications. The results showed that the number of unsupported sleepers has a significant adverse impact on all four measures. However, while the effects on stability, safety and rail damage were within the limits suggested in specifications, even when four sleepers were modeled, the potential for substructure failure within a typical design life of the railway system was identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-667
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part F: Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit
Issue number6
Early online date18 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • Railway track
  • unsupported sleeper
  • finite element
  • dynamic response


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