Monitoring in-service performance of fibre-reinforced foamed urethane sleepers/bearers in railway urban turnout systems

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48 Citations (Scopus)


Special track systems used to divert a train to other directions or other tracks are generally called 'railway turnout'. A traditional turnout system consists of steel rails, switches, crossings, steel plates, fasteners, screw spikes, timber bearers, ballast and formation. The wheel rail contact over the crossing transfer zone has a dip-like shape and can often cause detrimental impact loads on the railway track and its components. The large impact also emits disturbing noises (either impact or ground-borne noise) to railway neighbors. In a brown-field railway track where an existing aged infrastructure requires renewal or maintenance, some physical constraints and construction complexities may dominate the choice of track forms or certain components. With the difficulty to seek for high-quality timbers with dimensional stability, a methodology to replace aged timber bearers in harsh dynamic environments is to adopt an alternative material that could mimic responses and characteristics of timber in both static and dynamic loading conditions. A critical review has suggested an application of an alternative material called fibre-reinforced foamed urethane (FFU). The full-scale capacity design makes use of its comparable engineering characteristics to timber, high-impact attenuation, high damping property, and a longer service life. A field trial to investigate in-situ behaviours of a turnout grillage system using an alternative material, 'fibre-reinforced foamed urethane (FFU)' bearers, has been carried out at a complex turnout junction under heavy mixed traffics at Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia. The turnout junction was renewed using the FFU bearers altogether with new special track components. Influences of the FFU bearers on track geometry (recorded by track inspection vehicle 'AK Car'), track settlement (based on survey data), track dynamics, and acoustic characteristics have been measured. Operational train pass-by measurements have been analysed to evaluate the effectiveness of the replacement methodology. Comparative studies show that the use of FFU bearers generates higher rail and sleeper accelerations but the damping capacity of the FFU help suppress vibration transferring onto other track components. The survey data analysis suggests a small vertical settlement and negligible lateral movement of the turnout system. The static and dynamic behaviours of FFU bearers appear to equate that of natural timber but its service life is superior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-157
Number of pages27
JournalStructural Monitoring and Maintenance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2014


  • fibre-reinforced foamed urethane bearers
  • field trial
  • railway turnout grillage
  • track geometry
  • stability
  • vibration
  • material design and analysis
  • performance monitoring


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