Discrete Element Modeling of Railway Ballast for Studying Railroad Tamping Operation

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Virginia Tech

The development of Discrete Element Model (DEM) of railway ballast for the purpose of studying the behavior of ballast particles during tamping is addressed in a simulation study, with the goal of optimizing the railroad tamping operation. A comprehensive literature review of applicability of DEM techniques in modeling the behavior of railway ballast is presented and its feasibility in studying the fundamental mechanisms that influence the outcome of railroad tamping process is analyzed. A Discrete Element Model of railway ballast is also developed and implemented using a commercially available DEM package: PFC3D. Selection and calibration of ballast parameters, such as inter-particle contact force laws, ballast material properties, and selection of particle shape are represented in detail in the model. Finally, a complete tamping simulation model is constructed with high degree of adjustability to allow control of all process parameters for achieving realistic output.

The analysis shows that DEM is a highly valuable tool for studying railroad tamping operation. It has the capability to provide crucial and unprecedented insights into the process, facilitating not only the optimization of current tamping practices, but also the development of novel methods for achieving sustainable improvements in track stability after tamping in the future. Different ways of modeling particle shapes have been evaluated and it has been shown that while using spheres to represent irregular ballast particles in DEM provides immense gains in computational efficiency, spheres cannot intently capture all properties of irregularly shaped particles, and therefore should not be used to model railway ballast particles. Inter-particle and wall-particle contact forces are calculated using Hertzian contact mechanics for determining ballast dynamics during tamping. The results indicate that the model is able to accurately predict properties of granular assemblies of the railway ballast in different test cases. The developed model for simulating tamping operation on a half-track layout is expected to be extended in future studies for evaluating rail track settlement and stability, optimization of tamping process, and performance of different ballast gradations.

Discrete Element Modeling, DEM, railway ballast, track settlement, tamping, track stability, contact model, particle shape, ballast compaction, coordination number