Laboratory characterization of fouled railroad ballast behavior

Huang, H., E. Tutumluer and W. Dombrow. 2009. Laboratory characterization of fouled railroad ballast behavior. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2117: 93-101. doi:10.3141/2117-12.


Fouling refers to the condition of railroad ballast when voids in this unbound aggregate layer are filled with relatively finer materials or fouling agents, which commonly come from breakdown of the ballast aggregate, outside contamination such as coal dust from coal trains, or subgrade soil intrusion. Effects of different fouling agents on ballast aggregate shear strength were studied at the University of Illinois. Through the use of a large direct shear (shear box) device, the strength properties of both clean and fouled ballast samples were determined when three types of fine materials—coal dust, plastic clayey soil, and mineral filler—were added to clean ballast samples at various percentages by weight of ballast under both dry and wet [mostly optimum moisture content (OMC)] conditions. Realistic sample preparation procedures were conducted to closely simulate field-fouling scenarios. Test results showed that when the coal dust fouling percentage increased, the ballast shear strength steadily decreased. Wet fouling was found to exacerbate this trend. Results of ballast samples fouled with clay and mineral filler also showed decreasing trends in strength properties; however, coal dust was by far the worst fouling agent for its impact on track substructure and roadbed. Approximately 15% coal dust fouling by weight of ballast was statistically significant to cause considerable strength reductions. In the case of ballast fully fouled with wet coal dust at 35% OMC, the friction angles obtained were as low as the friction angle of coal dust itself.