Railroad ballast layer consists of discrete aggregate particles and Discrete Element Method (DEM) is one of the most suitable ways to simulate the deformation behaviour of particulate nature of ballast materials. An aggregate imaging based DEM simulation platform developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) can simulate railroad ballast behaviour through the use of polyhedron shaped discrete elements. These ballast elements are created with realistic size and shape properties from image analyses of actual particles using an Aggregate Image Analyzer. The UIUC railroad ballast DEM model was recently put to test for predicting settlement behaviour of full-scale test sections under repeated heavy axle train loading. Field settlement data were collected from the Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST) for Heavy Axle Load (HAL) applications at Transportation Technology Center (TTC) in Pueblo, Colorado, to validate the DEM model. The ballast settlement predictions due to the repeated train loading indicate that the DEM model could predict magnitudes of the field ballast settlements from both early loading cycles and over 90 Million Gross Tons (MGTs) performance trends reasonably accurately. The settlement predictions were sensitive to aggregate shape, gradation and initial compaction condition (density) of the constructed ballast layer.

Keywords: railroad ballast, aggregate shape, settlement, porosity, discrete element modelling, field validation

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