A Novel Approach to Mitigating Ballast Fouling and Enhancing Rail Freight Capacity

Quarterly Reports Other Documents Final Report
December 2010
March 2011
June 2011
September 2011
December 2011
March 2012
June 2012
September 2012
Research Brief Final Report

Primary Investigator

Tuncer B. Edil
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1415 Engineering Dr
Madison, WI 53706


Railways are an important component of multi-modal freight transport that present great potential for expansion. Specific problem areas include increasing railway car tonnages, speed limitations due to poor track conditions, and other freight transportation logistic bottlenecks. Ever increasing volume, tonnage, and speeds on our nation’s rail system are stressing rail substructure to levels never before evaluated or considered in depth. Ballast is a crucial material for structural support of rail tracks and trains and provides fast drainage during precipitation. The structural integrity of seriously fouled ballast (i.e., containing fine particles) can be compromised leading to track instability and ultimately, train derailments. Because of this serious consequence, costly ballast maintenance activities, such as undercutting, tamping, and shoulder cleaning, are routinely performed by railroads, especially on tracks serving the heavy axle load unit trains. Despite numerous advancements in maintenance technology within the rail industry, railroads annually invest billions of dollars in maintenance activities, including the removal and replacement of ballast. Because demand for railway freight transportation is increasing and sustainability is now entrenched in our public consciousness, new cost-effective methods must be adopted. A novel application of urethane void filling and particle bonding technology is proposed to deal with this problem. These technologies have significant potential to transform rail substructure maintenance activities and efficiencies.


Assess the feasibility of strategically placed urethane reinforced layers within the ballast structure to mitigate ballast fouling and fines intrusion, thus reducing
maintenance life cycle costs and increasing load capacity.


  1. Material Properties
  2. Numerical Model Simulation
  3. Model Experiments
  4. Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Cost Analysis
  5. Final Report and Dissemination

Project Information

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Dates: November 1, 2010 – October 31, 2012
  • Budget: CFIRE: $150,000; Total: $191,140
  • Student Involvement: One graduate student and one undergraduate
  • Modal Orientation: Rail
  • Project ID: CFIRE 04-07
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