Transport of Fracking Sand – Impact of Increasing Freight Loads on Rail Infrastructure

Quarterly Reports Other Documents Final Report
March 2013
March 2014
Impact of increasing freight loads on rail substructure from fracking sand transport
Research Brief
Final Report

Primary Investigator

James M. Tinjum, P.E., Ph.D
University of Wisconsin – Madison
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706


The impact of increasing freight loads on the lifecycle of a railway track is unknown without proper investigation, characterization, and modeling of rail substructure, primarily railway ballast. Because demand for railway freight transportation is increasing – especially for rail infrastructure associated with the mining, processing, and transport of fracking sand – the challenge to all research and maintenance entities is to test and develop new cost-effective methods for railway maintenance and upgrade. With these needs in mind, the GeoEngineering program at UW-Madison has invested dedicated researchers to railway industry research, developed laboratory testing equipment specifically designed for railway ballast, developed a rail maintenance model titled WiscRail™ for rail substructure design and maintenance, and established a foundation for contributing to the contemporary and future railway industry knowledge base. This proposal specifically seeks to apply these developed technologies to the rail engineering and maintenance profession through assessment of the capacity of existing rail infrastructure in Wisconsin to handle fracking sands and other heavy loads by use of the WiscRail™ maintenance model.


Assess the capacity of existing rail infrastructure in Wisconsin to transport processed fracking sands from the upper Midwest to market. Evaluate the maintenance requirements and model the maintenance intervals required using the WiscRail™ maintenance model.


  1. Fracking sand Infrastructure Inventory
  2. Material Properties
  3. WiscRail™ Demonstration – Frac Sand Infrastructure Case Study
  4. Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Cost Analysis
  5. Final Report and Dissemination in EPD Short Course(s)

Project Information

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Dates: 08/24/2012 – 08/23/2013
  • Budget: $50,990
  • Student Involvement: 1 graduate and 1 undergraduate student
  • Modal Orientation: Rail
  • Project ID: CFIRE 07-10
Print Friendly