Stress Distribution in a Railroad Track at the Crosstie-Ballast Interface

Habib A. Unluoglu, L. Sebastian Bryson, Jerry G. Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Excessive crosstie wear and abrasion and ballast wear and fouling are fundamental problems contributing to inadequate railroad track performance. This adversely affects the attainment and long-term maintenance of desired track geometric requirements. The magnitudes and distribution of the stresses at the crosstie-ballast (CT-B) interface must be known to determine the stress distribution on and within the ballast. However, the track design recommendations to determine these pressures, which are largely based on a methodology from the 1980s, are currently valid for modern-day railroad applications for multiple reasons discussed in this study. This study analyzed CT-B interfacial pressure data measured on an active freight mainline in Mascot, Tennessee. Dynamic contact pressures at the CT-B interface were measured using hydraulic earth pressure cells for various wheel loads and train speeds. The test train was a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) test train consisting of a diesel electric locomotive, a test car that had different wheel loads based on the deployable axle load, and an inspection car. Although the maximum train speed was limited to 64 km/h, this research found that speed variation has a minimal effect on the CT-B interfacial pressures. From the measured data, a Gaussian stress distribution equation is proposed to determine longitudinal pressure distribution transmitted to the CT-B interface for static conditions. In addition, the stress distribution along the length of a crosstie was investigated via laboratory experimentation using a half-length crosstie. As a result of the experimentation, a dimensionless trilinear approximation was developed to estimate the stress distribution along the length of the crosstie. In general, this research recommends that the longitudinal and lateral stress distributions be considered together to design a better railroad track.

Original languageEnglish
Article number04023074
JournalJournal of Transportation Engineering Part A: Systems
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Society of Civil Engineers.


  • Ballast
  • Crosstie
  • Earth pressure cell
  • Gaussian distribution
  • Railroad
  • Stress distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation


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