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Railway Track Support


Track Support being defined as the foundation of the track that underlies the track superstructure of ties, fasteners and rails. Track Support components are generally taken to include the underlying layers of ballast, subballast and subgrade (a.k.a., formation, roadbed), as well as the track’s drainage condition. The condition and performance of the Track Support profoundly affects the track structure and the track’s operational reliability and ride quality. The quality of Track Support is defined by the following attributes of the Track Support components:

  • subsurface layer thickness and configuration,

  • composition (material type) and moisture content, and

  • strength, stiffness and deformability.

Various technologies have been employed to quantify these attributes, including ground penetrating radar, track stiffness measurements, track geometry analysis, lidar scanning, high-resolution imagery, and instrumentation (in-situ and wayside).


Understand the performance of track support and stiffness under different environmental and operational conditions (e.g., heavy axle load, high speed) in order to evaluate and minimize operational risk, and to determine appropriate maintenance to provide optimum track reliability and economy. Develop ways to measure and monitor the condition and performance of Track Support in order to quantify safety risk and to forecast future performance quality.


Better understanding and improved monitoring of Track Support will lead to: overall smoother and more reliable track for a given level-of-service, increased track reliability, reduced rate of track deterioration, and reduced maintenance and capital costs.

Related Research:

Various universities, TTCI and some railroad companies are performing large-scale laboratory and revenue-service testing of Track Support components. Private companies, including railroads, contractors and engineering firms, as well as universities are developing methods to reliably and efficiently measure Track Support condition and performance. There are also ongoing research efforts utilizing computer modeling, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI).


Modeling and computational analytics, laboratory testing, field testing and revenue-service monitoring.


Combined modeling, laboratory testing and field monitoring, primarily by universities and private companies, with close partnership with railroad companies.


The effects of the condition and performance of Track Support effects on the overall track reliability and safety are the least understood aspects of railway track health.

Sponsoring Committee:AR050, Railroad Infrastructure Design and Maintenance
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:James Hyslip, Loram Technologies, Inc
Date Posted:01/08/2021
Date Modified:05/27/2021
Index Terms:Subgrade (Pavements), Subgrade materials, Ballast (Railroads), Railroad tracks,
Cosponsoring Committees: 

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