Role of initial particle arrangement in ballast mechanical behavior

Yu Qian, Seung Jae Lee, Erol Tutumluer, Youssef M.A. Hashash, Jamshid Ghaboussi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ballast containing large aggregate particles with uniformgradation is an essential layer in a railway substructure to facilitate load distribution and drainage. Although it is constructed or maintained in accordance with specifications, ballast is characterized by inherent randomness, not only in particle properties, such as mineralogy, size, and shape, but also in particle arrangement. Because of this randomness, the initial configurations of ballast particle assemblies vary fromplace to place in the field as well as from specimen to specimen in the laboratory. This paper presents a study on the influence of the aggregate scale randomness, which is the initial particle arrangement, on the geomechanical behavior of ballast. A series of large-scale, laboratory, triaxial shear-strength and repeated-load permanent-deformation tests was performed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the study. Numerical simulations using the discrete-elementmethod (DEM) were also performed to understand better the effect of different initial particle arrangement on the basis of the identical particle scale properties of shape and size distribution. The ballast aggregate particles weremodeled as three-dimensional (3D) polyhedral elements according to the properties of particles used in the laboratory tests, and then, the same set of particles was used to simulate laboratory tests with different initial particle arrangements for each specimen. The results from both the laboratory experiments and numerical simulations confirmthat the initial particle arrangementmay significantly affect the strength and deformation behavior of ballast. Hence, multiple tests or simulations with different particle-packing arrangements are needed to study ballast mechanical behavior. However, a stable average response can be obtained with a minimum of three laboratory experiments or numerical simulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04017158
JournalInternational Journal of Geomechanics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Ballast
  • Discrete-element method (DEM)
  • Particle arrangement
  • Permanent deformation
  • Shear strength
  • Triaxial compression test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Soil Science


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