Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 222222
Loughborough University

Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering


Maria Gallou

Project Title

Track Structure Requirements for Improved Performance


LB Fosters


Dr Matthew Frost
Dr Ashraf El-Hamalawi

Mr Barnaby Temple
Dr Chris Hardwick
Paul Insley

Director of Research:
Prof Jacqui Glass

Research Period

2014 - 2018

Track Structure Requirements for Improved Performance

Company Background:

LB Foster is a multi-national construction products conglomerate of which LB Foster Rail Technologies is a leading supplier of track components and solutions to the global rail market, including rail joint and track support components (sleepers and fixings).  See www.lbfoster.com and www.lbfoster.co.uk for more details.

The company designs, develops and manufactures a variety of track components and also provides track system expertise as a niche consultancy service.  It has a number of ongoing research and development projects in the field of track components and the wheel-rail interface.

LB Foster has subject matter experts in track system design and testing, with key involvements within UK and European track and infrastructure committees; for example on the CEN Working Group drafting new European Norms for Ballastless (Slab) Track, chairing the UK ballastless track mirror group and participating in key rail industry working groups on subjects including track stiffness, wheel-rail interface and adhesion research.

Current state-of-the-art:

The predominant form of railway track structure across the world and equally in the UK is currently ballasted, with sleepers carrying the rails, embedded in a ballast layer of hard stone and normally resting on a soil formation (with many variants).  The passage of trains causes high frequency cyclic loading of the track structure. This loading leads to both elastic and permanent deformations, and hence track component and track bed deterioration.   Currently, much component and track bed design is based on an empirical understanding of the underlying substructure performance and this makes robust decision making to support innovative change difficult.

This non-fixed structure carries certain advantages in flexibility and the cost and speed of renewal but also significant requirements for monitoring and management with ongoing maintenance obligations.  Due to the nature of the demand on the infrastructure, access and cost to maintain it are rising and the expectation of a 24hr railway is growing, with a trend toward ever-reducing time windows for maintenance.  A published objective of the GB Railway Strategy (published by the Technical Strategy Leadership Group - TSLG) is to have developed innovative track designs that combine the maintainability and initial low cost of traditional ballasted track with the stability of slab track. Better geometry, reduced tamping and improved longevity combine to minimise long-term costs.

Network Rail’s Technical Strategy in response to the TSLG’s document includes a key objective as a move toward increasing track resilience and improving cost efficiency using a combination of ballast and slab track (ballastless trackforms) to reduce maintenance.   

For a step-change to be realised either in component life or whole system performance, a better understanding is needed of track-subgrade interaction affecting- and the deformation performance needed of rail components and track (slab) support systems to achieve this.

Aims and Objectives:

The aim of this project is to develop an understanding of the deformation performance required of railway trackforms to allow significant improvements in the performance of LB Foster’s track product offering, including rail joints, sleepers and potential new slab track products.

The Objectives are:

  • Understand the nature and behaviour of the performance of railway track structure and establish acceptable performance criteria
  • Develop a deformation model to allow analysis of rail joints and supporting structures based on the required performance
  • Evaluate the model using field measurements of performance based on technology currently being developed in the company
  • Utilise the model to identify achievable performance improvements and as a design tool to inform product development and optimisation

To extend to development of selected products (or specification for them) as identified, using a system design approach and in conjunction with the company’s development teams in rail products

Contribution to Knowledge:

The project will help to define a series of practical performance based design criteria validated against observed performance that can be used in design to assess the potential performance of rail support components. While work has been performed to look at the performance of ballasted track little has been done to look at specific elements of performance required when looking to convert conventional track into lower maintenance forms of trackbed with fixed track geometry.

Expected Benefits and Outcomes:

The company will obtain a better understanding of the behaviour and required performance of its track support and rail products.  This will allow the development of existing and new products to move towards Network Rail’s goal of a low maintenance trackform incorporating elements of ballast-less or slab track design.

The RE will gain detailed practical/theoretical technical knowledge of the design and performance of railway track structures as well as exposure to working in a commercial railway environment.

The wider railway community (both academic and industrial) will gain a better understanding of the issues that need to be considered when moving towards lower maintenance forms of track bed. In addition, a better understanding of the performance of railway components will allow industry to design for a longer life.

GALLOU, M. ... et al., 2016. Potential for external reinforcement of insulated rail joints. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part F: Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit, In Press.

GALLOU, M. ... et al, 2017. Applicability of video gauge for the assessment of track displacement. The Stephenson Conference: Research for Railways, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, UK, 25th-27th April 2017, pp. 141-148.



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The Centre Administrator
Loughborough University
LE11 3TU

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