Engineers Australia

Effects of geotextiles on drainage performance of ballasted rail tracks

Behzad Fatahi, Hadi Khabbaz and Huu Liem Ho


Naturally soft soils are mostly found around coastal regions, where the construction of ballasted rail tracks is required to have a more thorough consideration regarding filtration. Any poor filter design on weak ground inevitably leads to a critical change in ballast characteristics. It is noticeable that such a change results in several issues including significant migration of finer particles about the subballast-subgrade interface and the deficiency of subballast filtration. These problems eventually reduce the drainage ability of the rail sub-system and may cause severe damage which can only be remedied by frequent and costly track maintenance. It is therefore important that geosynthetics such as geotextiles are introduced to the rail track system as an additional filter layer, which is able to retain the desirable filtering characteristics. This paper investigates the impact of non-woven geotextiles on filtration behaviour of subballast in the laboratory, while adopting different granular filter (subballast) thicknesses varying from 0 mm to 50 mm. The research findings demonstrate a notable difference in the cumulative fine loss per unit volume within a given period of time between two distinctive tests – with and without geotextiles, thus emphasising the beneficial application of this geosynthetic material. Empirical estimation of permeability and properties of subballast, including grading curves after testing, are carefully carried out and the results are presented in this paper. The results indicate that the thickness of granular subballast can be significantly reduced by including geotextiles. This paper, in turn, evaluates the potential combination of the track substructure and geotextiles to achieve the optimum filter design and more importantly, alleviate the cost of track maintenance.