One of the most common failure modes of concrete crossties in North America is the degradation of the concrete surface at the crosstie rail seat, also known as rail seat deterioration (RSD). Loss of material beneath the rail can lead to wide gauge, rail cant deficiency, and an increased risk of rail rollover. Previous research conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has identified five primary failure mechanisms: abrasion, crushing, freeze-thaw damage, hydro-abrasive erosion, and hydraulic pressure cracking. The magnitude and distribution of load applied to the rail seat affects four of these five mechanisms; therefore, it is important to understand the characteristics of the rail seat load distribution to effectively address RSD.
As part of a larger study funded by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) aimed at improving concrete crossties and fastening systems, researchers at UIUC are attempting to characterize the loading environment at the rail seat using matrix-based tactile surface sensors (MBTSS). This instrumentation technology has been implemented in both laboratory and field experimentation, and has provided valuable insight into the distribution of a single load over consecutive crossties. A review of past research into RSD characteristics and failure mechanisms has been conducted to integrate data from field experimentation with existing knowledge, to further explore the role of the rail seat load distribution on RSD. The knowledge gained from this experimentation will be integrated with associated research conducted at UIUC to form the framework for a mechanistic design approach for concrete crossties and fastening systems.