From the advent of high-speed (HS) railways and with increasing traffic-induced loads transmitted to the superstructure, maintenance costs due to track geometry degradation have become a crucial problem for researchers and railway administrations. Moreover, the operations of ballast renewal, track tamping, and track re-alignment, that are indispensable to guarantee a good track geometry, have dramatic effects on the tie-ballast lateral resistance, which in turn reduce the track flexural strength in the lateral plane and increase the proneness of railway tracks made of continuous welded rails (CWR) to experience either progressive lateral shift of the track panel or thermal track buckling phenomena. To restore proper values of the tie-ballast lateral resistance, railway technicians either impose a speed reduction or compact the ballast bed mechanically by mean of the dynamic track stabilizing machines.

Recently, elastic elements in railway tracks are receiving more and more attention due to their ability to reduce track geometry degradation and to attenuate noise and vibrations. Under Tie Pads, or Under Sleeper Pads (USP), guarantee better homogenization of the track vertical stiffness and have received more attention due to their ability to reduce maintenance costs. Most published studies focused their attention to USPs’ attitude to improve track performances in terms of dynamic impact force mitigation and track quality improvement; however, with few exceptions, no available literature exists on lateral resistance of ballasted track with USP, and some question still remains whether or not the lateral resistance is improved by USP.

In this study, the experimental results of about 40 lateral resistance tests carried out in situ are reported and discussed. The tests were performed with the Discrete Cut Panel Pull Test (DCPPT) technique on three type of concrete ties, with and without USP; each type of tie and the related track conditions (ballast thickness, subgrade thickness and composition, shoulder width, ballast wall, etc.) were representative of specific track conditions, namely traditional tracks, high-speed lines and gallery. The tests were carried out in loaded and unloaded track conditions, in compacted and just-laid track conditions.

In compacted ballast conditions the peak lateral resistance due to USPs can increase up to 20% — depending on the material used — and this variation is almost constant in the bedding modulus range considered in this study, which was quite well representative of typical static bedding modulus values of actual USPs. Even higher advantages seem to be achievable with softer USPs in weak or just-tamped ballast conditions.

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