The dynamic behavior of ballast particles during track tamping is studied by developing a computer simulation model using the Discrete Element Model (DEM) method. The simulation model is developed in a commercially available DEM software called PFC3D (Particle Flow Code 3D). The study primarily evaluates a complete tamping cycle as defined by insertion, squeeze, hold, and withdrawal. Using a Taguchi approach, the effect of Tine motion’s frequency and amplitude, insertion velocity, and squeeze velocity are evaluated on tamping effectiveness. The compactness of the ballast particles, as defined by the average number of contacts per particle (referred to “Coordination Number”) is used as a measure of the effectiveness of tamping. Setting up the DEM model and important elements such as selection and calibration of particle shapes, ballast mechanical properties, contact model, and parameters governing the contact force models are described in detail. The tamping process is evaluated using a half-track layout with a highly modular code that enables a high degree of adjustability to allow control of all parameters for improved simulation flexibility. A parametric study is performed to find the best values of tine motion parameters for improving tamping efficiency. A performance comparison is made between linear and elliptical tamping. The results indicate that smaller squeeze and release velocities of the tines yield better compaction. Of course, reducing the velocities would result in increased tamping time. Additionally, the results indicate that the linear motion of the tines potentially result in better compaction than elliptical motion, although the latter may require less insertion force (power) and cause less ballast damage.

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