Researchers at the University of Wollongong and their industry partners awarded funding to increase the productivity and reduce the maintenance costs of Australia’s rail network

The Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, announced in January that Distinguished Professor Buddhima Indraratna and his team would receive $675,000 - the largest grant awarded nationally - under the Australian Research Council’s continuous Linkage Projects scheme.

When combined with funding from the project’s industry partners - Infra Tech, Australasian Centre For Rail Innovation, Geoharbour Group, Coffey Geotechnics, and SMEC Australia - the total funding  for the project will combine to almost $1 million.

Professor Indraratna is one of Australia’s foremost experts on railway infrastructure and the Foundation Director of the Centre for Geomechanics and Railway Engineering, the country’s first track research centre, established two decades ago.

For this project, his team will examine the factors that cause “mud pumping” on rail lines and evaluate the effectiveness of drainage to prevent the problem.

Mud pumping occurs particularly in areas where the ground is waterlogged, and causes millions of dollars damage to Australia’s rail network every year.

Fast, heavy haul trains - typically those used in mining and agriculture - can cause track depressions and mud holes, increasing the risk of derailment at certain speeds.

“This is a huge problem for heavy haul trains in NSW and around Australia. You get instances where the soil liquefies and pumps up like a fountain,” Professor Indraratna said.

“The potential benefits of this research are immense. The aim of the project is to mitigate this risk. If we can identify the areas at risk and improve the ground conditions, then we can improve the speed of trains.

“At the moment, heavy haul trains go very slowly along vulnerable areas, they are slowing down to 60kmh. If we can improve conditions so that railways are confident to increase the speed of trains up to 100km/h that will make an enormous difference to their operations.”

 

In NSW, rail network maintenance costs more than $1.5 billion a year, the bulk of which is for repairs to track infrastructure due to instability caused by heavy repeated loads. Severe vibrations due to track instability can also damage rolling stock.

 

The Australian rail network is one of the largest in the world, with 33,000 km of track carrying in excess of 1 billion tonnes of freight and 850 million passenger trips annually.

The demand for safe and reliable tracks to accommodate faster and heavier traffic has been increasing steadily in the past decade, and ongoing improvements in corridor operations and maintenance are essential if the forecast of 6 per cent per annum increase in bulk freight is to be achieved cost effectively.

The ARC Linkage Projects scheme promotes national, and international, collaboration and research partnerships between key stakeholders in research and innovation including higher education institutions, government, business, industry and end-users. Research and development is undertaken to apply advanced knowledge to problems, acquire new knowledge and as a basis for securing commercial and other benefits of research.

DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR BUDDHIMA INDRARATNA
CURRENT ARC LINKAGE GRANTS

  1. Understanding mud pumping in heavy haul railroads
  2. Performance of soft clay consolidated by biodegradable and geosynthetic vertical drains under vacuum pressure for transport infrastructure
  3. Load-displacement and consolidation behaviour of soft soils stabilized by stone columns for transport infrastructure