Rail CRC

Australia’s Railway Industry is reinventing itself to become the major mode of land transport in the 21st century, with the main challenge of creating a competitive edge through imaginative ideas, innovative research leadership and cutting-edge technology. In addition, the vast majority of the population lives on the coast where the soft and compressible marine soft clays in Australia present significant construction challenges with regard to the design and performance of major infrastructure, such as the stability of transportation systems.

The number of full-time academics is 12, in addition to 5 CRC and ARC funded full-time research fellows and 3 visiting professors.  The number of current research students is about 20, most of them being PhD students on scholarships, through CRC and ARC funding as well as APA and IPRS. This number is expected to increase because of more Rail-CRC students who will be starting in the near future.

Most of the research areas have been conducted since the mid 1990s. Since than, 15-20 research students have graduated in those areas. The large-scale testing rigs are unique to the University of Wollongong, and all of them have been designed and built in-house through the efforts of dedicated academic staff, excellent research students and skilful technical staff. Fundamental research launched in the 1980s in various aspects of foundation engineering and landslides has now been elevated to cutting-edge applications in the field, including the use of GIS and remote sensing. The high rate of ARC-Linkage grants in these geotechnical fields during the past few years alone have contributed to over 2 million dollars, and a few more ARC-Linkage and other Commonwealth grants are currently pending through the efforts of Phil Flentje, Robin Chowdhury, Buddhima Indraratna, Hadi Khabbaz and Alex Remennikov.

Interdisciplinary Research

Given the design and maintenance challenges associated with rail tracks used by heavy freight and high speed passenger trains along terrains characterized by adverse ground conditions (often encountering very soft clays and slope failures), Centre for Geomechanics and Railway Engineering at University of Wollongong has been built around several interdisciplinary research phases (e.g. geotechnical, geological, mechanical and structural) interacting between ground conditions, wheel loading and rail track performance.

The existing and proven research excellence through an active group of currently 35 full-time Research Students and 10 postdoctoral research fellows working under 7 tenured geotechnical academics places UOW’s geotechnics and railway engineering research at the top of the region in a number of key areas including:

  • Soft soil engineering and ground improvement

  • Stability assessment of rail corridors and road embankments

  • Dynamic modelling and prediction of rail track performance in problematic soils

  • Assessment of rail ballast degradation

  • Monitoring of slope movements

  • Landslides hazards and risk management

  • Improvement of soft and erodible clay foundations

  • Remediation of acid sulphate soils to prevent environmental damage and corrosion of infrastructure components

  • Use of geosynthetics for improving the performance of infrastructure

  • Dam engineering including filtration and internal instability assessment

Sustained and Excellent Performance

The proposed Research Strength is built around several interdisciplinary research phases (e.g. geotechnical, geological, mechanical and structural) interacting between ground conditions, wheel loading and rail track performance. The existing and proven research excellence places UOW easily at the top of the region in a number of key areas, including the dynamic modelling and prediction of track performance in poor soils, automated monitoring of track defects, assessment of wheel-rail-ballast degradation, effect of slope movements on rail tracks, landslides hazards and risk management, improvement of soft coastal clay foundations, remediation of acid sulphate soils to prevent corrosion of trck components, decision support systems applied to track maintenance scheduling, stability assessment of rail corridors and embankments, use of synthetic materials for improving sub-surface drainage and reducing track deflection, and the role of filtration in eroded soil retention.

National and International Recognition

The active research team has gained much national and international repute over the years. To cite a few examples, for innovative soft clay improvement with synthetic vertical drains, Prof. Buddhima Indraratna was honoured with Swedish Geotechnical Society Award in June 1999. During the past 4-5 years, Indraratna has delivered 9 Invited Keynote papers and Special Guest Lectures at a number of International Conferences, and world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge University and MIT. Dr. Hadi Khabbaz was awarded the ANZ Geotechnical Society Award for his outstanding research on unsaturated soils in 1999. Dr. Phil Flentje (with two others) was awarded the Emergency Management Australia (EMA) Safer Communities Award in the Post Disaster Local Government Stream in 1998. He was awarded both the State and the Federal Award in the same category for his outstanding applied research on geo-hazard and risk assessment.

Research Income

The background IP, regular ARC grants, other Commonwealth and State government grants and various industry sponsored projects lead to the UOW being a major shareholder of the CRC for Railway Engineering and Technologies, in which Indraratna is the national Theme Leader for Innovative Track Upgrading and Maintenance. The annual research revenue for UOW through Rail-CRC is approx. $750,000, which is considered to be the highest return of ‘cash’ given the relatively small number of UOW academics involved in Rail-CRC. The annual revenue from the ongoing ARC-linkage grants in soft clay improvement, ballast-track analysis, geotechnical hazard and risk assessment, and acidic soil improvement exceed $350000 per year, including the Commonwealth and Industry contributions. Over the years, the revenue from direct industry sources for R & D projects and consultancies have often exceeded $100,000 per year. In total, this Research Strength is guaranteed to receive more than million dollars per year to the University.

Publications and Student Completions

The rate and quality of publications within this group is undoubtedly one of the highest in the University for a relatively small group of academics. During the past 5-6 years or so, the number of refereed journal and conference articles from these active researchers have exceeded 150, and 2 research books on the aspects of discontinuous geological media have been published by Balkema (Netherlands), one of the most well known engineering book publishers. Most of these publications have resulted through excellent research efforts of students, where the completion rate of PhD’s has consistently been 2-3 per year. With the relatively new academic staff now supervising more students, this completion rate is expected to go up in the near future.

Past History of Research

Most of the research areas as discussed in Section 1 and illustrated in Appendix 1 have been conducted since mid 1990’s. Since than, 15-20 research students have graduated in those areas. The outstanding facilities for geotechnical testing and track simulation are shown in Appendix 2. The large-scale testing rigs are unique to University of Wollongong, and all of them have been designed and built in-house through the efforts of dedicated academic staff, excellent research students and skilful technical staff. Fundamental research launched in 1980’s in various aspects of foundation engineering and landslides has now been elevated to cutting-edge applications in the field, including the use of GIS and remote sensing. The high rate of ARC-Linkage grants in these geotechnical fields during the past few years alone have contributed to over 2 million dollars, and a few more ARC-Linkage and other Commonwealth grants are currently pending through the efforts of Phil Flentje, Robin Chowdhury, Buddhima Indraratna, Hadi Khabbaz and Alex Remennikov.


Sustained and Excellent Performance

The proposed Research Strength is built around several interdisciplinary research phases (e.g. geotechnical, geological, mechanical and structural) interacting between ground conditions, wheel loading and rail track performance. The existing and proven research excellence places UOW easily at the top of the region in a number of key areas, including the dynamic modelling and prediction of track performance in poor soils, automated monitoring of track defects, assessment of wheel-rail-ballast degradation, effect of slope movements on rail tracks, landslides hazards and risk management, improvement of soft coastal clay foundations, remediation of acid sulphate soils to prevent corrosion of trck components, decision support systems applied to track maintenance scheduling, stability assessment of rail corridors and embankments, use of synthetic materials for improving sub-surface drainage and reducing track deflection, and the role of filtration in eroded soil retention.

National and International Recognition

The active research team has gained much national and international repute over the years. To cite a few examples, for innovative soft clay improvement with synthetic vertical drains, Prof. Buddhima Indraratna was honoured with Swedish Geotechnical Society Award in June 1999. During the past 4-5 years, Indraratna has delivered 9 Invited Keynote papers and Special Guest Lectures at a number of International Conferences, and world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge University and MIT. Dr. Hadi Khabbaz was awarded the ANZ Geotechnical Society Award for his outstanding research on unsaturated soils in 1999. Dr. Phil Flentje (with two others) was awarded the Emergency Management Australia (EMA) Safer Communities Award in the Post Disaster Local Government Stream in 1998. He was awarded both the State and the Federal Award in the same category for his outstanding applied research on geo-hazard and risk assessment.

Research Income

The background IP, regular ARC grants, other Commonwealth and State government grants and various industry sponsored projects lead to the UOW being a major shareholder of the CRC for Railway Engineering and Technologies, in which Indraratna is the national Theme Leader for Innovative Track Upgrading and Maintenance. The annual research revenue for UOW through Rail-CRC is approx. $750,000, which is considered to be the highest return of ‘cash’ given the relatively small number of UOW academics involved in Rail-CRC. The annual revenue from the ongoing ARC-linkage grants in soft clay improvement, ballast-track analysis, geotechnical hazard and risk assessment, and acidic soil improvement exceed $350000 per year, including the Commonwealth and Industry contributions. Over the years, the revenue from direct industry sources for R & D projects and consultancies have often exceeded $100,000 per year. In total, this Research Strength is guaranteed to receive more than million dollars per year to the University.

Publications and Student Completions

The rate and quality of publications within this group is undoubtedly one of the highest in the University for a relatively small group of academics. During the past 5-6 years or so, the number of refereed journal and conference articles from these active researchers have exceeded 150, and 2 research books on the aspects of discontinuous geological media have been published by Balkema (Netherlands), one of the most well known engineering book publishers. Most of these publications have resulted through excellent research efforts of students, where the completion rate of PhD’s has consistently been 2-3 per year. With the relatively new academic staff now supervising more students, this completion rate is expected to go up in the near future.


Collaborations

The extensive research collaborations with various Industry bodies, such as:

  • Roads and Traffic Authority (NSW)
  • Department of Main Roads (Queensland)
  • Coffey Geotechnics
  • Douglas Partners
  • Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation
  • Chemstab
  • Port Kembla Port Corporation
  • Polyfabrics (Australia)

These collaborations have resulted in modern ground improvement techniques. Researchers of the Centre under the auspices of the CRC for Rail Innovation and in collaboration with other rail organisations (RailCorp, Queensland Rail, ARTC and TMG), have established an expert research group in this area.

The relatively small but very active research group interacts profoundly through co-supervising of research students and providing in-kind support collectively for most projects. Consequently, all members of the research group have a good understanding of project objectives and milestones, even though their primary expertise is different. For instance, when Prof. Indraratna was hospitalized and then placed on medical leave for almost 8 months in 2002, the research students under his primary supervision were efficiently guided by Dr. Khabbaz, and any delays in progress were kept to a minimum. In spite of retirement, Prof. Chowdhury is still continuing as an active researcher (Honorary basis) and will contribute significantly to the study of landslips and slope instability affecting track performance. The ongoing research of Dr. Flentje will not be impaired in any way by his retirement, as continuous funding from ARC-linkage has been sought. A very dynamic academic staff (Dr Liyana-Pathirana from Sydney University) was quickly recruited to replace Dr. Arenicz’s retirement. The geotechnical staff adjusted readily to the required needs of research students and project milestones, and the equilibrium was maintained. This interaction between academics has significantly improved since the inception of Rail-CRC. Moreover, Rail-CRC projects impose industry co-supervisors and Steering Committees as mandatory, which reinforce the stability of projects, in the event a key member was to leave.

Sustainability of Research Strength and Active Collaborations

The relatively small but very active research group interacts profoundly through co-supervising of research students and providing in-kind support collectively for most projects. Consequently, all members of the research group have a good understanding of project objectives and milestones, even though their primary expertise is different. For instance, when Prof. Indraratna was hospitalized and then placed on medical leave for almost 8 months in 2002, the research students under his primary supervision were efficiently guided by Dr. Khabbaz, and any delays in progress were kept to a minimum. In spite of retirement, Prof. Chowdhury is still continuing as an active researcher (Honorary basis) and will contribute significantly to the study of landslips and slope instability affecting track performance. The ongoing research of Dr. Flentje will not be impaired in any way by his retirement, as continuous funding from ARC-linkage has been sought. A very dynamic academic staff (Dr Liyana-Pathirana from Sydney University) was quickly recruited to replace Dr. Arenicz’s retirement. The geotechnical staff adjusted readily to the required needs of research students and project milestones, and the equilibrium was maintained. This interaction between academics has significantly improved since the inception of Rail-CRC. Moreover, Rail-CRC projects impose industry co-supervisors and Steering Committees as mandatory, which reinforce the stability of projects, in the event a key member was to leave.

Keen and active collaborations between members within the group, with external Universities (e.g. JCU, UniSA, Sydney, CQU) and Industry Partners are clearly reflected by co-authorship of scholarly articles and interim reports, and ARC-Linkage projects. The relevant publications are listed in the Faculty Staff website, Rail-CRC website as well as records of OoR. Imperative Soil-Structure interaction and numerical modelling research introduced through railway engineering projects (ARC and CRC) has actively promoted the collaborations between geotechnical, structural and mechanical engineers, including the joint supervision of students and joint management of projects. Actively collaborating Industry Partners include, SMEC, EPA, Wollongong and Shoalhaven City Councils, RTA, Qld. Main Roads, RIC, QR, Manildra, DLWC, NPWS, Douglas Partners, SCT Ltd., AGSO among others.


Recognition

National and International recognition gained through various awards, such as:

  • Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for outstanding research achievements
  • 2009 Best Research & Development collaboration award for Rail Innovation under Business-High Education Round Table (BHERT) sponsored by the Australian Commonwealth
  • 2009 EH Davis Memorial Lecture for Prof. Indraratna for his contributions to geotechnical theory and practice
  • Several awards for researchers by the International Association for Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics (IACMAG)
  • 2007 Robert Quigley Award by the Canadian Geotechnical Society for outstanding publication in the area of soft soil consolidation

Numerous invited Keynote addresses in reputed Conferences by members have brought immense prestige to the leading-edge research undertaken within the GRE Centre.

National Recognition

A key factor in establishing the CRC for Railway Engineering and Technologies was the Railway Geotechnology, Track Design and Maintenance research conducted by Prof. Buddhima Indraratna and Dr. Richard Dwight for several years at UOW, prior to Rail-CRC approval. UOW is the only institution in Australia that conducts research in track geotechnology and large-scale simulation of rail track behaviour under dynamic loading (Appendix 5). The Theme 2 of Rail-CRC on “Innovative Track Upgrading & Maintenance” was developed by Prof. Indraratna and Dr Dwight. Prof. Indraratna is now the national Theme Leader for this, managing more than 2 dozen researchers and 10 projects from several Universities. Dr Dwight plays a major role in Theme 6 on Railway Engineering Education. In addition, A/Prof. Philip Laird represents UOW in Theme 4 on “Rail Transport Energy Efficiency”.

International Recognition

Prof. Indraratna has been appointed as the Chair of sub-committee in Soft Clay Improvement under the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE), Technical Committee, TC36. Over the next 4 years, this international group of 10 academics from various countries will address the need for improving soft and weak soil foundations for optimizing the efficiency of roads and rail embankments, and subsequently develop the International Standards for soft clay improvement.


Contact 

For more information please contact:

Professor Buddhima Indraratna
Professor of Civil Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
Tel: (02) 4221 3046
Fax: (02) 4221 3238
E-mail: indra@uow.edu.au