AbstractBallasted tracks are among the most widespread railway track typologies. The ballast possesses multiple functions. Among them, it significantly affects the dynamic interaction between a rail bridge and a moving load in terms of damping and load distribution. These effects entail accurate modeling of the track–ballast–bridge interaction. The paper presents a finite-difference formulation of the governing equations of the track and the bridge, modeled as Euler–Bernoulli (EB) beams, and coupled by a distributed layer of springs representing the ballast. The two equations are solved under a moving load excitation using a Runge–Kutta family algorithm and the finite-difference method for the temporal and spatial discretization, respectively. The authors validated the mathematical model against the displacement response of a rail bridge with a ballasted substructure. In a first step, the modal parameters of the bridge, obtained from ambient vibration measurements, are used to estimate the bending stiffness of an equivalent EB beam representative of the tested bridge. In a second step, the authors estimated the coupling effect of the ballast by assessing the model sensitivity to the modeling parameters and optimizing the agreement with the experimental data. Comparing the bridge’s experimental displacement responses highlights the ballast’s significant effect on the load distribution and damping. The considerable difference between the damping estimated from output-only identification and that determined from the displacement response under moving load proves the dominant role of the ballast in adsorbing the vibrations transmitted to the bridge under the train passage and the different damping sources under high-amplitude excitation. The authors discuss the tradeoff between model accuracy and computational effort for a reliable estimation of ballasted tracks response under moving loads.

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