AbstractOptimal whole life design for railways, highways, runways, and metro lines requires an accurate assessment of how their underlying geomaterials respond to large numbers of wheel-loading cycles. This paper presents an experimental study on a natural UK stiff clay with a cyclic triaxial (CT) and hollow cylinder apparatus (CHCA) that imposed K0 and wheel-loading stress conditions. The focus is on Gault clay, a high overconsolidation ratio (OCR) marine clay deposited in the Cretaceous, whose mechanical behavior is significantly anisotropic and in situ K0 values exceed unity. The clay outcrops under sections of most major highways radiating out of London, as well as the HS1 and new HS2 high-speed railways. The experimental investigation explored how the principal stress rotation implicit in wheel loading increases the magnitudes and changes the sign of vertical strain accumulation, as well as accelerating resilient modulus degradation and accentuating stress–strain hysteresis, all of which affect pavement or rail-track serviceability. The clay’s deformation and pore pressure responses are categorized into stable, metastable, and unstable patterns. Comparisons with related studies on low OCR, low K0 soft clay from Wenzhou in southeastern China, confirm the Gault clay’s generally stiffer prefailure behavior and different cyclic response. The stiff clay’s greater brittleness is also emphasized; particle reorientation occurs readily along distinct shear bands, leading to dramatic shear strength reductions that have a major impact on slope and foundation stability and call for appropriate caution in practical design.

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