High speed without ballast

Ballastless railway track, built on reinforced concrete, is becoming more and more widespread in the world. New high-speed lines are being built using this technology.

The leading countries using this technology are Japan, Germany and China.  As of 2015, in China alone there were more than 6 thousand km of railways on concrete slabs.

Ballastless railway track
Laying of slabs on the site of the Verkehrsprojekt Deutsche Einheit No. 8

Ballastless tracks are considered to be more durable and do not require high maintenance costs. They carry loads better and at the same time keep the geometry. Such technologies are most promising when used in artificial structures (in tunnels, on bridges and overpasses). In Japan, the share of artificial structures on high-speed lines is approaching 100%.

The main disadvantage in comparison with traditional track on a stone ballast is high capital costs due to the complex technology of laying and manufacturing structures.

The first attempts to use a concrete base for railway tracks were at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, at that time industrial technologies were not developed enough to achieve a positive result. Ballastless tracks began to be truly applied in practice in the 1970s. The pioneer in this area was the German railway.

The most promising was the construction of the track, built in 1972 at the Rheda station of the Hamm-Bielefeld line. Therefore, the technology was named Rheda. As of 2000, this section handled a cargo load of 350 million tons but only rail grinding was applied for the current maintenance of the track.

Ballastless railway track
An example of a ballastless track structure: 1 — frost protection layer; 2 — waterproof base; 3 – binder; 4 – slab; 5 — expansion joint; 6 – supports for rails fastening; 7 – hole for concrete pouring; 8, 9 – fittings

The Rheda type system is currently the most common. In 1998, the tracks of this design in a slightly modified form were built on a 60 km section of the high-speed Berlin-Hanover line. At the same time, in Germany, ballastless tracks are used not only on passenger routes, but also on sections with mixed train traffic.

The high-speed line Nuremberg-Ingolstadt is also built using concrete slabs designed for a speed of 300 km/h. (for rolling stock with an axle load of 25 tons, the service life of the slabs is 60 years.) Many manufacturers claim that structures on a concrete base can last 80 or even 100 years.

Ballastless railway track
Безбалластный путь на участке высокоскоростной линии в КНР

Ballastless tracks have been used in China since 2005. They form the basis of lines with speeds of 350 km/h. For example, on the Beijing-Shanghai highway with a length of 1.3 thousand km, which was opened in 2011, more than 400 thousand reinforced concrete slabs were used.

Ukraine also has experience in the construction of ballastless track on railway bridges. Currently, there are several leading companies on the world market offering technologies for the construction of railways without ballast. In particular, these are Max Bögl Group (Germany), Sonneville AG (Switzerland), Alstom (France), TINES Capital Group SA (Poland).

Railway magazine “Railway Supply”

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