The Centre for Geomechanics and Railway Engineering at the University of Wollongong, in collaboration with eleven other universities and one industry organisation, is establishing the new National Facility for Cyclic Testing of High-Speed Rail (FCTHSR), funded by the Australian Research Council through the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme.

The equipment allows the testing of a fully instrumented railway track at prototype scale. The cyclic loading simulating up to 40-tonne axle trains operating at speeds between 75 and 350 km/h is applied via a hydraulic servo system. Track materials, such as ballast, subballast, and subgrade are installed underneath a rail-sleeper assembly which is subjected to dynamic loading actuators, enabling to examine a wide variety of track conditions (e.g., different structural fill and subgrade conditions) and accurately estimate the real life stress-strain response of the track components. Using this facility, the complex soil-structure interaction behaviour of rail tracks resulting from high-frequency cyclic loading applied at the wheel-rail-sleeper interfaces can be investigated through larger physical models than those previously possible, using advanced sensing and monitoring systems. For instance, analysis of ballast deformation and degradation under high-frequency cyclic loads, response of concrete sleepers to extreme loads under high speeds, effectiveness of synthetic geo-inclusions for improved track stability and vibration assessment/mitigation of track-foundation interactions are some of the research areas that will benefit from this test facility.

The FCTHSR will enable researchers to more realistically simulate Australian track conditions (often involving problematic subsoils) in a controlled laboratory environment, while facilitating innovative designs for enhanced track capacity at significantly elevated speeds, generating economies of scale in inter-modal freight and commuter traffic. Through extensive physical modelling and performance monitoring, this unique and world-class equipment will promote outstanding research excellence and contribute to improved safety, speed and passenger comfort, as well as greater efficiency in long-distance freight mobility.