Data-driven clay-fouled ballast permeability assessment using analytical-numerical and machine learning approaches

Mehdi Koohmishi*, Yunlong Guo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Downloads (Pure)


The occurrence of ballast contamination or fouling frequently results in a sudden decline in the capacity of railway ballasted tracks. Considering the various sources of ballast fouling, clay is the most severe one for causing a drastic reduction in the drainage capacity of the ballast layer. In the current study, we utilized a large-scale flume test to measure the water height along the cross-section of the clay-fouled ballast. Subsequently, an analytical–numerical (A-N) approach was developed to simulate the movement of water through porous media under steady-state conditions, while also considering the flow regime. This A-N approach was validated using the results of flume tests. Finally, the validated A-N approach was employed to generate a dataset and develop machine learning models for predicting water height. The characterized machine learning models included random forest regression (RFR), support vector machine (SVM), and extreme gradient boosting (XGBoost). Various variables, such as ballast gradation, fouling ratio, bed slope, rainfall rate, and water height on the side ditch, were incorporated into the machine learning models to reveal the contribution of each individual variable. Results show that for clean ballast, the incorporation of a nonlinear model between flow velocity and hydraulic gradient in the A-N approach is crucial to properly estimate the experimental measurements. However, a comparison of the water height measured via the flume test and the water level estimated based on the A-N approach confirms the suitability of the linear model, i.e., Darcy's law, for the water flow regime through clay-fouled ballast. According to the machine learning results, particularly those from the XGBoost model, which was characterized as the elite model, the rainfall rate and the fouling index emerged as the most influential variables affecting the water height in the clay-fouled ballast layer of the railway track.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101151
Number of pages20
JournalTransportation Geotechnics
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Clay-fouled ballast
  • Darcy's law
  • Flume test
  • Machine learning
  • Steady-state flow
  • Water height
  • XGBoost


Dive into the research topics of 'Data-driven clay-fouled ballast permeability assessment using analytical-numerical and machine learning approaches'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this