Evaluating railway track stiffness using axle box accelerations: A digital twin approach

Chen Shen, Pan Zhang, Rolf Dollevoet, Arjen Zoeteman, Zili Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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While various train-borne techniques have been developed for measuring railway track stiffness, differentiating stiffness at different track layers remains a challenge. This study proposes a digital twin framework for the vehicle–track interaction system, which enables track stiffness evaluations based on axle box accelerations (ABA). The digital twin consists of a physics-based model, a model library and data-driven models. Compared to existing techniques, the proposed method simultaneously evaluates the stiffness of the railpad, sleeper and ballast layers at a sleeper spacing resolution, while being robust to varying track conditions, such as track irregularities and vehicle speeds. This is accomplished by employing a localized frequency-domain ABA feature capable of distinguishing between the characteristics of different track layers. Furthermore, track stiffness is evaluated in near real-time. This is achieved using a model library derived from physics-based simulations of a range of track conditions. Two data-driven models that can quickly select or interpolate model instances contained in the library are developed. During operation, the data-driven models use the measured ABA features as input and then infer the stiffness for the different track layers. The proposed method is applied to evaluate the track stiffness of a downscale test rig in a case study. The track stiffness evaluated by the proposed method is compared with that obtained through hammer tests and with the observations of the track component conditions. These comparisons show that the proposed method can capture the stiffness variations due to periodically fastened clamps and substructure misalignments at different speeds. In addition, the proposed method is demonstrated to be superior to the commonly used hammer test method for evaluating track stiffness under loaded conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110730
Number of pages30
JournalMechanical Systems and Signal Processing
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Railway track stiffness
  • Axle box acceleration
  • Digital twin
  • Physics-based simulation
  • Gaussian process regression


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