Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Devin K Harris


Today the use of concrete ties is on the rise in North America as they become an economically competitive alternative to the historical industry standard wood ties, while providing performance which exceeds its competition in terms of durability and capacity. Similarly, in response to rising energy costs, there is increased demand for efficient and sustainable transportation of people and goods. One source of such transportation is the railroad. To accommodate the increased demand, railroads are constructing new track and upgrading existing track. This update to the track system will increase its capacity while making it a more reliable means of transportation compared to other alternatives. In addition to increasing the track system capacity, railroads are considering an increase in the size of the typical freight rail car to allow larger tonnage. An increase in rail car loads will in turn affect the performance requirements of the track.

Due to the increased loads heavy haul railroads are considering applying to their tracks, current designs of prestressed concrete railroad ties for heavy haul applications may be undersized. In an effort to maximize tie capacity while maintaining tie geometry, fastening systems and installation equipment, a parametric study to optimize the existing designs was completed. The optimization focused on maximizing the capacity of an existing tie design through an investigation of prestressing quantity, configuration, stress levels and other material properties.

The results of the parametric optimization indicate that the capacity of an existing tie can be increased most efficiently by increasing the diameter of the prestressing and concrete strength. However, researchers also found that current design specifications and procedures do not include consideration of tie behavior beyond the current tie capacity limit of cracking to the first layer of prestressing. In addition to limiting analysis to the cracking limit, failure mechanisms such as shear in deep beams at the rail seat or pullout failure of the prestressing due to lack of development length were absent from specified design procedures, but discussed in this project.