Research Centre for Geomechanics & Railway Engineering | Overview
Improving the design and performance of major infrastructure
The Centre for Geotechnics and Railway Engineering (GRE) was established at UOW under the leadership of Professor Indraratna more than a decade ago and as a result of several geotechnical and rail track projects funded by the ARC since the mid-1990s. GRE has continued to prosper through numerous external grants (ARC DP and Linkage, CRC for Rail Manufacturing and Environment Trust), and is one of the 3 nodes forming the ARC Centre of Excellence for Geotechnical Sciences and Engineering. The GRE is well equipped with state-of-the art geotechnical laboratories and excellent technical staff support. It is a key component of UOW’s SMART Infrastructure Facility commissioned in 2011, and well supported internally as a strategic research priority.
Sustained and Excellent Performance
The proposed Research Strength is built around several interdisciplinary research phases (e.g. geotechnical, geological, mechanical and structural) interacting between ground conditions, wheel loading and rail track performance. The existing and proven research excellence places UOW easily at the top of the region in a number of key areas, including the dynamic modelling and prediction of track performance in poor soils, automated monitoring of track defects, assessment of wheel-rail-ballast degradation, effect of slope movements on rail tracks, landslides hazards and risk management, improvement of soft coastal clay foundations, remediation of acid sulphate soils to prevent corrosion of track components, decision support systems applied to track maintenance scheduling, stability assessment of rail corridors and embankments, use of synthetic materials for improving sub-surface drainage and reducing track deflection, and the role of filtration in eroded soil retention.
Currently GRE has 15 full-time researchers including 6 postdoctoral fellows, plus 5 dedicated technical staff trained in geotechnical testing. It has been recently acclaimed by Engineers Australia as the most prominent base for transportation geotechnics in Australia, with a worldwide reputation for its fundamental and applied research. It carries one of the highest research student numbers of a single research unit at UOW including 37 ARC, CRC-Rail and Endeavour PhD scholars. The Centre’s national and international reputation hails from a number of key strengths such as: computational modelling and performance prediction of high-speed rail on poor ground conditions, landslide hazards management, ground improvement and stabilisation of soft and problematic soils for infrastructure development, as well as design innovation in rail corridors and highway embankments. Through proven excellence by an active group of researchers, it executes a wide range of geotechnical research and consulting projects. Their impact on industry over the years has been significant, particularly in the revision of existing Australian standards for the placement densities and size gradation of rail ballast (AS 2758.7), geotechnical site investigation (AS 1726) as well as driving the formulation of new Australian standards (e.g. AS8700: Execution of Prefabricated Vertical Drains).
The GRE was initially modestly supported by an internal budget of $50,000/year, plus approximately $200,000/year in external income. Through proactive team efforts, and the unreserved support of UOW, GRE has now grown to attract an average annual budget exceeding $2.5M. Recently, two excited European firms (Rhomberg and Getzner) have committed at least $60,000/year for 3 years, for a key project examining track performance in relation to the use of shockmats for attenuating impact loads. Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) has already contributed $50,000 towards track testing facilities and instrumentation. Permanent geotechnical academic staff members currently number 7, compared to just 3 in early 2000. By the mid-2000s, GRE had developed an undeniable reputation as Australia’s key centre for Transport Geotechnics, making it an imperative partner of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Geotechnical Science & Engineering (ARC-CGSE), together with its geotechnical counterparts at UWA and UoN.
Awards & Recognition
The synergy and research momentum cultivated within the GRE provides an ideal environment for challenging research. It has continued to prosper with a succession of national and international awards for its members who form an interactive and collaborative cohort. The Director, Professor Indraratna who is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE) was honoured recently with the Engineers Australia Transport Medal (2011) and CS Desai Medal by IACMAG (2014) for his long-standing contributions. Associate Professor Rujikiatkamjorn received 2012 ISSMGE Yong Member Award, 2011 DH Trollope Medal, and a Trailblazer award for research innovation in 2006. In recent times, more than a dozen PhD students have won AGS young professional awards, best paper awards in national and international conferences, and prestigious awards from the Railway Technical Society of Australasia, Int. Tunnelling Association and Int. Geosynthetic Society.
Publications and Student Completions
The rate and quality of publications within this group is undoubtedly one of the highest in the University for a relatively small group of academics. During the past 5-6 years or so, the number of refereed journal and conference articles from these active researchers have exceeded 180 and 2 research books “Mechanics of Ballasted Rail Tracks-A Geotechnical Perspective” and “Advanced Rail Geotechnology – Ballasted Track”, published by Taylor & Francis in 2005 and 2011, respectively. The concepts of building tracks on poor ground conditions are further elaborated in an edited book: Indraratna and Chu (2005): Ground Improvement Case Histories, Elsevier, 2005. Most of these publications have resulted through excellent research efforts of students, where the completion rate of PhD’s has consistently been 2-3 per year. With the relatively new academic staff now supervising more students, this completion rate is expected to go up in the near future.