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Track infrastructure is the most fundamental among various elements of Urban Rail Transit
(URT) systems, and thus ensuring the optimal allocation of resources between track segments for
inspection and maintenance is a vital objective of rail transit agencies. This paper proposes an
integrated approach, combing Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) and improved Fuzzy
Synthetic Evaluation (FSE), to evaluate the potential risks in track systems and prioritize the
inspection and maintenance of various track segments of urban rail systems. Three major steps
are determining evaluation indicators, calculate relative importance among indicators, and
deciding potential risk levels and crisp values (quantitative actionable results). A case study on a
track segment of Beijing URT is conducted to illustrate the evaluation process. The result shows
that the risk levels and crisp values obtained from this method are very promising and helpful in
evaluating and ranking risk levels for maintenance prioritization.

Key Words: Track Maintenance Prioritization; Urban Rail Transit; Analytical Hierarchy Process
(AHP); Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation (FSE); Risk Reporting Matrix

Ma, Jiaqi, Xiaohua Ma, and Fang Zhou. (2014) An Approach to Track Maintenance
Prioritization for Urban Rail Transit. Public Works Management and Policy, 19 (3).

With the fast development of urban rail transit (URT) systems, it is very critical to maintain high
level of operational safety. Track infrastructure is the most fundamental among various elements
of the URT system and thus, ensuring the optimal allocation of resources between various
segments of track systems for inspection and maintenance is a vital objective of rail transit
agencies, particularly when available resources, specifically funding, to address maintenance and
improvement needs are limited. Additionally, there is an ever increasing demand on URT
systems in megacities around the world, imposing heavier burdens to track systems and leading
to more safety concerns.
Most of the literature in the past many years focuses on mechanisms on how the track
system damages occur (Rama & Andrews, 2013; Priest et al,2013; Andrews,2013) and the
techniques to preserve and maintain various track elements (Zarembski,2013; Nunez,2013; Volpe
National Transportation Systems Center,2013). Also, great attention is given to the track state
monitoring with various methods. Usually, track geometry recording vehicles and on-track
inspectors could be used to monitor track condition and ensure prompt maintenance. For instance,
Wanel-Libman (2012) proposed an automated process using machine vision technology for tie
inspection. However, these machines are usually very expensive and it is impossible to assign
enough of them to cover the entire network. Stevens (2013) introduced an onboard autonomous
track monitoring system which aims to facilitate track monitoring with low cost. Yet, these data
are subject to many other factors and usually not of high enough quality.
While the literature has been discussing how to detect and fix track problems, much less
literature is found addressing how to assign limited resources for maintenance and preservation.

While one of the few examples is that Guler (2013) analyzed the rich database and proposed a
decision support system for track maintenance and renewal, they usually require large amount of
historical data. Some research tends to use mathematical modeling to optimize the maintenance
plan (Andrews,2013; Nystrom,2010). But these models are usually based on certain
simplification of the problem, making these methods less practical and usable in the real world.
While these analyses are mostly for conventional freight or passenger rail, it is also
pointed out by the literature that no work has been found on the maintenance framework for the
URT system (Parasram et al,2013), which is a big gap in research and real needs.
Also, in terms of analysis methodology, multiple methods have been applied in the
literature for identification of risks and prioritization in infrastructure management. Most of the
studies adopt data-driven statistical methods (e.g., regression models [Rahim,2013], neural
network [Kargah-Ostadi,2010]). Very few studies mentioned the solution when there is a lack of
enough data. Ma (2013) proposed a integrated method for evaluating URT facility risks under
advers whether conditions under inadequate data conditions.
Establishing an approach that optimally allocates resources, inspection personnel or
machines, for the maintenance and preservation of URT track systems is of critical importance.
Also, an approach that relies less on historical data is needed because of the usual unavailability
of enough such data for decision making, not to mention for the entire URT network. This paper
aims to propose an approach to prioritizing the use of available resources for track maintenance
by analyzing the potential risks of the track system, including all its elements.

The remaining of this paper is organized as follows. First, we state the research objective.
Then, the methodology is detailed and applied to a case study of a URT track segment in Beijing.
Last, we discuss the results based on our analysis and make a conclusion for the study.

Urban rail agencies need an approach to evaluating current track system state and prioritizing the
track maintenance in a cost effective manner. Therefore, we aim to propose a methodology to
understand the URT track system state by analyzing potential risks of various elements, ensuring
the optimal allocation of limited resources between various segments of track systems in a URT
network. This approach is designed to be applicable for all URT systems, especially where no
reliable and adequate historical data are available.

We develop an integrated approach for track system risk ranking and maintenance prioritization.
Considering the reality that many URT systems around the world lack historical data that are
detailed enough for prioritization, we attempt to combine objective mathematical modeling with
subjective evaluation of engineering judgment from experts and technicians, who are usually
very familiar with or responsible for the daily inspection and maintenance work. As shown in
Figure 1, the proposed integrated approach includes three steps: develop evaluation index system,
calculate index relative importance, and decide potential risk levels.
Step 1 Determine Evaluation Indicators

The evaluation index is the basis for the integrated approach used in this paper. It is very critical
to have a set of well-selected indicators to effectively carry out the evaluation. Several criteria
are identified to be essential in the indicator selection for evaluating track system state.

Develop Evaluation Index System

Brain Storming

Group Discussion

On-site Survey

Consultation w/ Experts

Calculate Index Relative Importance

Expert Judgment

AHP Application


Decide Potential Risk Levels

Fuzzy Synthetic

Risk Reporting Matrix

Risk Crisp Value

FIGURE 1 Framework for proposed three step integrated approach

1. The indicators need to be comprehensive to be able to describe major types of damage to

various elements of the track system, including rail, switch, tie, connecting parts and
track bed.

2. The index system could be a three-layer system, with the first level as overall track
system, second level as various elements of the track system and third level as different
damages to the corresponding track elements.
3. The establishment of the index system should go through iterations with brain-storming,
group discussion, on-site survey, consultation with experts and technicians, etc.
4. The indicator system should be accompanied with a document explaining the meaning of
each indicator to maintain consistency when experts are asked to give their judgments.
Step 2 Identify Relative Importance between Indicators
Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is a decision-making tool that incorporates both qualitative
and quantitative factors. AHP has increased in use and popularity because of its ability to reflect
the way people think and make decisions by simplifying a complex decision into a series of oneon-one comparisons. It is used to calculate the weights among different track elements and
among the indicators of each element in this paper (Drake,1998;Saaty,2010).
First, experts are invited to make the preference judgment pairwise by assigning value 1
if the elements are of equal importance, value 3 to a weakly more important element, value 5
to a strongly more important element, value 7 to a very strongly important element, and value
9 to an absolutely more important element. The values 2, 4, 6 and 8 are not necessary
in this study and too many scale levels might cause confusion to the experts. If the first indicator
is less important than the second indicator in comparison, value "1/3", "1/5", "1/7" and "1/9"
could be given to describe "weakly less important", " strongly less important ", " very strongly
less important " and "absolutely less important". Multiple experts are usually invited and the
final comparison score can be obtained by different ways, such as taking average, median and

mode, etc., each with its own advantages and disadvantages (Satty,2010). The effect of using
different method to aggregate expert judgments is out of the scope of this paper, we simply
choose one of the methods, using the mode in this study.
The outcome of each set of final pairwise comparison values can be expressed in a
judgment matrix, after which eigenvector method is often used to derive the final weight
vectors for each of the factors and indices. The calculation process is expressed as follows from
Equation 1 to 6.
a) Normalization for every column


b ij

, i, j 1, 2,

, n


k 1

(Eq. 1)

where bij is the element of judgment matrix B. b ij is the element of normalized judgment matrix


b) Add all the elements in the rows of normalized judgment matrix b to obtain vector w

w i b ij , i 1, 2,

, n

j 1

(Eq. 2)

w w1 , w2 , w3 ,wn
c) Normalize w i to obtain
as the Eigenvector



j 1

, i 1, 2,

, n

(Eq. 3)

d) Calculate the largest eigenvalue max


i 1

( B w) i
n wi

(Eq. 4)

where B w i refers to the ith element of vector obtained by multiplying judgment matrix B by
weight vector w.
e) Check for consistency
To check for consistency in the judgments of decision makers, Saaty (2010) defined the
consistency ratio (CR), which is a comparison of the consistency index (CI) with the random
consistency index (RI), as follows:



(Eq. 5)

where CI is given by


max n
n 1

(Eq. 6)

where n is the size of the matrix. RI is usually given in a table and readers could refer to the
literature (Saaty,2010). A matrix is considered consistent only if CR is 0.1.
Step 3 Decide Potential Risk Levels
Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation (FSE) is used in this paper to evaluate the risk levels of track
segments and their elements. The use of a fuzzy method is for the reasons that the factors are
hard to be quantified and detailed historical data are not available. Fuzzy methods are usually

adopted in this case to achieve a balance between objectivity and subjectivity.

(Klir&Yuan,1995;Lu et al,1999).
(1) Decide Indicator Set U
Set U= {u1, u2, , un} as different elements of track system. The evaluation indicators of each
element is expressed as ui= {ui1, ui2,,uil}, where uij is the jth indicator of the ith track element.
(2) Decide Evaluation Set V
The evaluation set is the set of all the possible judgments an expert might give, expressed as V=
{v1, v2,,vm}. The Evaluation Set could be given to experts directly and ask for their selection
for each element or indicator. Otherwise, we could let experts evaluate on different aspects of the
system and then convert their results to a Evaluation Set, such as risk matrix method, which is
used this paper.
This paper defines eight levels for the risks: Very Low, Relatively Low, Low, Medium,
High, Relatively High, Very High and Extreme, expressed as V= {v1, v2, v3, v4, v5, v6, v7, v8} =
{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} respectively. Extreme and Very High refers to the level that are not
allowed at any time and the risk should be eliminated immediately; Relatively High, High,
and Medium refers to the undesired level and it is only acceptable after measures are taken to
reduce the risk. Low, Relatively Low and Very Low refer to the ignorable risks. Note that
the evaluation set is unbalanced and has more elements for the side of higher risk since we are
interested in segments and track elements of high risks and distinguishing between stations of
low risks with too many levels will make no sense.
(3) Obtain indicator relative importance: Weight Vectors W

Use AHP as in Step 2 to obtain the relative weights of various indicators, W = {w1, w2,, wn}.
(4) Decide Membership Matrix R
Risk Matrix method is used to assist experts judgments and reduce the uncertainty caused by
experts subjectivity in the evaluation process. In this study, instead of asking the experts to give
judgments based on the Evaluation Set directly, we ask them to evaluate from two aspects:
occurrence probability and consequence. Occurrence probability indicates the possibility that
damage of a certain indicator will happen. Consequence reflects the harm severity of the
occurrence. We define five different levels for each, as in Table 1. Experts are asked to give their
judgments on both the Probability and Consequence and then we convert their judgments with
Table 1 to the elements in the Evaluation Set V(USDOD,2006).
TABLE 1 Risk Level Definition based on Occurrence Probability and Consequence.
Risk Level



Very Low


Very Low


Relatively Low














Very High

Very High


Very High


Then we count the number times that each element of Evaluation Set, vi, is given by all
the experts for each indicator. A Membership Matrix R from U to V is decided based on this
value, as in Equation 7. For example, if we find that, through conversion with Table 1, five
experts consider the risk level as Medium for a certain indicator, the value corresponding to v4
in matrix R for this indicator is 5.

r11 r12 ... r1n

r22 ... r2 n

i=1, 2, , m; j=1,2,, n
R rij
m n
... ... ... ...

rm1 rm 2 ... rmn

(Eq. 7)

where rij of matrix R refers to frequency of which ui is evaluated as vj. Generally it will be
normalized so that.

(5) Calculate Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation Set Q

The effect of different indicators uij of one track element can be calculated with Equation 8. This
is called Level 1 Synthetic Evaluation since it evaluates a single element based on its indicators.

Q w R w1 , w2 ,, wn

r11 r12 ... r1n

... r2 n
q1 , q2 ,, qm
21 22
... ... ... ...

rm1 rm 2 ... rmn

(Eq. 8)

where qi is the membership degree corresponding to the ith element of the evaluation set element
vi. The value indicates to what extent the evaluation target has the risk of vi.
Level 1 Synthetic Evaluation is going to be the basis for Level 2 Synthetic Evaluation,
where we need to evaluate the overall risk of a track segment. The Level 1 Fuzzy Synthetic
Evaluation Set Q for various elements will need to be combined to make Level 2 Membership
Matrix, each row of which corresponds to the Level 1 Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation Set Q of a
track element. Then the same method of Equation 8 is used to obtain the Level 2 Fuzzy Synthetic
Evaluation Set.
(6) Calculate risk level and crisp value

Weighted average method can be adopted to reach the evaluation conclusion form the
membership degree matrix Q: take weighted average of qi for every vi as the weights as Equation
9, to obtain the risk crisp value, an actionable result more accurately describing potential risks
with a quantified value.

Vave q j v j

(Eq. 9)

j 1

This paper takes one segment of Beijing Urban Rail Transit Line 1 as an example and we aim to
evaluate the potential risk levels for the track segment as a whole and its different elements. The
evaluation track segment is defined as a portion of track infrastructure between two adjacent
stations and tracks in between. Sometimes several track segments can be combined if they share
similar attributes such as surrounding geological environment, passenger volumes and train
dispatch frequency, etc. The segment studied in the case study is a single segment. The names of
stations are not introduced here due to other concerns but the information we give is adequate for
explaining the proposed approach.
Step 1 Determine Evaluation Indicators
To achieve this objective, the research team conducted in-depth literature review, on-site survey
and consultation with experts and technicians of URT Operations Company. We then proposed
an index system from the perspective of various elements of the URT track system: rail, switch,
tie, connecting parts and track bed.

Then we sent a survey along with a background description about the research to selected
experts and technicians. In the survey, we asked the experts to comment on the indicators we
proposed on a two-point scale basis (agree and disagree). They were also asked to give
suggestions on either proposing new or replacing existing indicators if necessary. The survey
was sent through email to 15 experts and 12 of them responded to the survey.
The survey result confirmed our original index system and no indicators were removed
by the experts. Also, based on experts suggestion, two indicators, B5 and D4 were added to the
system. The final index system is shown in Table 2. Note that the segment under investigation in
the case study has ballastless track bed and thus all the indicators in Table 2 are used.
TABLE 2 Track Risk Evaluation Index System
Track Elements
Rail Damage (A)

Switch Damage (B)

Tie Damage (C)

Connecting Parts Damage (D)

Track Bed Damage (E)

Fracture (A1)
Corrugation (A2)
Fatigue Crack (A3)
Shelling (A4)
Corrosion (A5)
Engine Burn (A6)
Welding Defects (A7)
Bolt Hole Crack (A8)
Oval flaw (A9)
Switch Point Damage (B1)
Connection Parts (B2)
Frog (B3)
Switch Parts (B4)
Bad Switch Geometry (B5)
Cracks (C1)
Shelling (C2)
Shoulder Damage (C3)
Fracture (D1)
Corrosion (D2)
Loose Parts (D3)
Worn Parts (D4)
Mud-pumping (E1)
loose tie (E2)
Cracks (Ballastless) (E3)
Deformation (Ballastless) (E4)
Subsidence (Ballastless) (E5)
Longitudinal/traverse Deviation (Ballastless) (E6)

Step 2 Identify Relative Importance between Indicators

AHP method is then utilized to identify the relative importance between indicators. We also
asked the 12 experts who responded the survey to give their judgments. Also, a separate
document is also given to the experts to explain the meaning of each indicator to ensure
consistency among experts understanding. For example, an expert is asked to give their
judgment on the relative importance of Fracture (A1) and corrugation (A2). He/she is also given
explanations of what the two terms refer to in this study. All of the processes are realized using
spreadsheets via email. All 12 experts replied the email request.
Due to space constraints, we give an example of calculation for indicator relative
importance for the "Tie" sub-system. We asked experts to compare relative importance between
indicator pairs of C1-C2, C1-C3 and C2-C3. As a result, for C1-C2, eight experts give score "3",
two experts give score "1" and two experts give score "5"; for C1-C3, nine experts give score
"1/3" and three give score "1"; and for C2-C3, eleven experts give score "1/3", and one give score
"1". Then we take the mode of all scores as the final score. The final judgment matrix is show as
the first matrix of the following calculation process, based on Equation 1 to 3.

Using Equation 4, we obtained max=3.047.

Using Equation 5 and 6 to check the consistency:

The consistency requirement is met. The results of all calculation are shown in Table 3.
TABLE 3 Relative Importance between Indicators
Rail Damage (0.457)


Switch Damage
Indicator Weight

Tie Damage (0.061)



Connecting Parts
Damage (0.191)
Indicator Weight

Track Bed Damage

Indicator Weight

We also checked the consistency ratio using Equation 5 and 6 to ensure judgments as
being consistent. The respective consistency ratios for indicators under five elements are 0.0338,
0.0818, 0.0405, 0.0746 and 0.0443. The ratio for judgments between five elements is 0.0451.
The results indicate that the consistency requirement is met.
Step 3 Decide Potential Risk Levels
Due to the space constraints, we illustrate the calculation process only for the element of Switch
Damage (B).
(1) Decide Indicator Set U
As obtained in Step 1, the evaluation indicator set contains five indicators: U = {Switch Point
Damage (B1), Connection Parts (B2), Frog (B3), Switch Parts (B4), and Switch Geometry (B5)}.
(2) Decide Evaluation Set V
We adopt the evaluation set defined in the methodology part: V = {v1, v2, v3, v4, v5, v6, v7, v8} =
{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8}.

(3) Obtain indicator relative importance, Weight Vectors W

As calculated by Step 2, the relative importance weights of the track switch is W = {0.271, 0.066,
0.463, 0.090, 0.109}.
(4) Decide Membership Matrix R
19 experts were invited to give their judgments on the segment we investigate. 8 of them were
interviewed on-site during a site visit and 11 of them were from the 12 experts who responded to
the first round email in Step 1 and 2. The experts are asked to evaluate the segment based on the
damage occurrence probability and consequence. Note that, this evaluation is specific to this
segment, while the two rounds of survey in Step 1 and 2 are for general cases. The example
survey table for "Switch Damage" is shown in Table 4. Experts are asked to check one of the five
cells in both "Probability" and "Consequence" for each of the elements from B1 to B5. We then
converted all experts' judgments to the Evaluation Set V using Table 1. For example, for "Switch
Point Damage (B1)", expert "a" checked "Occasional" for "Probability" and "Critical" for
"Consequence", Table 1 would indicate "Relatively High". Then, the element of Membership
Matrix R corresponding to ""Relatively High" in Evaluation Set V increases by a value of 1 (i.e.,
TABLE 4 Example survey table for risk reporting matrix
Switch Damage
Switch Point Damage (B1)
Connection Parts (B2)






Frog (B3)




Switch Parts (B4)






Bad Switch Geometry (B5)

Switch Damage



Switch Point Damage (B1)

Connection Parts (B2)



Frog (B3)











Switch Parts (B4)




Bad Switch Geometry (B5)





We use letters from a to s to indicate 19 experts in the table. Expert Letter in a box means the expert checked the
box during survey.

We then do the conversion and calculation for each expert's judgment and then come up
with the left matrix below. Normalizing the matrix could obtain the matrix in the right, which is
the Membership Matrix R.


(5) Calculate Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation Set Q

By multiplying the weight vector W with Membership Matrix R, we obtained the Level 1Fuzzy
Synthetic Evaluation Set for track element Switch.

(6) Calculate risk level and crisp value

With the Weighted Average Method, we take weighted average of qi for every vi as the weights
as Equation 9 to obtain the risk crisp value of 5.3707, and risk level between of High and

Relatively High, indicating undesirable level and requiring more resources for further
inspection and risk control.

The case study shows the effectiveness of proposed method and its application in evaluating risk
levels of track systems of urban rail transit. We now offer more discussions on the method and
case study.
First, the methodology proposed in this paper is practical and easy for implementation to
conduct network screening of track system state for maintenance prioritization. As illustrated by
the case study, since only expert judgment data are needed, the proposed method becomes very
useful in URT track evaluation, specially for places where database for historical inspection and
monitoring haven't been set up.
Second, Although we only show the evaluation process of element Switch in the case
study, the method can be used to evaluate either the overall risk level of a track segment (Level 2
Synthetic Evaluation) or different elements of the segment (Level 1 Synthetic Evaluation), as
shown in Table 5. They are calculated using same method and higher level of the risk interval is
adopted as the evaluation result. In calculating risk level for a track segment as a whole,
Membership Matrix R can be obtained by taking Synthetic Evaluation Set Q for each track
element as row for matrix R. Then the evaluation can be completed by using Equation 8 and 9.
Also, evaluation should be conducted for each of the segments for a URT line or network. After
all segments are analyzed, we can then rank them based on risk crisp values and decision makers
would easily identify which segments are priorities in maintenance.

TABLE 5 Final Risk Levels and Crisp Values of the Selected Track Segment

Evaluation Target
Track Segment
Connecting Parts
Track Bed

Risk Level
Relatively High
Relatively High

Risk Crisp Value


Third, One of the most significant advantages of this method is that it produces Risk
Crisp Values for the whole segment and various elements. Although the data drive the analysis
are subjective data, the method makes use of objective analysis techniques, AHP, FSE and Risk
Matrix, to produce risk crisp values, with which potential risk levels are quantified. These values
can then greatly facilitate decision making, far more accurate than the case where only vague
expert judgment is used.
Also, in real practice, an evaluation information system can be developed to facilitate the
process. A web based user end can be developed for the convenience of expert input and all the
expert judgment data will be sent back to the server and store in the database. A server
application can be developed to retrieve and analyze data, determine risk crisp values and
produce visualization charts. While using email for data collection as in this study is labor
intensive, the use of such an information system along with database technology can potentially
make data collection more convenient and time-saving for both study team and experts (thus
possibly increase response rate from expert), and would also be an important tool for
maintenance supervisor.
Further, The index system (Table 2) and the relative importance weights (Table 3) are
obtained for general cases, without specifying any URT segment. Therefore, these results could

be borrowed for use in other studies, especially when the URT system is similar to Beijing's. The
results are also useful since they can be used directly to preliminarily decide which parts of the
track system and what problems need to be inspected when no resources for carry similar study
is available. For example, compared with Rail Damage, Tie Damage is much less important.
Therefore, the inspection or maintenance interval of ties could be generally longer than that of
the rail.

This paper proposes an integrated approach, combing Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) and
Fuzzy Synthetic Evaluation (FSE), to evaluate the potential risks in the track system and
prioritize the maintenance of various track segments of urban rail systems. Several important
conclusions are made.
First, the integrated approach, based on AHP and improved FSE is effective in evaluating
track system risk levels and rank track segments for maintenance prioritization, as shown in the
case study. The approach not only provides qualitative risk levels but also quantitative risk crisp
values that can greatly facilitate the decision-making process. The approach combines subjective
data with enhanced objective approach, AHP and improved FSE with risk matrix, to produce
reliable evaluation and it becomes especially useful where historical inspection and monitoring
data is not adequately available.
Second, the evaluation index system and relative importance weights, as shown in Table
2 and 3, are established for general cases and could be borrowed for the use in other locations.

Also, these indicators are selected based on the four criteria proposed in the methodology part,
which have been proven helpful in improving the index system development.
Third, Risk Matrix method is successfully adopted in improving FSE in terms of
obtaining the Membership Matrix. This is very useful and effective in reducing subjective
uncertainty caused by vague judgment and in assisting experts judgments. This method is
recommended for future studies when FSE is adopted.
Although the proposed approach is applicable for most evaluation tasks, we admit that
the incorporation of reliable historical data can produce better evaluation results. The next step of
the research is to incorporate currently limited data, which are not enough for decision making,
into the integrated approach. One possible way is to validate various inferred results from expert
judgment and adjust them if inconsistency exists.

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