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Slab track, also called ballastless track, is a modern form of track construction which has been used successfully

throughout the world for high speed

lines, heavy rail, light rail and tram systems.
Slab track technology offers proven higher performance in service and a longer life than traditional ballasted track.

Traditional ballasted track

On traditional ballasted track, the rail is mounted onto a wooden or concrete sleeper. The sleeper sits on a bed of ballast (crushed rock) which
distributes the loading to the subgrade. Top ballast is placed between the sleepers and on the shoulders to provide longitudinal and lateral stability.
Traditional ballasted track has been used since the earliest days of the Victorian railways and has changed little in concept since that time.
Ballasted track is relatively quick to lay, and readily maintained by a fleet of specialist track maintenance equipment. However, the nature of ballasted
track means that the track can and will move under load; routine maintenance is always required to restore line and level, and clean or replace ballast

Concrete Slab Track

With concrete track slab systems, the ballast is replaced by a rigid concrete track slab which transfers the load and provides track stability. Resilience is
introduced into the track system by means of elastomeric components. These may be pads, bearings or springs depending on the type of slab track
There are broadly five types of generic slab track system:

Embedded rail

Booted sleepers

Direct fixing and resilient baseplates

Cast-in sleepers

Floating slab
Within each generic group there are a large number of variants and proprietary systems available. Slab track can be designed and optimised to suit the
required application.

Benefits of slab track

Slab track offers the following advantages over traditional ballasted track:
Very low maintenance requirements
Shallow construction depth
Reduced dead load
Reduced structure gauge
Higher speed operation
Engineered noise and vibration performance
Long design life
Increased reliability
Increased availability
Low whole-life cost
A sustainable solution

Very low maintenance requirements

Slab track systems require little routine maintenance. An inspection regime is, of course, necessary, but because the track is fixed in position there is
no requirement for regular realignment of the rails.
The very low maintenance requirement also means that track workers spend less time trackside, improving worker safety.
There are examples of slab track installations where little or no maintenance (including rails and pads) has been carried out for over 25 years.
Shallow Construction depth
Many slab track systems require less construction depth than the equivalent ballasted system. Embedded rail systems and resilient baseplate track
types require the least depth. This is an advantage in tunnels where headroom and gauge clearances are particularly important.
Reduced dead load
On structures, the reduced construction depth means reduced dead load.
Reduced structure gauge
Because slab track is fixed in position and will not move out of line or level under load, a reduced structure gauge can be used. This means that tunnel
bore dimensions can be reduced, or higher running speeds can be achieved.
Higher speed operation
Concrete slab track offers a greater degree of trackbed stability than ballasted track. Therefore higher running speeds are achievable.
Experience with use of ballast at high speed (350 kph) has shown that fine particles can be sucked out of the track by the passing train. These particles
are deposited on the rail surface and cause damage when run over by the wheels. In some areas this has required use of glued ballast to stabilise the
track bed.
Engineered noise and vibration performance
Slab track can be designed to meet the required performance criteria in terms of noise and vibration. The slab track system can be selected to suit
particular requirements e.g. booted sleepers or floating slab will perform well for locations sensitive to ground-borne vibration. Within each generic
system, the resilient components can be selected to optimise the balance between acoustic performance and rail stability.
Long design life
An estimate of design life for traditional ballasted track is around 15 years, (see Britpave's Life Cycle Study) After which, the track requires renewal.
A concrete track slab is typically constructed with a design life of at least 60 years.
Increased reliability & availability
Slab track systems are more reliable than ballasted track, requiring little routine maintenance. Consequently fewer possessions of the track are
required for maintenance, increasing the availability of the track for running trains.
Low whole life cost
Although the capital cost of slab track systems is usually higher than the equivalent ballasted track, the long design life and minimal maintenance
requirement for slab track systems means that overall their whole life cost is lower than that of traditional ballasted track.
In the past, slab track systems were seen as expensive. While this is still true for the most sophisticated systems e.g. floating mass-sprung slab, for
many systems the ongoing innovation and optimisation of slab track design is now reducing the capital cost to a level equivalent to ballasted track,
without compromising performance.

A sustainable solution
In 2007, Britpave, together with NTEC carried out a comparative study into the sustainability of concrete slab track and traditional ballasted track. The
study looked at an environmental life-cycle analysis through the whole life of the track including source of materials, manufacturing, construction,
maintenance, decommissioning and recycling.
The study found that due to the long design life and low maintenance requirements of concrete slab track, it was the more sustainable option over a 60
year and 120 year lifecycle.
Slab track has been used successfully on many projects around the World:


Executive Summary
This report summarises the findings of a scoping exercise for a slab track commercial case carried out by Ove Arup and Partners on behalf of Britpave
(the British In-situ Concrete Paving Association). The commission for this scoping exercise was awarded in May 2003 to facilitate the development of a
slab track business case.
The objectives of the Slab Track Commercial Case Scoping Study were to:
Identify existing and ongoing research into the commercial case for slab track, as compared to ballasted track;
Assess whether developing a commercial case for the installation of slab track in the UK will further Britpaves promotion of slab track;
Recommend how the commercial case could be developed.
From the papers reviewed, it is generally accepted that slab track offers a cost-effective alternative to ballasted track if the two systems are compared
in Life Cycle Cost terms. However, there is very little supporting evidence to substantiate such a claim. It is therefore considered that the development
of a commercial case for slab track will probably further Britpaves promotion of slab track. In addition the development of whole life costs models for
the slab track compared with conventional ballasted track is desirable if Britpave wants to create a robust commercial case for slab track.
From the literature search it has also become apparent that it is considered that slab track has performance benefits over conventional ballasted track.
This may prove to be a key point in the promotion of slab track but does require further research.
Several markets have been identified for the initial promotion of slab track. These are: all new build projects, tunnels, viaducts and major upgrades
carried out in blockades. Essentially the business case can be progressed as either:

A speculative business case where slab track is considered broadly against ballast track at several locations (in which case only a
preliminary assessment can be made); or

A project-specific business case where a chosen slab track system is identified and a larger appraisal of the two systems under
consideration is carried out.
The format of the business case is dependent on the audience (which is defined by what market the business case is aimed at and at what level). The
Strategic Rail Authority is a prime member of this audience and has a methodology for the development of a business case. For this reason this report
has focused on the detail of a business case for the Strategic Rail Authority although the broad components identified below would also be applicable
to any other member of the audience such as Network Rail:

Strategic case;

Economic case;

Financial case;


Environmental case;

Safety case.
The six broad components outlined above would form the basis of the business case and each would be developed to include both the benefits and
disadvantages of slab track as outlined in section 6.3 of this report.