Last Updated S012019


Unit Code MRI504
Unit Duration 12 Weeks

Graduate Diploma of Engineering (Civil: Railway Infrastructure)

Duration: 1 year


Master of Engineering (Civil: Railway Infrastructure)

Duration: 2 years   

Year Level One
Unit Creator / Reviewer Dr Martin Murray
Core/Elective: Core
Pre/Co-requisites MRI501 and MRI502
Credit Points


Grad Dip total course credit points = 24

(3 credits x 8 (units))


Masters total course credit points = 48

(3 credits x 12 (units) + 12 credits (Thesis))

Mode of Delivery Online or on-campus. 
Unit Workload

10 hours per week:

Lecture - 1 hour

Tutorial Lecture - 1 hours

Assessments / Practical / Lab - 1 hour (where applicable)

Personal Study recommended - 7 hours (guided and unguided)

Unit Description and General Aims

A Rail Civil Engineer has the responsibility for the ‘permanent way’ of the railway and needs to have detailed knowledge and a clear understanding of the behaviour of the many components of rail tracks.

The ballast and sleepers on which the rails rest are critical in supporting the safe passage of trains at speed over the track. A large proportion of maintenance expenditure by track owners arises because of fouled or poorly drained ballasts or from overdue/ improper sleeper replacement. Delays in train schedules, track closures, and even derailments can arise due to problems in the track below the rail.

This Unit thus aims to provide students with a thorough knowledge of ballasts, sleepers and fasteners – their functions, the most suitable types to use in a particular application, as well as installation, operation, maintenance, and replacement issues.

This Unit follows neatly from the introductory Units, “Introduction to Railway Operations” and “Introduction to Railways Management”, in terms of the student’s development as a Railway Infrastructure Engineer, though this Unit has a much more technical focus than those earlier two Units.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this Unit, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Recommend and prepare specifications for track materials.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  2. Validate, test and solve problems related to below-rail track superstructure issues.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  3. Evaluate relevant information to recommend appropriate maintenance and rectification strategies for the below-rail track.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  4. Design, assemble and synthesise appropriate engineering and/or management elements within a major case study incorporating ballast, sleepers, and/or fasteners.
    • Bloom’s Level 6

Student assessment

Assessment Type

When assessed

(eg Week 5)

Weighting (% of total unit marks) Learning Outcomes Assessed

Assessment 1

Type: Design analysis

Word length: 1500

Topic: Plan and document designs relating to the testing and use of ballast in a ballast renewal case study.

Week 4 20% 1, 2, 4

Assessment 2

Type: Case Study, Group Discussion and Evaluation

Topic: The student is to contribute progressively to an unfolding discussion amongst their peers in this Unit on a current topic of interest in ballasted track. They are required to evaluate the case study and role-play a member of an interaction committee formed to solve the issue.

Week 7 25% 1, 2

Assessment 3

Type: Report and Presentation (Final Project)

Word length: 2000

Topic: Prepare a comprehensive engineering report on a case study related to a major upgrade of a railway track, with the primary focus being on the testing, sourcing and installation of sleepers, fasteners and ballast. The report will require careful referencing and be suitable in its format, quality of analysis, and conclusions for decision making by senior engineers. The students are required to present their findings and answer any questions raised.

Week 12 50% 1 – 4


Continuous 5% 1 - 4

Prescribed and Recommended readings

Required Textbook(s)

  • Ballast, Sleepers and Fasteners Study Notes by Rail Innovation Australia (RIA) [existing materials] and other information and materials on their website:

Reference Materials

A number of books, peer-reviewed journals, and websites as advised below:

Unit Content

One topic is delivered per contact week, with the exception of part-time 24-week units, where one topic is delivered every two weeks.


Topic 1

Ballast and Sub-Ballast Definition and Properties

  1. Background
  2. Functions, profile, limits and terminology
  3. Ballast, sub-ballast, and track structure design matters

Topic 2

Ballast Testing and Specifications

  1. Ballast properties and sources
  2. Testing
  3. Specifications for production, supply and delivery

Topic 3

Ballast Inspection and Assessment

  1. Ballast inspection
  2. Monitoring and reporting
  3. Assessment of in-situ materials

Topic 4

Ballast Installation and Renewal

  1. Installation, renewal, recycling, strengthening
  2. Maintenance strategies and safety on-track
  3. Disposal of spent ballast

Topic 5

Sleeper Types

  1. Traditional and alternative sleepers
  2. Slab track
  3. Special applications

Topic 6

Functions of Fasteners

  1. Purpose and function of fasteners
  2. Fasteners for timber, concrete, steel and alternative sleepers
  3. Life cycle costing of fastening systems

Topic 7

Design Issues

  1. Sleeper and fastener functioning as a system
  2. Loadings on sleepers and fasteners
  3. Sleeper and fastener stresses, design, and standards

Topic 8

Sleeper Supply and Testing

  1. Sleeper material properties
  2. Manufacture and testing of sleepers and fasteners
  3. Sleeper supply issues

Topic 9

Sleeper Transport and Installation

  1. Sleeper and fastener transport
  2. Installation of sleepers
  3. Installation of fasteners

Topic 10

Sleeper Defects and Inspection

  1. Sleeper cluster analysis
  2. Sleeper and fastener defects
  3. Component inspections

Topic 11

Maintenance and Replacement

  1. Issues with use of sleepers and fasteners
  2. Repair of defects
  3. Maintenance strategies

Topic 12

Project and Unit Review

In the final week students will have an opportunity to review the contents covered so far.  Opportunity will be provided for a review of student work, to clarify any outstanding issues and to work on finalising the major assessment report. 

Engineers Australia

The Australian Engineering Stage 1 Competency Standards for the Professional Engineer, approved as of 2013. This table is referenced in the mapping of graduate attributes to learning outcomes and via the learning outcomes to student assessment.

Stage 1 Competencies and Elements Competency
1. Knowledge and Skill Base
1.1 Comprehensive, theory based understanding of the underpinning natural and physical sciences and the engineering fundamentals applicable to the engineering discipline.
1.2 Conceptual understanding of the mathematics, numerical analysis, statistics, and computer and information sciences which underpin the engineering discipline.
1.3 In-depth understanding of specialist bodies of knowledge within the engineering discipline.
1.4 Discernment of knowledge development and research directions within the engineering discipline.
1.5 Knowledge of engineering design practice and contextual factors impacting the engineering discipline.
1.6 Understanding of the scope, principles, norms, accountabilities and bounds of sustainable engineering practice in the specific discipline.
2. Engineering Application Ability
2.1 Application of established engineering methods to complex engineering problem solving.
2.2 Fluent application of engineering techniques, tools and resources.
2.3 Application of systematic engineering synthesis and design processes.
2.4 Application of systematic approaches to the conduct and management of engineering projects.
3. Professional and Personal Attributes
3.1 Ethical conduct and professional accountability.
3.2 Effective oral and written communication in professional and lay domains.
3.3 Creative, innovative and pro-active demeanor.
3.4 Professional use and management of information.
3.5 Orderly management of self and professional conduct.
3.6 Effective team membership and team leadership.

Software/Hardware Used


  • Software: N/A

  • Version: N/A

  •  Instructions: N/A

  •  Additional resources or files: N/A


  • Hardware: N/A