Axle load

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The axle load of a wheeled vehicle is the total weight felt by the roadway for all wheels connected to a given axle. Viewed another way, it is the fraction of total vehicle weight resting on a given axle. Axle load is an important design consideration in the engineering of roadways and railways, as both are designed to tolerate a maximum weight-per-axle (axle load); exceeding the maximum rated axle load will cause damage to the roadway or rail tracks.

Railway use

On railways, a given section of track is designed to a maximum axle load. The maximum axle load is related to the strength of the track, which is determined by weight of rails, density of sleepers and fixtures, train speeds, amount of ballast, and strength of bridges. Because track and especially the rails are expensive, it is desirable to optimise the track for a given axle load. If the track is overloaded by trains that are too heavy, it can be destroyed in a short time. However, it is also convenient for the steelworks that rails are made in a limited number of sizes, so that a perfect match of rail weight and axle load is rarely achieved. New rail is often reserved for heavy main line use, which releases good but lighter rail that can be cascaded for lighter duties on branch lines. The lightest rail cascaded from the lightest branch lines may have no railway use other than for structural items such as fenceposts, telegraph posts and for reinforcing concrete. Higher operating speeds can be achieved through reduced axle loads and increased density of sleepers.

United Kingdom


Light railways were built with rail weighing as little as 30 lb/yd (14.9 kg/m) but main lines used much heavier rail. On former British Rail lines the rail is mostly 90 lb/yd (44.6 kg/m) or 120 lb/yd (59.5 kg/m). The standard is now 113 lb/yd (56.1 kg/m).


In British Rail days most diesel locomotives were built to a maximum axle load of 19 long tons (19.3 tonnes; 21.3 short tons) so the maximum locomotive weight was 76 long tons (77.2 tonnes; 85.1 short tons) for a four-axle locomotive and 114 long tons (115.8 tonnes; 127.7 short tons) for a six-axle one. Higher axle loads are now permitted, e.g. the Class 67 locomotive is a four-axle machine weighing 90 tonnes (88.6 long tons; 99.2 short tons), giving 22.5 tonnes (22.1 long tons; 24.8 short tons) on each axle.


Example 1

The new branch line from Blackwater, Queensland to Rolleston is being built in 2005 to haul the following:

  • rail: 50 kg/m (101 lb/yd) — (choice limited to 50 kg/m or 101 lb/yd or 60 kg/m or 121 lb/yd)
  • sleepers: concrete
  • sleepers per kilometre : 1666 (based on 600 mm spacings) QR standard
  • max speed: 80 km/h (50 mph)
  • wagon axle load: 26 t (25.6 long tons; 28.7 short tons)
  • locomotive axle load: 20 t (19.7 long tons; 22.0 short tons)
  • swingnose crossings at turnouts: unknown
  • traffic: 8 Mt/yr
  • length of line: 110 km (68 mi)
  • cost of line: US$185.5 million[1]

Example 2

The new heavy-duty Fortescue Railway:

  • rail: 68 kg/m[2]
  • sleepers: concrete
  • max speed: 80 km/h (50 mph)
  • wagon axle load: 40 t (39 long tons; 44 short tons) (world record[2])
  • locomotive axle load: 40 t (39 long tons; 44 short tons)
  • turnouts:
  • traffic: 50Mt/yr
  • in 2011, proposed increased to 42 t (41 long tons; 46 short tons)[3]

Example 3

  • rail 60 kg/m (121 lb/yd)
  • axleload 23 t (23 long tons; 25 short tons) / speed 100 km/h (62 mph)
  • axleload 25 t (25 long tons; 28 short tons) / speed   80 km/h (50 mph)[4]

Other examples


The absolute maximum axle load for railways depends on the rail used, above the indicated load the rails will start to bend between sleepers and can cause de-railment.[citation needed]

Bridges (Line load)

Additional calculations must be made for bridges since a span may have to carry several locomotives and wagons at once. Heavy braking also imposes limits on the strength of piers.

Usually there is a maximum weight, in tonnes per meter or pounds per foot of vehicle length, decided for bridges, which might be 6–12 tonnes per meter.

Theodore Cooper developed the E10 loading system for calculating the strength of bridges,

An under-strength bridge can limit the maximum axle load for a whole line, for example:

Roadway use

The term axle load is also applicable to trucks which is complicated by the fact that trucks may have more than two wheels per axle. In this case, the axle load remains the same, but the load borne by the individual wheels is reduced by having more wheels to distribute the load.[6]

See also


  1. ^ International Railway Journal, May 2005
  2. ^ a b "Fortescue opens the world's heaviest haul railway". Railway Gazette. 2008-07-14. Archived from the original on 2016-02-22. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  3. ^ Peter Ker (2011-10-24). "Fortescue takes another step in plan to boost Pilbara railway loads". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 2018-05-11. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-17. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hjort, Mattias; Haraldsson, Mattias; Jansen, Jan (2008). "Road Wear from Heavy Vehicles: An Overview" (PDF). NVF committee Vehicles and Transports. p. 17+36. ISSN 0347-2485. Archived from the original on 2016-08-18.

External links

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