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Mechanistic Investigation of Timber Crosstie Spike Fastener Failures – Phase I: The Magnitude of the Spike Failure Challenge

Document Series
Technical Reports
Federal Railroad Administration
Report Number
Subject Track
track research, cut spikes, drive spikes, screw spikes, elastic fastening systems, failure analysis, broken spikes

The Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) performed a literature review, conducted an industry-wide survey, and arranged multiple field visits to examine and quantify the challenges North American railroads are facing with broken spikes in timber crosstie track. Research was conducted between January and October of 2018. This report summarizes the project objectives, reviews fastening system designs for timber crossties, examines multiple broken spike derailment reports, reviews published literature regarding spike breakage, documents the results of a rail industry survey, summarizes field visits to multiple Class 1 locations experiencing broken spikes, and documents interviews with railroaders conducted in relation to these field visits. The research data concludes that spike failures are difficult to inspect for in track, are the cause of at least 10 derailments and are an ongoing issue in curves on at least 5 Class I railroads. The report offers a set of hypotheses to explain why spikes fail in certain areas of timber-tied track and proposes additional research to isolate the root cause(s) of these failures through laboratory experimentation and analytical finite element modeling (FEM).

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Last updated: Friday, February 9, 2024