When does ballast bed cleaning make economic sense?

Ballast bed cleaning as a maintenance measure helps infrastructure operators all over the world to achieve the desired service life of a track. Cleaned ballast recovers most of its original characteristics and ensures a safe and economically efficient operation of services. The regained elasticity and stability of the track reduces the maintenance effort and the resulting annual maintenance cost. For the infrastructure operators numerous monitoring options offer important continuous and long-term information on their assets. Based on this information, it is possible to forecast the requirement for ballast cleaning. This allows for solid budget planning and sustainable asset planning.

Temporary measure

For temporarily extending the service life of the existing ballast bed without cleaning it, a general lifting of the track geometry by 5 cm or more can be an option. However, this does not replace ballast bed cleaning, but just postpones it.


In Europe, ballast bed cleaning is usually combined with the renewal of all track components. In normal conditions, the service life of each component is harmonised so that the whole system can achieve a high degree of sustainability.

Whether it makes economic sense to clean the ballast bed without replacing the track materials (rails and sleepers) is often a contentious point. From a technical and economical point of view, the answer depends on what service life can be achieved after ballast cleaning. If the annual costs of the asset are at the same level as before ballast cleaning or even lower, the intervention results in an economic gain.

The following preconditions have to be met:

  • good condition of other components (rails, sleepers, formation, subsoil)
  • good maintenance of other components
  • high-quality workmanship


Examinations have shown that ballast bed cleaning is economically efficient up to almost 70% of the strategic service life, if the other components reach their estimated service life. In the case of maintenance-intensive turnouts a cleaning operation later on can still be economically viable.

Ballast bed cleaning achieves significant and sustainable improvements of all relevant track parameters. In most cases, the track geometry quality produced corresponds to the initial quality. Equally remarkable: ÖBB’s latest measurements show that this quality level is conserved almost unchangedly for at least three years – without the need to tamp the track in the meantime.