Numerical modelling of masonry arch bridges

: Investigation of spandrel wall failure

  • Junzhe Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Masonry arch bridges still play an important role in the transportation infrastructure today in the United Kingdom. Previous research has mainly focused on the load carrying capacity in the span direction. The three dimensional behaviour is often investigated by simplifying into two dimensions with modified arch parameters but these simplified analyses cannot represent all aspects of behaviour. Spandrel wall failure in some railway masonry arch bridges has raised concerns recently, and this is one aspect which cannot be modelled in two dimensions.This thesis presents a research which attempts to model the interaction behaviour between arch, backfill and spandrel wall with the aim of representing the three dimensional nature of real bridges.It mainly focuses on the spandrel wall defects under increasing load, including crack development across the wall and longitudinal cracks in the arch barrel underneath spandrel wall.Experimental results from the laboratory tests on engineering blue brick and a hydraulic premixed mortar as well as brickwork masonry specimens are presented. Numerical analysis was initially performed on these brickwork masonry specimens for validation. Three dimensional FE models were proposed for both small and large scale bridges. The general behaviour of the small scale bridge under rolling load and large scale bridge under increasing load were studied. Reasonable agreement between the FE analyses and experimental results from previous literature was obtained, indicating the model validated for small masonry specimens could be scaled up to full-scale bridges.A series of computer models were constructed to investigate the relationship between a range of geometric and material parameters and the lateral behaviour of arch bridges. The backfill depth and spandrel wall thickness have greatest impact on both bridge strength and lateral behaviour. The fill properties also have an importance influence on the load carrying capacity. This provides an indication of which bridge should be more closely monitored for spandrel wall defects. Separate FE models was constructed to simulate existing longitudinal cracks found in the arch barrel for old bridges and the influence of strengthening of spandrel wall with tie bars. The general behaviour under a concentrated load is studied and discussed. It has been demonstrated that it is possible to effectively model the three dimension behaviour of masonry arch bridges and in particular, spandrel wall failures.
Date of Award21 Jul 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorPete Walker (Supervisor) & Andrew Heath (Supervisor)


  • Masonry
  • Finite Element
  • arch bridge

Cite this

Numerical modelling of masonry arch bridges: Investigation of spandrel wall failure
Wang, J. (Author). 21 Jul 2014

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD