A discrete element approach to assess degradation processes in ballast beds is presented. Firstly, a discrete element model describing strength and failure of strong rock is introduced. For this purpose a granular solid is created by bonding of adjacent particles. A method to define angular ballast stones made from the granular solid is proposed. The strength of these stones is evaluated by compression between parallel platens. Comparing these results to published experimental data yields very good qualitative and reasonable quantitative agreement. Finally, the failure of aggregates of breakable stones is investigated by simulation of oedometric compression tests and indentation of a sleeper into a ballast bed.