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Linear infrastructure investment plans call for new GI approach

Planned road and rail infrastructure investment calls for a new focus on ground investigation to aid delivery of the schemes, according to a recent British Drilling Association event.

The Emerging Best Practice in Ground Investigation for Linear Infrastructure Projects event in February aimed to examine the issues surrounding the delivery of future projects.

Arup geotechnics leader for the north west and Yorkshire Jane Collins delivered the keynote speech which set the scene for the event and detailed the current infrastructure investment cycle.

According to Collins, infrastructure investment between 2011 and 2030 will be in the order of £352bn, with £156bn spent on capacity expansion and £196bn on maintenance and renewals.

“There are significant opportunities for ground engineering in these planned infrastructure projects,” she said.

However, she warned that geotechnical risks are becoming peripheral. “There is not enough emphasis on getting ground risk sorted,” she said. “Present procurement methods for ground investigation is acting like a ticket box exercise rather than a structured approach to reduce ground risk.”

Collins said that use of emerging techniques such as sonic drilling and vacuum excavations, combined with 3D modelling, have the potential to help clients better understand ground risk. Nonetheless, she warned that the digital revolution is creating a lot of data and systems ned to be in place to control this data better or it will be a hindrance rather than an asset.

Other speakers at the event included Coal Authority infrastructure and utilities business development lead Simon Leeming who discussed the impact of the UK’s mining legacy on infrastructure; Cementation Skanska’s Caroline Rookes and Richard Clark who presented a main contractor’s perspective on best practice in ground investigation for linear infrastructure projects and the British Geological Survey’s Holger Kessler who spoke about the use of 3D-models to help visualise the ground. The event was concluded by Mott MacDonald’s Nick Haynes who presented a consultant’s view on the subject.

Ground investigation procurement issues

The issue of quality being compromised by a cost focus in current ground investigation procurement processed adopted by number of organisations was also discussed during the event.

Speakers said that the increasing lack of procurer engagement with consultants was also impacting negatively on the quality of work.

Many delegates also expressed the view that their ground investigation work is seen as little more than a box ticking exercise, there were calls for a complete overhaul of the procurement process. The industry wants to see change so ground investigation is no longer classed as commodity, but as an important tool that reduces genuine risk, through the generation of real and useable data.

It was felt that that a new approach would benefit the entire ground investigation sector and bring with it better respect, as well as address the often-poor reputation past bad procurement has delivered.

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