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New Network Rail strategy sets sights on earthworks excellence

Network Rail is aiming to become a globally recognised expert in earthworks asset management through harnessing knowledge, continuous improvement and exploiting emerging technologies, according to the organisation’s new earthworks strategy document.

The rail infrastructure operator has said it will focus on accelerated research and development, harnessing more value from existing data sets and aim to reduce the disruption to train services from increased and better targeted capital interventions to reach this global status.

nr earthworks strategy pic 2

nr earthworks strategy pic 2

Source: Network Rail

Rapid failure of a soil cutting at Murthat in Scotland on the West Coast Main Line in November 2015 was identified by the driver of a passenger train travelling at 200km/h

According to the document, it is Network Rail’s aspiration to see infrastructure free from service-affecting earthworks failures but admits that this is a long term vision that can only be delivered under multiple control periods.

The new strategy document sets out the organisation’s priorities and key activities in order to deliver on this aim.

Detection of asset failure by means other than train drivers is one of the top geotechnical challenges faced by Network Rail, according the strategy. The report says that the organisation is good at forecasting and managing slow failures but rapid failures still present challenges. Other key technical challenges that need to be managed include better weather resilience, particularly during extreme weather events and impact of third party slope failures.

“We have matured significantly in the last 15 years and are committed to continuous improvement in earthwork management,” said Network Rail professional head of geotechnics Simon Abbott. “While longer term trends in earthwork safety events continue to reduce we recognise we cannot be complacent.

“Communicating the challenges posed by railway earthworks and potential techniques that could further enhance the management techniques is in itself challenging. This new strategy document will assist people to understand the strategic initiatives for improvement, in particular the topics of focus in our research and development.”

nr earthworks strategy pic 1

nr earthworks strategy pic 1

Source: Network Rail

In 2014 an aerial Lidar survey was undertaken across Network Rail’s infrastructure to provide greater intelligence to a range of assets and enhance existing data sets.

The strategy sets out the historical context of the UK’s aging geotechnical rail asset and details the technologies that are already being applied to tackle the issues, as well as looking at the challenges that the sector faces.

The report also recognises that some of the challenges it faces in managing the UK’s rail assets are related to people, as well as geotechnics, with the skills shortage in ground engineering being a critical issue.

Read the strategy in full here.

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