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The need for change

Landslides are a great source of news and features for GE and a great generator of business for the ground engineering industry. Much of the work carried out under emergency funding, which may boost revenues and workloads in this sector but it does put key clients’ budgets under considerable strain.

Network Rail is one of those clients and in this issue there are several features about efforts to repair and monitor landslide-affected lines, as well as news of further problems elsewhere on the network. Clearly landslides also affect the highway network but it is much easier to divert a vehicle than a train so the impact of failure of geotechnical assets on the rail system are far more keenly felt.

I very much doubt the Victorians expected us to be still using the structures they built – in some cases – more than 150 years ago.

”Delivering this level of reliability is not without its challenges despite the huge advances in geotechnical knowledge and design analysis”

The concept of design life was not thought of at that stage and many geotechnical concepts that we now take for granted were also great unknowns. The number of news stories in GE in the last few years shows the impact of these assets still being a critical part of our network despite their age. It is for this reason that projects like HS2 – and probably HS3, HS4 and HS5… – are essential to the economic growth of this country. With such routes designed to modern standards we should expect a level of reliability that is declining on our current systems.

However, delivering this level of reliability is not without its challenges despite the huge advances in geotechnical knowledge and design analysis and that was the clear message from a recent evening meeting of the British Geotechnical Association. There HS2’s leading geotechnical specialists said that the demands of the work would tax the UK industry both in terms of the technical and timescale challenges the project represents.

The Chinese may have a curse that says “May you live in interesting times” but it seems that while HS2 will create some interesting times ahead for the ground engineering sector, the impact will hopefully be a blessing rather than a curse.

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