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EMBANKMENT TECHNOLOGIES


Man-made structures are just as vulnerable as natural ones to the effects of climate change and more extreme weather. Rail embankments are no exception, as researchers on the Bionics Project, based at Newcastle University, have been showing.


F


or the past few years, ramblers pass- ing by the village of Nafferton, south of Scarborough, have been treated to a curi- ous sight: a railway embankment without a railway.


The full-scale ‘model’ embankment was constructed as part of the Bionics Project – short for ‘biological and engineering impacts of climate change on slopes’ – co- ordinated from Newcastle University, but with the involvement of many other Brit- ish universities as well as organisations like Network Rail and the Highways Agency, and companies like Skanska and Mott Mac- donald.


The researchers got mountains of data when the project was in its peak phase, from around 2005-2009, and they are cur- rently awaiting a funding decision from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to see if they can progress to the next phase of research.


One of the project’s leaders is Dr Stephanie Glendenning, reader in environmental geo- technics at Newcastle University’s School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.


She told RTM: “Although the project is not funded currently, we are keeping the moni- toring going, partly with staff here at New- castle, partly with fi nal-year undergradu- ates and Masters students in geotechnical


engineering. The project fi rst came about because we were looking at the current research coming out of what was then the Department of Civil Engineering, and one of the strengths of the department was in climate change, and taking the climate change scenarios that were coming out and turning them into downscaled information. From that you could get long-term weather scenarios for different parts of the country.


“It was a case of realising that was a strength within our department, and ask- ing what we could do with that research that would be relevant to our own disci- plines.


“We thought of looking at the potential im- pacts of different climate change scenarios in the UK that could have a profound im- pact on slopes, particularly in the rail sec- tor. That’s how it fi rst came about.”


The project was not just about the ‘test em- bankment’ at Nafferton, Dr Glendenning explained.


She said: “When the project was going full- tilt, it had several aspects to it. One was the construction of the full-scale test embank- ment.


“Then, there was installation monitoring and then running the climate simulations. There was also the numerical modelling


side, which was trying to couple the in- formation on climate scenarios that were coming out of our water resources group with the numerical tools that could gener- ate, numerically, the kind of information we were measuring specifi cally at the slope.


“There was also another aspect to the pro- ject, at Dundee University, where they were using scale models in ‘centrifuge tanks’, which basically span things round to simu- late multiples of gravity, and so simulates long periods of time – so it was simulating 20 years of the existence of an embank- ment, for example.


“Finally, we had someone looking at veg- etation and the effects of different compac- tion and different orientations of embank- ments on growth and biodiversity.”


The manufacture methods of the main test embankment were not obvious – as most railway embankments are very old, there are problems with copying either old or new techniques if the team were to gener- ate useful data.


Dr Glendenning said: “The problem with trying to reconstruct something from the rail network is that what we’re trying to simulate is often very old; so there’s no point simulating the construction of it, because otherwise it would tell you noth- ing about how it’s performing now. So, we


90 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11


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