Report suggests UK railway embankments are at risk

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A paper published today warns that Britain’s railway embankments and cuttings could be susceptible to landslides as a result of climate change.

‘Railways are a unique problem in the UK because they were built before we understood soil mechanics,’ said Fleur Loveridge, who co-authored a paper published today in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering and Hydrogeology. ‘They’re very susceptible to changing climate.’

Some of the UK’s railway infrastructure was built in the 19th century on unprepared foundations. Similarly, many embankments and cuttings are on land that is either built up or cut through to allow a road or railway to pass through.

‘Because they’re structures made of soil and rock, they will always be affected by climate – particularly rainfall patterns,’ said Loveridge. ‘Wet winters cause failures that can result in landslides, as we saw in 2000-2001, and hot, dry summers can cause subsidence that can also be significant, affecting domestic properties as well.

‘One of the most at-risk areas, because of the geology, is the south east of England, particularly the London clay on which much of London’s rail network is built.’

Engineers are now said to be working on finding solutions to avoid problems before they occur.

‘The key word is adaptation,’ added Loveridge. ‘We need to raise awareness and increase maintenance budgets, as well as supporting research to develop innovative engineering solutions to tackle the problems before they happen.’

An early-warning device for detecting landslides has won a Loughborough University enterprise award. Click here to read more.