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Reflections on rail monitoring in a wet winter

Spring is on its way in the UK, but we’ve had another stormy winter, with above-average rainfall causing landslips and slope failures around the transport network.

Network Rail manages close to 200,000 earth structures and is striving to implement automated warning systems at the most critical locations. With a diverse stock of earth structures, mostly pre-dating modern engineering standards, slope failures come in various forms, but are usually damaging, disruptive and potentially dangerous.

Engineers responsible  for managing railways built in steep cuttings or on embankments are increasingly using intelligent monitoring solutions to help them manage risk and avert potentially catastrophic accidents like the fatal Carmont derailment last August. The recent report commissioned in response to changing weather patterns and the Carmont accident recommends a range of measures to inform asset owners, including greater use of remote monitoring to enable automated early warning and preventative maintenance.

The sector is already embracing this directive. More than 10,000 of Senceive’s long-life, low-maintenance sensors have been installed on the UK rail network in the last 12 months alone – and there have been abundant examples of how this has delivered value. These typically take the form of either long-term monitoring of the most at-risk or critical sites to give early warning of problems, or rapid deployment of emergency monitoring in response to a failure.

Callum Davidson is one of our UK monitoring experts and he describes the two most common scenarios:

"The most common situation is where users have installed long-term monitoring of vulnerable sites. There are many of these on the routes to the south of London where steep slopes and unstable geology combine to make landslips frequent and highly disruptive. Take the High Brooms site on the London Hastings line for example - an array of tilt sensors and automated cameras has helped Network Rail manage landslips that have become almost annual events. These integrated systems respond to the first signs of movement by speeding up sampling and triggering cameras to send images along with data to stakeholders so that trains can be stopped and appropriate measures taken.

The other classic application of the technology is for rapid deployment following a failure. We saw several examples of this through the winter. Following sudden loss of material below a section of track on the West Coast Mainline, for example, our client ordered an emergency monitoring kit which was operational within 24 hours. The real-time data feed from the system enabled engineers to keep the critical route open at reduced capacity through the next week while emergency repairs were carried out."

Photo credit: Network Rail

Created on: Wed 31st Mar 2021

Landslip wet weather