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Task force for rail earthworks

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By Mike Travers

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Network Rail has launched a special task force to help manage its massive earthworks programme in the wake of the Stonehaven tragedy and a number of severe weather events.

Lord Robert Mair will spearhead the team to see how the rail business can improve the management of its huge portfolio of cuttings and embankments. It will examine recent incidents and investigate the latest technology and best practice from around the world.

Dame Julia Slingo, former chief scientist at the Met Office, will lead a separate task force to help the organisation better understand the risk of rainfall to its infrastructure.

The moves come after the Stonehaven derailment on August 12 in which driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury lost their lives.

Network Rail’s current safety management system provides a framework to manage cuttings, embankments, structures and drainage. Those have helped the company to limit the effects of rainfall on its infrastructure but the company admitted events at Stonehaven have confirmed that more understanding is needed to reduce the risks further.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “With more and more extreme weather and tens of thousands of earthwork assets across Great Britain, our challenge is massive.”

Investment in Network Rail’s earthworks and drainage portfolio has increased in recent years from £550m in 2009-14 to £952m for 2014-19. The current five-year budget is £1.3bn.

Since the Stonehaven derailment incident hundreds of sites with higher-risk trackside slopes, similar to Stonehaven, have been inspected.

A geotechnical engineer, Lord Mair (right) will look at the effectiveness of Network Rail’s existing approach to managing drainage and earthworks assets and whether a more co-ordinated approach is required. He will also determine if it has the resources and skills to manage earthworks and drainage.

Lord Mair is an authority on geotechnical engineering and his speciality is the design and construction of tunnels. His expertise has been sought throughout the world on civil engineering projects involving soft ground tunnelling, retaining structures, deep excavations and foundations.

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©Scottish Plant.  Article posted 25/8/2020