ACHILLES programme makes plans for more resilient infrastructure

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A new £4.8 million engineering research programme, led by Newcastle University, that will examine how long linear infrastructure assets, such as road and railway slopes, pipeline bedding and flood protection structures, can be better maintained and monitored to make them more resilient for the future, is announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The announcement comes in the week that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has its official launch in London and during the Year of Engineering.

Failure of these infrastructure assets is common-place, for example in 2015 there were 143 earthworks failures on Network Rail, more than two per week. The resulting costs are high, for Network Rail emergency repairs cost ten times as much as planned works, which cost ten times as much as maintenance.

Vulnerability to these types of failure is also significant. There are 748,000 properties with at least a 1-in-100 annual chance of flooding; derailment from slope failure is the greatest infrastructure-related risk faced by our railways.

Despite this, the exact reasons for, and timing of, failure are poorly understood.

The research programme, Assessment, Costing and enHancement of long life Long Linear Assets, dubbed ACHILLES - involves experts from the universities of Newcastle, Southampton, Durham, Loughborough, Leeds and Bath, as well as the British Geological Survey, major infrastructure owners and their consultants.

Newcastle University's Professor Stephanie Glendinning, project lead, explained: The aim is to gain a better understanding of the way that linear infrastructure deteriorates under increasing environmental pressure, and to use this understanding to improve investment decisions.

Through this research we hope to be able to change the way new infrastructure is designed, such as HS2; understand how ageing infrastructure is adapted and how investment strategies are formulated to enable physical and operational resilience.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Executive Chair, said: This investment will link the aims of reducing infrastructure failures and transforming infrastructure maintenance, and therefore help the UK become more resilient and prosperous.

The research has gained considerable interest from industry and will have a direct impact on a range of activities, potentially improving safety and reducing costs. We are delighted to see the participation of the project partners who have come on board.

Professor Glendinning adds: You can think of our linear infrastructure as being a bit like a 1970s car.

It's been serviced yearly - providing the owner remembers - but could suddenly show the oil warning light just seconds before the engine explodes, causing the owner to crash the car and create traffic chaos.

By comparison, a modern car has in-built deterioration models and sensors that tell you when a service is due and what it is for so that you can plan your budget; it senses the exterior environment so that lights and wipers come on automatically when needed and it warns of the possibility of ice so the driver can adjust their speed.

We can't afford to completely replace all our roads, embankments and flood defences, but we can take that 1970s car and adapt it and update it to make it more resilient and fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Notes to editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

EPSRC is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

Year of Engineering

The Year of Engineering is a government campaign, which celebrates the world and wonder of engineering.

From spaceships to ice skates, the bubbles in chocolate bars to life saving cancer treatment, engineering touches every part of our lives. However, not enough young people - especially young girls - think it's a world for them. As a result, the industry is struggling to recruit future talent. What's more, young people are missing out on the chance to make a positive difference to both their futures, that of the planet and everything that calls it home.

For further information visit the Year of Engineering website.

Reference: PN 27-18

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Name: EPSRC Press Office
Telephone: 01793 444404