Civil and Environmental Engineering

The blog of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Surrey

Climate Change Adaptation in Railway Infrastructure

Many of the disruptions to the rail network are caused by the effects of weather. Flooding of parts of the network, landslides and track buckling are only some of the numerous problems to the rail infrastructure caused by weather. 2012 was the wettest year on record for England and as a result the whole rail network was subjected to costly delays and cancellations of services. As a result of climate change such events are expected to occur more regularly and more intensely in the future and this could have wide-ranging negative impacts on the UK rail industry. Infrastructure owners and operators should, therefore, adapt their approach to asset management to these changes in climate, which have already started to crystallise in reality. Adapting asset management procedures to climate change is still an under-researched topic. A clear, comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy has not yet been developed by any railway infrastructure owner and operator anywhere in the world.

What is currently missing in the railway infrastructure is a comprehensive methodology which can help asset managers within the rail industry give answers to the questions: “How should we prioritise asset management investments, accounting for climate change?”; “What changes in climate should we adapt to?”; “When should we act?”; “How can we account for the huge uncertainties associated with climate change predictions and how can these affect our future investments?”. This research gap is addressed in an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) research project carried out between University of Surrey and Network Rail. Through enabling more informed asset management decisions, this research will ultimately improve the current methods of whole-life costing in Network Rail. Optimising the investments for improving weather and climate resilience of the network, the outputs of the research project have the potential of achieving significant cost savings as well as increased reliability of the network.

This work will be presented in the RRUKA Annual Conference on 21st November at Kings Place in London. It will provide a showcase of the most state-of-the-art rail research carried out in the UK and will allow good networking and building relationships.

What do our MSc students do?

Here we are at the beginning of the summer. Another semester over. The students are busy preparing for exams. And for our Masters students, they are also starting to look ahead to the summer when they will be immersing themselves in their dissertation research. For those of you thinking about doing an MSc at Surrey, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of the great work that our students have been doing on the MSc in Water and Environmental Engineering.  

ICE Scholarship Scheme social event: celebrating 12 years of success

Every year the Scholarship Scheme organizes a social event for its scholars and sponsors. This year a total of 180 people attended the evening event which took place on the 9th of May at Hill Side Restaurant, University of Surrey. It was fantastic to see such a great turnout which included scholars who are currently doing their placements in companies, representatives of the Institution of Civil Engineers, alumni and representatives from industry who are actively involved in this scheme.

This year this event was particularly special as Dr. DR Griffiths, one of the main founders and current ICE Scholarship Scheme coordinator, went on retirement. Bob gave a very passionate overview of the last 12 years of the Scholarship Scheme covering from the early days on how the scheme was set up to its current days. This scheme has sponsored 214 scholars over the last 12 years and has currently slightly under 100 students sponsored by companies getting professional experience whilst doing the degree. For more information about the scheme click here.

Planetary exploration: a geotechnical engineer’s contribution

When people talking about the planetary exploration, you may think it is an ambitious task for engineers working in aerospace engineering, satellite navigation, automatic control, telecommunications engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, thermodynamics, material science, and manufacture. But are you aware that there is also contribution from geotechnical engineers?

Embankment Engineering

Long term serviceability and aesthetics of any civil work require the application of combined skills throughout the design and during construction.  The use of natural materials for building embankments is a case where this exercise can be successfully conducted.  We tend to imagine an embankment as a naive construction having a trapezoidal cross section and spanning long distance over a flat area, however there are worldwide very good examples for these particular works, either being high railways embankments built on difficult soils, or large earth dams offering safe and economical methods of storing water.

Embankment construction implies the continuous verify of the project, both for soil foundation assessment and material acceptability.  Often it is recommendable that the designer also has charge of supervising the building, and this option is encouraged by some governments, which allow reducing total cost of the technical activities if these are undertaken by the same person.  When problems arise during construction the designer is probably better than others in making adjustments without betraying the original concepts.  There is of course the risk of bias, but this drawback can be minimized by the effective use of third parts appointed for the high surveillance of the works.

SmartEN Project – A short introduction

As an Early Stage Researcher for SmartEN, I would like to shortly introduce you to this European-based Project. SmartEn is an Initial Training Network (ITN) funded by the European Comission under the 7th Framework Programme – Marie Curie Actions. It focuses on one of the main challenges nowadays in Civil Engineering: manage the built environment taking sustainability into account, and more specifically the research targets the field of Wireless Sensing Networks and Reliability of Structures. But SmartEN, as the rest of ITNs, is more than just a research project: it aims to create a network of researchers, firstly, by training what will hopefully be a new generation of active researchers and secondly by putting them in contact with the current generation of experience/senior researchers and leading partner organizations. I am involved in this project together with two other members of the department: Professor Marios Chryssanthopoulos as a Work Package Leader and Dr Helder Sousa as an Experienced Researcher and if interested we will be glad to discuss in more detail about the project and our personal research goals.
For more information on SmartEN, specific objectives, partners, fellows and dissemination check the project webpage.