Julie Clarke and Paul Doherty of Irish engineering consultancy Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) summarise the work undertaken by GDG through three significant research initiatives that focus on railway infrastructure management

Julie Clarke and Paul Doherty of Irish engineering consultancy Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) summarise the work undertaken by GDG through three significant research initiatives that focus on railway infrastructure management.

GDG acted as co-ordinator for three research projects funded by the European Commission under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme: Destination Rail, GoSAFE RAIL and SAFE-10-T.

The focus of these projects has been on the development of novel risk assessment methodologies and tools for the effective management of railway infrastructure, including structures (for example, bridges, tunnels), geotechnical assets (for example, cuttings, embankments), track, switches and crossings.

The outcomes of these projects are leading to more reliable and economic asset management approaches that can be adopted by rail infrastructure owners and operators across the world. Ultimately, the research initiatives led by GDG will support more resilient railway networks.

A summary of the three EU-funded projects led by GDG is provided in Table 1. The Destination Rail project, which was completed last year, focused on developing decision support tools for railway infrastructure management. The GoSAFE RAIL project, due for completion later this year, is delivering a global safety management framework for railway operations.

The more recent project, SAFE-10-T, is focused on the safety of transport infrastructure across the European TEN-T network, and considers the impact of rail, road and inland waterway infrastructure reliability on multi-modal transport mobility.

Table 1: EU-funded research projects
Destination Rail: Decision Support Tool for Rail Infrastructure Managers; Value: €3.9 million; Duration: 2015-2018
GoSAFE RAIL: Global Safety Management Framework for Rail Operations; Value: €1.3 million; Duration:  2016-2019
SAFE-10-T: Safety of Transport Infrastructure on the TEN-T Network; Value: €3 million; Duration: 2017-2020

These three research projects share a common goal to minimise the risk that transport networks are exposed to. For many railway networks in Europe, the risk is increasing over time due to the age of the deteriorating infrastructure assets and due to the negative climate change impacts.

To minimise network risk, reliability-based safety assessment models have been developed for rail infrastructure networks.

Additionally, predictive maintenance strategies have been developed, which represent a significant shift in the transport infrastructure management sector from reactive to proactive asset management.

What is the challenge?

Rail transport offers a sustainable mode of transport for people and goods. In the EU, rail transport currently supports about 11.7 per cent of all distributed goods and 6.6 per cent of passengers.

The proportion of transport via rail is set to increase significantly in the coming decades as the EU policies support the transition from road to rail in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector.

Rail infrastructure must be reliably maintained and upgraded to prevent failures, which can result in casualties and fatalities, along with significant transport disruption.

Most European railway networks were constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries prior to the adoption of modern engineering standards, meaning that the majority of infrastructure along these networks is in a precarious state.

Many countries are now experiencing the impact of climate change in terms of more intense and more frequent extreme weather events, such as intense rainfall and flooding. These events can have significant adverse impacts on railway networks.

For example, flooding and coastal storms that occurred during 2014 led to the collapse of sea walls carrying railway lines at Dawlish in southwest England, resulting in the closure of the rail line for several months, severing rail transport links between Cornwall and west Devon from the rest of Britain.

Destination Rail

The Destination Rail project has developed a multi-asset Decision Support Tool (DST) in conjunction with infrastructure managers.

Novel techniques for identifying, analysing and remediating critical rail infrastructure have been developed and implemented into the DST, which allows rail infrastructure managers to make rational investment choices, based on reliable data.

The main objective of the project was to support safer, reliable and efficient rail infrastructure, which has been achieved through a holistic management tool based on the FACT principle as follows:
Find – Improved techniques for the assessment of existing rail assets have been developed;
Analyse – Advanced probabilistic models fed by performance statistics and using databases controlled by an information management system have been used to determine the level of safety of individual rail assets;
Classify – The performance models allow a step-change in risk assessment, moving from the current subjective (qualitative) basis to a more reliable assessment approach based on quantitative data;
Treat – Novel and innovative maintenance and construction techniques for treating rail infrastructure including tracks, earthworks and structures have been developed.

Further information, including all project outputs, is available at www.destinationrail.eu.


The GoSAFE RAIL project is also contributing towards improved asset management and, consequently, improved safety in the rail sector. The project brings together multi-disciplinary experts, including civil engineers, traffic modellers, data scientists and rail infrastructure owners to develop innovative methods of safety and transport reliability assessment for the rail sector.

The direct involvement of rail infrastructure managers in the project ensures access to operational data. The GoSAFE RAIL project forms part of the Shift2Rail initiative funded by the European Commission (see www.shift2rail.org), which provides access to demonstration sites that can be used to test and validate the novel methodologies developed in the project.

The main novelty of the GoSAFE RAIL project is the investigation of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for railway infrastructure safety management. The European rail transport infrastructure network represents a complex adaptive system.

One of the features of complex systems is that they can learn from their performance and improve; an evolutionary capability that has been exploited to manage complex systems in the space, healthcare, energy and financial services sectors.

The GoSAFE RAIL project is pioneering the use of AI to provide integrated solutions to issues relating to infrastructure safety and planning faced by EU rail managers. To date, this learning capability has not been considered in the rail sector, rather knowledge is accumulated mostly in hindcasting and forensic analyses of failures.

As a result, critical safety, operational and investment decisions are made on a subjective basis and are based on an over-reliance on individual experience and know-how. The GoSAFE RAIL project aims to transform this aspect of the rail sector.

Further information is available at www.gosaferail.eu.


To support reliable decision making based on quantitative data, the SAFE-10-T project is developing a global risk framework. This framework will form the basis of an online tool to support decision-making in relation to the management of transport infrastructure along the European TEN-T network.

The DST will consider the multi-modality of road, rail and inland waterway networks in terms of transport disruption due to asset failures.

End users will be able to assess the impact of interventions for infrastructure assets, including bridges, tunnels and earthworks and novel machine learning applications are being developed both at asset and network levels to provide real-time safety assessments for critical infrastructure assets.

The targeted end users are government authorities and infrastructure owners that will use the tool to make strategic investment decisions regarding transport infrastructure.

This research directly aligns with the objective of the European Union to increase safety levels across all transport modes, recognising that budgets are limited and that there are growing demands on infrastructure assets arising from increasing traffic levels and more frequent extreme weather events due to climate change.

The project will exploit the increase in the availability of asset monitoring data, arising from recent developments in remote monitoring technologies through the development of novel algorithms that enable infrastructure assets to become ‘smart’ by communicating their current condition.

To do so, novel machine learning applications will be developed that use remotely monitored data to provide advanced real-time safety assessments of critical transport infrastructure assets.

The ultimate objective of the SAFE-10-T project is to take advantage of the proliferation of transport network data currently available (through linked open data sources, smartphones, advanced vehicles and so on) by implementing data analytic techniques that support transport infrastructure safety management.

Further information is available at www.safe10tproject.eu.

Summary and next steps

GDG is in the process of completing a five-year research programme that encompasses three European Commission funded projects. These research projects have developed state-of-the-art engineering and risk management tools for the transport sector using novel approaches including machine learning and AI.

These methodologies have been applied to various pilot projects across Europe and have shown to offer significant improvements to network resilience while simultaneously reducing operational expenditure.

The next step involves applying these tools to a wide range of regional and national networks and rolling out these novel techniques on a worldwide basis to improve how transport infrastructure is managed.

Moving to a scientific and risk-based framework is essential given the rapidly changing worldwide conditions –which includes population growth, climate change impact, and huge advances in technology.

These changes present both challenges and opportunities, some of which have been captured in the three research projects described in this article.

About GDG

Gavin and Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) is a specialist engineering consultancy that offers innovative civil engineering solutions within its core sectors, particularly in the area of risk management. GDG delivers these solutions through a team of 50 experts located throughout Ireland and the UK.

Recent transport infrastructure failure events around the world have highlighted the vulnerability of society to ageing assets and the impacts of increasing extreme weather events on transport networks. GDG is helping to solve these challenges through its R&D team based in Dublin.

The company has an extensive R&D track record, having participated in numerous EU and nationally funded research projects that have developed state-of-the-art solutions.

Authors: Julie Clarke, head of research, development and innovation at GDG and Paul Doherty, managing director

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/a-aaaaarail.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/a-aaaaarail-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanCivilclimate change,Horizon,infrastructure,transport
Julie Clarke and Paul Doherty of Irish engineering consultancy Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) summarise the work undertaken by GDG through three significant research initiatives that focus on railway infrastructure management. GDG acted as co-ordinator for three research projects funded by the European Commission under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research...