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Novel integrated drainage assessment to improve rail safety and reduce operational costs

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Nichols
    Prof S Tait
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This exciting project presents an ideal opportunity for doctoral study at the interface between academia and industry. It will suit applicants with an interest in hydraulic modelling, sensor development, remote monitoring methods, or drainage system management. The successful candidate will have a strong desire to innovate and to conduct research that makes a significant difference to a key UK infrastructure system

Network Rail (NR) own and manage most of the rail infrastructure in the UK, including the complex drainage systems used to direct rainwater away from train tracks and other assets. Impaired drainage infrastructure can cause unexpected flooding, which presents inherent safety risks for staff and passengers, environmental concerns, and severe financial impacts.

The condition of drainage assets is currently assessed via trackside walks by Network Rail staff. A combination of modelling and intelligent instrumentation to monitor infrastructure presents the opportunity for drainage assessment to be conducted more effectively. The rail environment presents unusual challenges with dispersed interconnected systems, but also unusual opportunities for advanced automation, with mobile assets (trains) able to deploy monitoring solutions.

Thus the overall aim of the project is to test, critically review and develop remote drainage monitoring solutions and implement a pilot scale monitoring programme to demonstrate the potential for significant cost, safety and performance benefits.

Research objectives:
(a) Assess the capabilities of available and emerging technologies to identify high risk drainage assets and the potential for innovation
(b) Pilot a progressive monitoring strategy to enable flood warnings, under- capacity and trigger targeted maintenance
(c) Produce a framework for drainage monitoring and management that can be applied across the rail network.

Anticipated outcomes & benefits for the sponsoring organisation and other stakeholders :
The benefits of a more innovative way to manage NR’s drainage system would include:
• Safety – staff would not be required to go trackside in order to assess condition of critical drainage assets.
• Performance – the overall performance of the drainage system would be improved by having triggers / alarms to send maintenance staff to the correct location prior to flooding events. This would improve the reliability of our network and limit disruption to the travelling public.
• Reputation – relationship with neighbours would be improved as we could greatly reduce the number of flood events.
• Increased asset knowledge – asset engineers would have a better understanding of the drainage system due to more information available for advance analytics going forward.

Scientific Contribution and Innovative Aspects :
This project will produce a novel framework for the implementation of optimised monitoring strategies for drainage infrastructure. The framework would be of interest to the academic urban drainage community and to other drainage stakeholders such as water companies and local authorities. There is also the potential for the development of new sensor technologies (perhaps train-borne) and data infrastructure to address drainage needs.


Suitable for candidates holding or anticipating award of an MSc, or 1st/2.1 undergraduate degree in an Engineering or Numerical/Physical Sciences discipline. Candidates should have an enthusiasm for research and a wish to deploy their research outputs in a practical environment.

Funding Notes

UK or EU applicants: Fully funded PhD plus maintenance award (£17,553 pa in 2017/18 for FOUR years.


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