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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

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CSIC Annual Lecture calls for innovation in transport infrastructure

The CSIC Annual Lecture 2015 called for bold ideas and the need for change and innovation in transport infrastructure.

Delivered by Dr Keith Bowers, Principal Tunnel Engineer at London Underground, the lecture, titled London’s transport; infrastructure, value and the case for innovation presented a railway civil engineer’s perspective on innovation in the development of the Capital’s major transport infrastructure systems.

Following an introduction by Professor Robert Mair, Head of CSIC, Bowers explained Transport for London’s (TfL) task to keep London working and growing and to make life in the city better. But a rapidly growing population, expected to reach 10 million people by 2030, means achieving this goal is more challenging than ever.

London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world and a pioneer of engineering and design, which has been part of the Capital’s transport infrastructure for more than 150 years. The lecture presented the history of innovation that has shaped the development of London Underground, from Brunel’s tunnelling shield used in the excavation of the Thames Tunnel in 1825, to the advance in materials and methods that has allowed increasingly ambitious projects, including Crossrail’s now-completed tunnelling marathon, creating 26 miles of new 6.2m diameter rail tunnels under London along with many new stations.

“Making changes in civil infrastructure is not easy. There are barriers to overcome, including lack of time, money, a silo culture and an aversion to taking risks. In the tunnelling sector specifically, reliable assets are low risk so a business case for change, based on asset risk alone, may never justify investment. But if we challenge the established norm and change the focus from a traditional cost-based approach to realising value, the case for investment and innovation can be made,” said Bowers.

In a bid to overcome such challenges, London Underground and CSIC are working together to drive innovation into practice by applying world-class research to meet the needs of industry. During the recent re-development of some of London Underground stations and construction of Crossrail, a number of CSIC’s novel fibre optic and wireless sensor networks, including the award-wining, low-power, miniature UtterBerry sensors, and the photogrammetric CSattAR technology, have been deployed at live sites to monitor the performance of existing tunnel and station structures as well as new structures.

“London Underground and CSIC are well placed to drive innovation into transport infrastructure. Our combined skill set has substantial export potential to international markets where city metro systems are reaching the end of their design lifecycle and require the innovation, regeneration and development that London Underground continues to demonstrate,” said Bowers.

TfL has created a hub to invite engineers to innovate; the Technology Innovation Portal intends to focus thoughts and inspirations on the technological solutions to the challenges that we face and suggestions are welcome at

The third in CSIC’s series of annual lectures, London’s transport; infrastructure, value and the case for innovation attracted a full house of industry professionals, academics and government organisations including Innovate UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Knowledge Transfer Network. An exhibition presenting the latest emerging technologies developed by CSIC took place in the foyer of St Catharine’s College, the venue for the lecture.

A video of the CSIC 2015 Annual Lecture will be available soon.

Keith Bowers’ lecture forms the content of an article to appear in the leading industry digital and magazine publication Infrastructure Intelligence in August.