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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

According to an investigation by the RAC Foundation the number of substandard road bridges in Britain has risen 35 per cent to 3,203 in just two years. The resulting cost of clearing the backlog of work associated with the deterioration of the country’s bridge stock is estimated to be £3.9 billion.

May 15 newsletter St Ives Bridge


However, the survey of local authority highway bridge teams by the RAC Foundation and ADEPT (the Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport), and data obtained from organisations responsible for national roads and bridges across England, Scotland and Wales, reports authorities are spending an eighth of that figure per year maintaining their bridge portfolios.

In an article highlighting the report, industry publication Infrastructure Intelligence  brings attention to “growing concern over a chronic lack of funding for local authorities' bridge repairs” and quotes Liz Kirkham, chair of the ADEPT Bridges Group, who relates the problem to a skills shortage and wider effects: “The problem is only compounded by the skills shortage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), which is having a serious impact across all engineering and manufacturing sectors. A growing number of substandard and restricted bridges that are not adequately maintained affect journey times and for rural communities in particular have an economic impact, creating barriers to growth." 

CSIC is working with industry partners and organisations to transform infrastructure and construction through smarter information and technology and establish the UK as a global leader in Smart Infrastructure. CSIC’s well-received paper, Promoting Adoption of Smart Infrastructure Solutions in the Transport Sector, that makes recommendations to the Department for Transport (DfT) Chief Scientific Advisor, acknowledges:

• the need to make use of the UK’s existing ageing infrastructure more efficiently

• the challenge of applying a coherent national strategy to maintenance of our transport assets, including bridges, which are managed locally while contemporary records of them are held corporately

• the skill-sets needed to manage infrastructure are changing.

CSIC is working collaboratively to apply ‘Smart’ to improve the asset management and maintenance of bridges. Current projects include:

Bridge prioritisation maintenance tool

CSIC’s deployment of fibre optic sensing to monitor masonry arch bridges has resulted in new insights into the behaviour of this type of structure and could provide a simple and affordable method to identify structural damage. Working with Industry Partner Network Rail, CSIC has been monitoring an operational Victorian viaduct in Leeds. The objective is to better understand the dynamic response of the viaduct to rail traffic and identify the mechanisms that drive its degradation, to inform maintenance and long-term asset management. The viaduct is one of around 40,0001 masonry arch bridges that form an integral part of the UK’s road, rail and waterway infrastructure.

The dynamic response, measured while trains pass over the viaduct, was monitored on two adjacent spans of the viaduct using a Fibre Bragg Grating (FBG) sensing system marking, to our knowledge, the first deployment of FBG sensors in a masonry viaduct worldwide. Evaluation of the resulting fibre strain data was made possible with a novel non-contact videogrammetry solution, provided by video-based, non-contact precision measurement specialists, Imetrum. The results demonstrated excellent agreement and highlighted the ability of fibre optic cables to detect very small strains to illustrate the flow of forces inside the structure.  Laser scanners were used to create a 3-D model of the underside of the arch to measure how the structure has deformed over time.  The analysis of the deformed geometry from these models has enabled CSIC researchers to quantify the critical movements experienced by the structure in the past. An understanding of these movements has also helped develop a better understanding of the dynamic response of the viaduct to rail loads as it is also influenced by this existing damage.

This novel approach to monitoring and data analysis allows more accurate and value-driven evaluation of the effectiveness of potential intervention techniques and will better inform maintenance programmes. CSIC researchers are now aiming to apply the understanding of the response of this particular bridge to other similar viaducts and also plan to explore critical engineering issues including the influence of increasing train speed and the angle of bridge skew on the dynamic response of arch bridges.  

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