New rockfall catch fences to protect railways

Issued: Mon, 22 Oct 2018 18:09:00 BST

Researchers within the School of Engineering are working in collaboration with QTS, the UK’s leading rail contractor, to design rockfall catch fences to protect railways and improve passenger safety.

Falling rocks can lead to severe damages, casualties and significant delays within the railway service. Rockfall fences are widely used to protect railways and infrastructure from rockfall hazards. However, traditional fences are built based on experience and engineering judgements rather than design guidance.

Recognising the urgent need to improve the current design of catch fences, QTS is working with experts from the University to create a sophisticated 3D finite element model of boulder impact on catch fences.

Under the supervision of Dr Zhiwei Gao, Professor Simon Wheeler and Dr Trevor Davies, Dr Hassan Al-Budairi is working as Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate to help the company design new rockfall catch fences to provide a more efficient and cost-effective option for clients.

The KTP project has led to the design of two new rockfall catch fences. The basic design of the fences will replace the existing version currently used and is pending final approval for use on projects by Network Rail. The basic design will be used by QTS on future rail projects across Scotland, which are anticipated to involve the installation of more than 12 miles (£9.5M) of catch fences over the next five years. Throughout 2019, the Enhanced design catch fencing will undergo full impact testing with the expectation that QTS will issue a new design form to use in the field soon afterwards.

Following on from this successful project, Dr Gao received further funding from Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) to develop a Rockfall Monitoring System (RMS) to mitigate the occurrence of rock/train collisions and track blockages caused by rockfall debris by providing a real-time warning system for trains travelling into affected areas.

The RMS system will use photography to provide important information pertaining to rockfall incidents to allow planning and preparation in the event of an incident to minimise service disruption and reduce associated costs.

QTS is currently working in collaboration with an electronics-based manufacturer to finalise the hardware design of the RMS service for market and plan to launch the service by the end of 2019, initially in high-risk rail areas across the UK.

Andrew Steel, Operations Director – Nation Civils & Geotechnical within QTS, said: “Catch fence design is a detailed, technical process and we are delighted to be working with the University to develop our new system. Our involvement shows our dedication to innovation as we strive to continue to bridge the gap between academia and industry.”