Through a review of academic literature, reports and guidelines RSSB conducts knowledge searches on a wide variety of topics that then inform the scope and direction of possible research and innovation initiatives presented in a report. The “Geotechnics and Soil Management” report was published in 2018 and focuses on the effects of seasonal soil movement which can lead to problems such as track movement or deformation and landslips. The problem is most severe during period of very wet weather. We have updated the report to include cutting-edge techniques for monitoring soil movements.

If you are new to geotechnics

For those who are new to Geotechnics, the report provides a good introduction to the subject and its impact on the railway (see pages 1 -16). GB rail is particularly challenged by geotechnical issues as much of the infrastructure is over 150 years old and the soils it rests upon are subject to seasonal movement. 

The increase in the number of extreme weather events is likely to cause even more risks to railway earthwork assets. The potential for earthworks to be affected by these problems is largely influenced by its water content. This can lead to problems such as track movement or deformation and landslips. 

The report provides information on the soil types present in the UK and the most common soil movements. 

If you are already involved in this area

For those who are already familiar or involved with Geotechnics, this report provides various techniques—some currently in use and others experimental—which help monitor soil conditions to predict soil movements, and therefore, prevent accidents. 

The way earthwork maintenance is conducted at present, is limited to human visual inspections and low-resolution data. Also, due to the extent of the network, inspections tend to be done in sites already known to be at risk. 

A move to more proactive maintenance of earthworks is of interest to the rail industry. However, as rainfall and soil behaviour are hard to predict, remote condition monitoring techniques have the best potential for delivering this. Various reliability centred maintenance (RCM) techniques have been listed with the intention to inform decisions about the scope and direction of possible research and innovation initiatives to be undertaken in this area. 

The array of earthworks issues and technical challenges on the network means no single solution can universally improve soil management. Assessment models, predictive algorithms and decision support tools are available for track operators to decide which action to take when maintaining earthworks. Although many are still in early development stages, they have the potential to improve the networks’ ability to effectively and rapidly identify and stabilise failing earthworks. 

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The knowledge search is a non-expert review conducted by a team with expertise in gathering, structuring, analysing both qualitative and quantitative information, within this particular field of Geotechnic. We welcome feedback from Industry and experts in the relevant field. Please send your observations or addition information to