European researchers collaborate to prevent risks to transport infrastructure

Posted 13 January, 2021

UCD researchers are helping to develop a new platform to anticipate, manage and mitigate natural risks to Europe's road and rail infrastructure networks along the Atlantic coast.

SIRMA (Strengthening Infrastructure Risk Management in the Atlantic Area) aims to significantly improve the resilience of such infrastructures, particularly in the face of climate change impacts.

The €2 million pan-European research project involves researchers and industry partners from the Atlantic Area, a group made up of Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and the UK.

Rail and road transport infrastructures play an essential role for socio-economic development across Europe.

However, the performance of these infrastructures is directly affected by extreme natural events and by the strong corrosion processes that result from proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

For example, the rail infrastructure in Ireland, is susceptible to flooding and scour, which can threaten its safety and serviceability, and southern European railroad tracks can be affected by temperature, leading to difficulties in maintenance and availability of service, increasing direct and indirect costs.

Also the construction of certain new rail routes, close to the sea, can be affected due to the progressive rise in sea levels.

SIRMA, due to be completed in 2022, is using a systematic risk-based prevention and management methodology to develop a real-time process to monitor the condition of transport infrastructure.

It will also focused on strengthening the interoperability of information systems in the Atlantic Area, taking into account the standardisation of data and the specifics of each country.

“Since natural hazards do not recognise borders and given the great heterogeneity of the infrastructures in each country, there was a need to establish transnational cooperation through this project,” said Associate Professor Vikram Pakrashi, Dynamical Systems and Risk Laboratory, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and a member of the SIRMA project team.

“SIRMA is particularly unique from the point of view that it takes a holistic view of the natural hazards of the combined transport assets and implements them to in-operation infrastructure systems through bespoke monitoring techniques.”

He added: “We have already created a real-time detection method for rail and road infrastructure systems which allows us to estimate the presence, location and extent of various types of damage and classify them in real-time.

“It establishes the idea of Structural Health Monitoring at the heart of decision-making process for built infrastructure assets.

“The long-term results of the SIRMA project will be to reduce the risk of extreme natural hazards in transport infrastructures, especially floods and fires. In this regard, the project embraces the digital future of transport infrastructure management.”

SIRMA, funded by the INTERREG Atlantic Area Programme, through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), involves researchers from the University of Minho (Portugal), University of Vigo (Spain), University of Nantes (France), The University of Birmingham, University of Surrey, Queen’s University Belfast, in addition to UCD and industry partners, AZVI, S.A., Infraestruturas de Portugal, S.A. alongside Irish Rail.

By: Staff Writers, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)