Resilience of National Transport Networks to Flood-induced Bridge Failures

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Disruption to the transport network that connects the UK's urban areas - enabling the flows of good and services between them - has significant implications for people's safety and the economy. Recent extreme weather events have exposed the vulnerability of this network to flood damage and challenged emergency services during floods, leading to direct economic impacts, long-term disruption to communities, and cascading disruption to other infrastructure services that rely on the integrity of the transport network. Many of the strategic links have been built without any particular flooding protection criteria, and their frequency of use has outstripped their design specification.

A particular problem, and focus of this research, is the vulnerability of bridges. In 2009 the Cumbria region suffered £3m in repair and replacement costs due to the collapse or severe damage of 29 bridges, however the economic and societal costs were significantly larger (e.g. the increased travel time was estimated to cost businesses as much as £2m per week). Understanding the risks associated with the failure or limited serviceability of bridges is a key priority identified in the National Flood Resilience Review and in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. Whilst monitoring and structural analysis can help identify bridges that are susceptible to failure, it is also necessary to understand the implications of their failure on the wider transport network to enable risk-based decision-making and prioritisation of limited funds for maintenance and enhancing national resilience.

This fellowship proposal will address this crucial priority, through the development of a novel national, and more detailed regional, assessment model for bridge failures from high river flows. By working with key stakeholders the regional and national model will be co-designed to enable it to be used independently by these organisations to support their decision-making. The work contributes to the LWEC vision by addressing two themes: (1) UK cities system as a system of interconnected cities: (2) environmental risk to networks and understanding of the potential and implications of failure at national level. Moreover, it supports the EPSRC 'Resilient Nation' Prosperity Outcome by delve into robust functioning of complex infrastructures.

The fellowship will also provide the springboard to accelerate my academic career and develop an independent research direction. The work will be conducted at Newcastle University, where there is a diverse portfolio of RCUK funded pioneering research on infrastructure and flooding, providing the ideal research environment for this fellowship. Secondments to leading international research institutions will provide a broader perspective and build my network of collaborators.

Planned Impact

The UK extensively suffers from widespread disruptions and losses (£1.3bn in 2013/14 and £1.6bn in 2015/16) due to floods. Flood damages are projected to increase up to £27bn by 2080 due to the aging of assets and more severe weather events. This evidence illustrates the need to re-think infrastructure and to support the near future of our cities through resilient national measures against extreme events, including a broader range of changes and policy responses.

By developing an integrated assessment at regional and national scale of bridge vulnerabilities, this fellowship programme is central to the LWEC themes, and the innovation brought by the proposed research could not been timelier. In fact, this fellowship will (i) enable the UK to maintain its national and international leadership in infrastructure and climate resilience by providing world-leading skills to UK engineering consultancies; (ii) provide useful insights for the EPSRC 'Resilient Nation' Prosperity Outcome; and (iii) provide important contributions for the UK's Committee on Climate Change assessments.

The policy relevance and engineering legitimacy of this research is ensured by the end users, which include: (1) infrastructure operators and urban planners; (2) industries and business; (3) investors and insurers; (4) local governments. Whilst facilitating rapid uptake into engineering practise is considered a main priority, the research would ultimately inform non-specialists about societal and economic aspects. Appropriate communication and impact channels have been identified to guarantee that each audience is reached in an effective way, alongside a dedicated budget. A final showcase for all involved stakeholders, academic and authorities will present the major achievements of the 3-year research programme.

The proposed research will find its path towards impact on society through 3 Impact Priorities (IP).

IP1 targets to engender research excellence in flooding risk assessment for transport networks within the academic community, by delivering a programme that will be (i) unique in the capacity it provides for long-term quantitative appraisal of flooding infrastructure, and (ii) internationally leading in the capacity it provides for analysis of flood vulnerability, risk and resilience analysis.

IP2 targets industry and practitioners through close collaboration, to ensure impact on practise in key sectors of growth and on policy decisions on the horizon. This will accelerate the integration, demonstration and application of the research to address major cross-cutting research issues.

IP3 targets fostering public understanding and advocacy of transport infrastructure resilience to support flooding risk awareness and disseminate societal-relevant recommendations (e.g. why to invest into infrastructure). It will be sought from partners and social science agencies of my network to translate the research advancements in useful information for individuals and community groups (e.g. Cumbria Community Foundation).

The outputs of this project will enable a proactive approach to be used in a range of studies by the broad academic community. The objectives set in this proposal will fill a substantial gap in current flood risk management, and the proposed methodology of bridge assessment will change existing approaches of urban transport analysis. The research aims to be qualified within the next generation of tools to support analysis and adaptation of infrastructure to flooding, extending far beyond the duration of the fellowship and becoming a critical reference in the state-of-the-art of infrastructure literature.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/R00742X/1 01/03/2018 31/10/2018 £272,639
EP/R00742X/2 Transfer EP/R00742X/1 01/11/2018 30/11/2021 £226,452
Description The current unavailability of high-quality data for bridges and the consequent lack of understanding of bridge performance jeopardise bridge safety, and hinder the ability to prioritise resources. The UK, as for many other countries, should not take bridge safety for granted and should take precautionary preventative action for defining a new programme for bridges at risk of floods.
Within a risk-based approach, being aware of the exposure condition (i.e. assets) is fundamental to control and manage local and national infrastructure threatened by natural hazards. Currently, bridges are managed by a range of authorities and their in-house systems have different degrees of sophistication and methods, preventing the possibility of drawing a clear and coherent picture across the country. There is a consensus in advancing a consistent methodology, and a formal procedure, for conforming information, aiming at better analysis and assessment. In particular, the creation of a national bridge database would enable the meaningful identification and comparison of risks to bridges across the country, building a deep knowledge of the national bridge stock.
This grant has so far developed a preliminary protocolled taxonomy for data collection of bridges, while illustrating the implication of a national bridge inventory in the UK. The national database could have the capability of being integrated with hydrological and transport models, providing advanced information for estimating failures and disruption.
Exploitation Route The study set the scene for a unified bridge database, and advocated the engagement of national authorities for developing a roadmap of policies leading to it.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Transport,Other

Description My findings are for up-take by authorities such as: Highways England, Lancashire County Council, Devon County Council, Network rail
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Construction,Environment,Transport,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Acknowledged and cited by McKinsey report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Contribution to the McKinsey Global Institute's report - the Granularity of Climate Change.The socio-economic risks from physical climate change were explored across geographies and sectors over the next ~10 years, in particular my work was cited to explain how infrastructure will be affected.
Description Co-author of the Climate Change Risk Assessment 3 report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Collaboration for POSTnote
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact Increased awareness of climate change and options for solutions (adaptation measures)
Description Invited by CIRIA for a webinar, 21.11.2019
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Improvement of resilience assessment and delivery for civil infrastructure like roads
Description Invited by Network Rail to the National Scour Meeting, 21-22.01.2020
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Improvement of scour and network assessment methods
Description Collaboration and secondment with the University of Washington 
Organisation University of Washington
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Applying computational Fluid Dynamics to riverine bridges at risk of flooding.
Collaborator Contribution They host me for three months during summer 2019. They provide two PhDs and two post-docs to work with me.
Impact Three conference papes submitted. One journal paper in preparation.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with Devon County Council 
Organisation Devon County Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Working together to improve the resilience of Devon road networks
Collaborator Contribution They provide problem-based input and data, plus time to assist in developing the work
Impact too early
Start Year 2020
Description Collaboration with Highways England 
Organisation Department of Transport
Department Highways Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Co-working to address the scour risk to bridges
Collaborator Contribution Organise meetings every 4 months, offer opportunity to contribute to manuals update, provide data
Impact too early
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with James fisher Testing 
Organisation James Fisher Testing
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working on a case study for riverine bridges at risk of flooding
Collaborator Contribution They have huge expertise in sensors and testing, and they provide the infrastructure for monitoring a bridge at risk of scour
Impact too early
Start Year 2020
Description Collaboration with Network Rail 
Organisation Network Rail Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working together on a case study of riverine bridges at risk of flooding (with James Fisher)
Collaborator Contribution They provide the physical structure and problem-based input
Impact too early
Start Year 2020
Description Collaboration with Polytechnic of Milan (POLIMI) 
Organisation Polytechnic University of Milan
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a review of risk-based methods for scour assessment
Collaborator Contribution 50% work on papers and pieces of research
Impact Conference paper submitted Journal paper in preparation
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with University of Florence 
Organisation University of Florence
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Applying my methods to Italian case study, and extending them with another type of infrastructure (e.g. water supply)
Collaborator Contribution 50% work on papers and pieces of research
Impact One journal paper Others in preparation
Start Year 2018