Forth bridge

Earthworks: cutting slopes and embankments

We’re responsible for managing the infrastructure slopes that enable 20,000 miles of track to connect communities across the country.

We manage a portfolio of over 190,000 earthwork assets that include:

  • Embankments – a construction that allows railway lines to pass at an acceptable level and gradient over low lying ground.
  • Soil cuttings – an excavation that allows railway lines to pass at an acceptable level and gradient through the surrounding ground that is composed entirely or predominantly of soil.
  • Rock cuttings - an excavation that allows railway lines to pass at an acceptable level and gradient through the surrounding ground that is composed entirely or predominantly of rock.

Most of our infrastructure slopes are in excess of 150 years old and do not offer comparable levels of capability and resilience to modern engineered slopes.

Image 1: Soil nailing taking place to an embankment to increase the stability and prevent future deterioration

Image 2: Aerial view of a failure at Chipping Camden in Western route (now repaired)

Image 3: Sheet piling and re-profiled cutting slope following a failure on the Isle of Wight 

Image 4: Cutting slope failure contained by meshing preventing encroachment onto the track

Futureproofing our infrastructure

As a founding member of the UK Geotechnical Asset Owners' Forum we are recognised experts in earthworks asset management. We use a risk based policy for targeting important maintenance work (to drainage and vegetation) and capital investment, to strengthen slopes like those in Buckinghamshire. Our teams of specialist geotechnical engineers use examination data and monitoring results to determine the appropriate intervention at the right time, such as the works to this embankment in Streatham, south London.

Dealing with landslips

The vulnerability of our infrastructure slopes is often apparent after prolonged periods of wet weather or more intensive short duration rainfall events, when landslips can happen. Further information of what we’re doing to help prevent landslips and the delays they cause are covered in our delays explained section. Some of the recent emergency repair works we have carried out on the network following challenging weather include:

  • The stabilisation of a natural hillside at Eden Brow following extensive movement in 2016 which took over a year to repair before the line was reopened in March 2017
  • The repair of cuttings slopes at Farnley Haugh following a rapid catastrophic failure in 2015.
Failure at Hooley Cutting

Earthworks Technical Strategy

In June 2018 we published our earthworks technical strategy to articulate our priorities and key activities to enable continued long term improvements in safety performance.