Phase 3 (2015-2020)

Photo courtesy of H. Gillen

Overview of the Program

Building on the research of Phase I and Phase II, the specific research objectives of Phase III were to: (1) quantify the economic risk associated with ground hazards in terms of economic impact on national and industry levels; (2) investigate the impact of an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events; (3) develop change detection and hazard monitoring technology for larger scale applications; and (4) evaluate the efforts being made in risk mitigation and remediation efforts being implemented as a result of the RGHRP’s continued research. The research findings have been communicated in journal articles, conference papers, theses and technical reports (please see Publications).

The results of this research inform and contribute to necessary improvements to infrastructure over the next couple of decades. This will increase the reliability and resiliency of Canada’s railway networks and enable industry operations/infrastructure to adapt to new rail traffic requirements and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. The discoveries and technical developments were shared with members of the RGHRP, regulatory agencies, and invited guests through publications and annual workshops. The dissemination of results to the wider technical community and the training of HQP to solve real world engineering problems are essential elements of this program.

Theme 1: Economic Risk Quantification

The reduction of the resiliency/the ability of the railway network to move backlogged freight after the interruption of traffic flow has increased the sensitivity of railway operations to track outages. This has led to an increase in the economic impacts of ground hazard events. To achieve a comprehensive risk analysis methodology that initiates real investment to mitigate the impact of ground hazards on the operations of the railways, the economic risks of the larger scale ground hazards need to be considered. Transport Canada has developed a database of the movements of intermodal containers through the transportation system (CN, CP and Transport Canada have agreed to grant the University of Alberta access to this database).

The research focused on the quantification of the effect of track outages on the wider railway network and adopts an economic metric for the consequences of ground hazards. Sections of CPR and CN railway were selected for risk assessment based on the ground hazards present along its alignment. This risk analysis method was tested for short sections of railway and for subdivision-long (hundreds of kilometres) sections of railway. The length of the section determined the level of detail of the risk assessment. The final output included the methodology and example applications. The risk levels and assessments are presented as thematic maps generated with the aid of GIS to increase the accessibility of the results and to aid in decision-making. This method, in turn, can be used as a model for other situations requiring risk analysis such as highways and pipelines. The key research objectives for this theme included:

    1. Evaluating the Transport Canada database of freight movement within the Canadian rail transportation system;

    2. Quantifying the effects of known major track outages (loss of capacity and time); and

    3. Adopting an economic metric and map distribution system for track outages caused by ground hazards.

Theme 2: Extreme Weather Events

Recently, the impact of ground hazards has been associated with severe weather events that trigger multiple ground hazards. The 2013 Alberta floods are a prime example of this. CPR’s mainline track runs from Calgary through Banff. The flooding triggered a multitude of ground hazard events that directly impacted the rail line, including debris flows, slope failures and washouts of track. Individually, these ground hazards would have been managed with minimal impact to operations. Collectively, these ground hazards presented a crisis. The key research objectives for this theme included:

    1. Conducting an inventory of ground hazards and earthwork failures triggered by the 2013 southern Alberta floods and their impact on the CPR in order to conduct a failure mode and effect analysis; and

    2. Evaluating ground hazard conditions that railway structures were designed to resist; developing thematic maps of the susceptibility of railway infrastructure to failure during severe weather; and assessing the resiliency of the railway network to severe weather events.

Theme 3: Change Detection and Hazard Identification

During Phase II, pilot studies for the use of LiDAR, InSAR and photogrammetric technologies were conducted on several known hazardous areas in northern Ontario and B.C. The use of LiDAR and photogrammetric analysis was very successful in demonstrating the utility of these technologies for monitoring changes in the terrain. The analysis of sequential 3D LiDAR and photogrammetric slope models has recorded several distinct failure processes, delineated incipient failures and has identified several locations at which failure appears imminent. The wide application of aerial- or space-based change detection technologies has the potential to detect and monitor ground hazards not visible during routine inspections. These technologies and methods show promise for inclusion in railway rock engineering and slope assessments, particularly for inaccessible locations.

The research in this theme further developed, tested and optimized the methodology for including remotely sensed data into a formal system to identify, characterize and monitor hazardous natural slopes. This involved an expansion of our understanding of how best to apply space borne, aerial and terrestrial remote sensing techniques to complex slopes, and various ground hazard types, for the purposes of identifying, characterizing, rating and monitoring hazardous locations. The optimization of the methodology focused on identifying the characteristics of each failure modes and the effect of the complex nature of the slopes. The key research objectives for this theme included:

    1. Reviewing the space borne, aerial and terrestrial remote sensing techniques’ ability to detect changes on complex slope in order to develop and apply the best method for identifying, characterizing, rating and monitoring complex slopes;

    2. Investigating ground hazard conditions for various geological areas in eastern and western Canada, then analyzing the factors for hazardous rock slope failures and the influence of predictable weather-climate cycles;

    3. Verifying and validating the natural slope monitoring system based on the methods developed by high quality personnel (HQP), and evaluating the applications, impacts and improvements to the railway network;

    4. Validating the use of remotely sensed aerial slope data as input for a formal system using quantitative change detection methods and identifying the optimal applications of remote sensing/change detection techniques for the railway network; and

    5. Investigating optimal applications for remote sensing/change detection techniques for different slope failure models and evaluating failure modelling approaches to support the rating/monitoring of natural slopes.

Theme 4: Effectiveness of Risk Remediation and Mitigation

The understanding and quantification of risks is only useful if it helps determine how best to reduce these risks. The development and application of new hazard monitoring technologies and remediation methods through the RGHRP has been very successful. New techniques have been identified and tested in both the laboratory and in the field. Regulatory partners have provided the context for broader scale implementation. The key research objectives in this theme included:

    1. Reviewing remediation methods for stabilizing and reinforcing embankments constructed on soft soils and analyzing data sets resulting from the geotechnical instrumentation to determine the effectiveness of piles;

    2. Correlating rates of rockfalls to the rates of precipitation aggregated on monthly and yearly time scales and evaluating the effect of large scale weather events on the rate of rockfall occurrence;

    3. Synthesizing findings from Thompson River valley studies, conducting spatial analysis of hazard posed by the slopes and estimating the range and spatial distribution of hazard in terms of economic impact;

    4. Supervising field programs and provide addition supervision of HQP, evaluating the effectiveness of inspection methods currently implemented on tracks, and developing an understanding of the current level of risks accepted by the railway industry;

    5. Evaluating triggering factors for large scale rock slope failures and determining how predictable these events are and on what scale; and

    6. Developing a model for an early warning system based on the identified precursor conditions and validating the model using historical and real time weather events and recorded rockfalls.