Cowi to help develop automated tunnel inspections

7 October 2020

Infrastructure consultancy Cowi has won a contract to help develop new, automated tunnel examination techniques which are hoped will improve safety, accuracy and efficiency.

The £500,000 Network Rail contract is funded through the competition ‘Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI): innovation in automated tunnel examination’ managed by Innovate UK. The competition closed in November 2019 and was open to firms of all sizes from the UK, EU, EEA, USA and Canada.

Over the next 18 months, Cowi will work with subcontractors Railview and Viapontica to combine machine learning and novel subsurface defect detection using existing virtual inspection tools such as those used for bridges. The aim is to see how improved automation, increased repeatability and reproducibility of data can all combine to reduce the need for manual tunnel examinations.

The project team will build an accurate 3D model of a tunnel from the processing of mobile mapping solutions and data collection technologies. Engineers will be able to view and exploit the model, which may be a digital twin.

Cowi claims that the new techniques will reduce health and safety risks and lower costs while enhancing the asset knowledge of rail staff. The improvements should also reduce the disruptive possessions usually needed for examinations and maintenance, thereby leading to less passenger disruption.

Andy Sloan, Managing Director/Senior Vice President of Cowi in the UK, said: “The impact that digital technologies can have on health and safety cannot be understated and this project is a fantastic opportunity for us to bring best practice from across sectors and geographies to further digitalise and improve tunnel inspection.”

Once the study’s results have been evaluated by Network Rail asset managers, Cowi will submit its report in late 2021 and make further plans for development and utilisation.