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Geotechnical Risk Management for transport infrastructure innovation

Mobility is the backbone of modern economies, making the links between the different stages of production chains and allowing service industries to reach their clients, as well as being a significant employer in its own right. Economic growth and prosperity cannot be achieved without the interconnectivity and easy mobility afforded by our transport networks.

However, as observed in the 2001 Policy White Paper[1], there is a permanent contradiction between society which demands ever more mobility, and public opinion which is becoming increasingly intolerant of chronic delays and poor quality transport services. Thus one of the greatest challenges for modern societies is continuously providing a safe, secure, efficient, sustainable and affordable transportation network for people and goods.


Road damaged by landslide at E6, Munkedal, Sweden (photo SGI)


The required (physical) infrastructure and hubs of a transportation network are all either built on or below the subsurface, and often use the subsoil (e.g. sand, gravel) as building material. Logically, the subsoil plays a critical role both in the design and building phase as well as during the maintenance phase of all transportation infrastructure modes.

As part of its mission statement, ELGIP aims to show how geotechnical engineering plays a role in solving the prominent (European) societal challenges concerning the field of design, building and maintenance of transport infrastructures. Essentially, to shows how geotechnical knowledge may boost international competitiveness.


In 2015 a first step was taken by the formulation of ELGIP Vision Document ‘Reduction of geotechnical uncertainties for infrastructure’ which led to the following objectives:




Guiding objective


Failure frequency, e.g. due to man-made and natural disasters



Delay duration due to infrastructure repair, maintenance, reconstruction



Fatalities and severe injuries due to man-made and natural disasters




Travel time of persons / goods



Total Cost of Ownership



Land use for infrastructure network



Use of raw materials



Use of secondary materials


ELGIP objectives for future risk management-driven transport infrastructure (re)design and operation

The outline of this ELGIP Vision Document was presented (see following presentation) at the ECCREDI meeting of January 21st , 2016 in Brussels.

With the Vision Document ELGIP illustrate that innovations in geotechnical engineering – aiming at highly optimised, risk management-driven geotechnical (re)design, maintenance and operation – will have a significant positive impact on the availability, affordability and sustainability of transport infrastructure networks.


Wash-out of road and railway embankment at Ånn, Sweden (photo SGI)


Innovations in geotechnical engineering will enable society to build a solid foundation under its future mobility!


Explanation “Available transport infrastructure”
When transport systems are efficient, they provide economic and social opportunities that result in positive multipliers effects such as better accessibility to markets, employment and additional investments. However, when transport systems are deficient in terms of capacity or reliability (and thus not available), they can have an economic cost such as reduced or missed opportunities and lower quality of life.

By decreasing uncertainties of subsurface and of natural materials through innovations in geotechnical engineering, significant gains may be achieved for the availability of transport infrastructures. Improvements in geotechnical risk management and monitoring will lead to less conservative (observation-based) design and construction. Moreover, better understanding of (local) subsoil behavior and soil-structure interaction enable more efficient and timely maintenance strategies and less disruptive maintenance techniques.

Explanation “Affordable transport infrastructure”

The affordability of transport infrastructure network is clearly linked to a reduction of its life cycle costs. This includes extending the life span of existing infrastructure and increasing its resilience. Additionally, new infrastructure needs to be more robust to maintain its long term functionality under changing conditions.

Knowing that at least one-third of infrastructure failure costs are subsoil-related, innovations in geotechnical will have a significant impact on the affordability of infrastructure. These cover, amongst others, the development of reliable early warning systems for parts of the network vulnerable to hazards and methods to assess the condition of existing geotechnical structure (e.g. embankments and slopes).

Explanation “Sustainable transport infrastructure”

In the light of societal challenges, mobility of people and goods requires a sustainable transport infrastructure network. It demands less congestion, less travel time, less delay, less downtime of vital structures (i.e. bridges, tunnels, and railways) and minimal environmental impact.

Innovations in geotechnical engineering boost a sustainable mobility through higher utility value of (existing) transport infrastructure, while at the same time a lower energy demand, lower raw material inputs and a lower need of new plots of land are required. It enables a sustainable transport infrastructure network that supplies (geothermal) energy and reduces health and safety risks during natural disasters, accidents and unwanted events.

[1] COM(2001) 370 final, WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decide, Brussels, 12.9.2001;

Updated by Frank PH Engering, 21/11/2016
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