ACHILLES

Welcome to ACHILLES

This Programme Grant is funded by the EPSRC and forms a unique opportunity uniting 6 academic institutions (Newcastle, Loughborough, Durham, Southampton, Bath and Leeds) and the British Geological Survey, coalescing our field, laboratory and computing facilities. Combined with a large cohort of PhD students and an experienced stakeholder community in close collaboration as project partners, we undertake world-leading science and create a long-term legacy.

Long linear assets are fundamental to the delivery of critical services over long distances. Examples include road and railway embankments and cuttings, pipeline bedding, and flood protection structures. The focus of ACHILLES is on the geotechnical aspects of these assets.


Our long-term vision is for the UK’s infrastructure to deliver consistent, affordable and safe services, underpinned by intelligent design, management and maintenance.

Our previous research has shown that the deterioration of the geotechnical assets pose a risk to infrastructure. Our advances in research and technology are combined with design and asset management practices from different long linear assets to reduce these risks. Since deterioration of these assets is currently an industry priority, we will link into current, ongoing pan-industry projects and engage with the National Infrastructure Commission assessment method.

The functioning of infrastructure systems is dependent upon the ground beneath or around its assets (e.g. pylon, pipe or rail track). Tools to assess, monitor, design and repair the performance of the ground are fundamental.

ACHILLES will deliver these tools through three Research Challenges:

  1. Deterioration Processes
  2. Asset Performance
  3. Forecasting and Decision Support.

What are long-linear infrastructure assets?

Long Linear Assets (LLAs) are fundamental to the delivery of critical services over long distances (e.g. road & railway embankments and cuttings, pipeline bedding, flood protection structures). The focus of ACHILLES is on the geotechnical aspects of these assets.

Why is there a problem?

Infrastructure is fundamental to our economy and society. It is one of the ten pillars of the UK Industrial Strategy. Geotechnical LLAs are a major infrastructure component (e.g. earthworks) and fundamental to the delivery of critical services over long distances. Earthwork failures break links in these vital chains.

There are some 10,200 km of flood defences in the UK; 80,000 km of highways; 15,800 km of railways. Failure of these assets is common. For example, in 2015 there were 143 earthworks failures on the national rail network.

The resulting cost of failure is high. For example, for Network Rail, emergency repairs cost 10 times more than planned works, which cost 10 times more than regular maintenance. And vulnerability to these failures is significant; derailment from slope failure is the greatest infrastructure-related risk faced by our railways.

What are the main challenges?

At present the exact reasons for and timing of failure are poorly understood. Unanticipated failures cause severe disruption with associated high costs, and damage to reputation. Current approaches to address future failure based are largely based on past experience and this limits realistic extrapolation to future performance.

As the infrastructure becomes older its condition deteriorates. In addition, it is ever more intensively used and subject to increasingly extreme weather patterns. These factors combine to significantly increase the likelihood of future failures. Climate change has been identified as one of the dominant factors driving this change.

The challenge is to bring together new advances in research and technology with industry-led advances in design and asset management practice from different LLAs to reduce the risks posed to infrastructure systems from deterioration and future change. The research outcomes will inform timely commitment of resources to address these risks.

Who is ACHILLES working with?

It is an essential component of the Programme Grant to regularly engage with stakeholders. ACHILLES also benefits from intensive industrial collaborations.

The Programme Grant is supported by an International External Advisory Board and Industry-led Impact Advisory Group members, all of whom bring different and invaluable contributions to the research through their experience. The ACHILLES Programme Grant brings these contributions together and couples these with statistical advances to enable rigorous use of network data, and economics to assess the value of design, monitoring and mitigation options.

The  ACHILLES consortium has a strong core network of people and organisations through previous Research Council funded projects and national networks which investigated sustainable management and resilience of transport infrastructure. Examples of previous research of the consortium includes projects such as BIONICS, 2004-2009, CLIFFS, 2005-present, FUTURENET 2009-13 and iSMART 2013-17.

  • The BIONICS project led to the construction of a full-scale trial embankment representative of UK infrastructure. It has resulted in an extremely valuable database of embankment performance data.
  • The CLIFFS network enabled us to form an effective UK network of
    researchers and stakeholders in industry and academia who are interested in the potential effects of climate change on the stability of slopes.
  • The FUTURENET project enabled a multi-disciplinary evaluation of what the impacts on the transport infrastructure network might look like in the 2050s.
  • The iSMART project focused on developing a better understanding of the changes in condition of geotechnical assets.

ACHILLES contacts

For further information feel free to contact Prof Stephanie Glendinning, Dr Tom Dijkstra or Dr Richard Court.

Stephanie is the Principal Investigator of this Programme Grant.
Stephanie is a Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of Strategic Projects at the SAgE Faculty at Newcastle University.
e stephanie.glendinning@newcastle.ac.uk
t +44 191 208 5508

Tom is the Academic Programme Manager.
Tom is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Geology at Loughborough University.
e t.a.dijkstra@lboro.ac.uk
t +44 1509 226192

Richard is the Programme Manager and is based at Newcastle University.
e richard.court@newcastle.ac.uk
t +44 191 208 7411