Network Rail to deploy digital tech to upgrade Victorian tunnels

by Liam Turner
Inside a train tunnel

Network Rail has commissioned start-up HyperTunnel to test the use of digital twins, robotics, and 3D printing to provide non-disruptive tunnel construction, enlargement, and repair work.

Under the R&D contract, HyperTunnel – which specialises in tunnelling and underground construction technology – will deploy a suite of repair products and services that will be trialled for the maintenance and improvement of the UK’s regional railway infrastructure.

The trial includes approximately 650 tunnels built in the Victorian era.

According to Network Rail and HyperTunnel, project delivery is well underway, with the completion of a large-scale demonstrator due shortly.

UK-based HyperTunnel says it is developing new methods of tunnelling that enable faster progress, less risk, increased economic viability, and environmental considerations to be taken into account.

HyperTunnel is focussed on the application of technologies that have been proven in other industries, such as digital twins, robotics, 3D printing, and digital underground surveying.

‘Increasing levels of work’

David Castlo, network technical head (Mining and Tunnels) at Network Rail, said: “Our large portfolio of Victorian tunnels requires increasing levels of work to meet the needs of the railway network.

“However, we want to reduce the level of disruption to our passengers, so we are constantly searching for new approaches to enlarging or repairing tunnels that reduce the length of time a tunnel will be closed to trains.”

Patrick Lane-Nott, director of Engineering at HyperTunnel, added: “We are delighted that HyperTunnel’s application of the latest technologies will provide Network Rail with new methods of repairing and enlarging tunnels that see only very minimal tunnel closures.

“Details of our various unique methodologies are still largely under wraps.

“This collaboration will allow us to demonstrate more widely the time- and cost-saving benefits of our processes, as well as the safety and environmental advantages.”

HyperTunnel was devised by Steve Jordan and Jeremy Hammond in 2018, both with backgrounds in the energy sector.

Image: Toranote/Shutterstock


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