An engineer in Bath has been appointed to investigate the geology under the route of high-speed rail project HS2 as it is built.
Dr Kevin Briggs, who has taken up the post of senior research fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, will research the properties of the material underlying the route.
His findings will inform the design of the railway’s later phases further north, the University of Bath said.
The five-year partnership between HS2, Bath University and the Royal Academy of Engineering will see Dr Briggs focus on the properties of UK Jurassic-age mudstones, which are common across much of England and parts of Wales.
According to the university, UK mudstones were formed during the Jurassic and Triassic periods – between 150 million and 250 million years ago – when the area that is now between London and Birmingham was under a warm, tropical sea and much closer to the equator.
The study by Dr Briggs, who is also a lecturer in Bath’s department of architecture and civil engineering, will see a million soil and rock samples and tests collected over the five years.
The work is part of HS2 Ltd’s ground investigation programme for Phase One of the project.
The announcement comes days after new concerns emerged over the cost of HS2, just six months after its budget was increased.
It has been reported that two components of phase one between Birmingham and London could cost a total of £800million more than planned.
In September, transport chiefs announced the formal start of construction work on HS2, with the project expected to create 22,000 new jobs over the coming years.
Dr Briggs said: “This is an exciting opportunity to enhance our understanding of the detailed engineering properties of these older geologies.
“The Royal Academy Fellowship enables me to step back from my day job at the University of Bath and devote five years to examining the engineering properties of material underlying the HS2 route to provide a legacy of learning from the programme for the benefit of future generations.”
A large Jurassic mudstone, which is 15 metres deep, has already been excavated in Boddington, Warwickshire, in advance of the project.
The site was prepared by EKFB, the lead civil engineer for HS2 north of the Chilterns to south of Kenilworth.
The work involved almost a quarter of a million tonnes of material being excavated over three months, which is being stored and will later be reused along the railway.
According to Nick Sartain, HS2’s head of geotechnical engineering, the benefits of the study of the mudstones will be “far reaching”.
He said a greater understanding of mudstones’ engineering properties would enable a “more economic design” across large parts of the railway.
“For example, it may allow engineers to reduce the quantity of concrete in foundations or the overall volumes of excavations,” he said.
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“This will also have environmental benefits, including reducing the carbon footprint of HS2’s construction through savings in construction materials, lorry movements and fuels.
“As mudstones occur across much of England and Wales, as well as oversees, the knowledge gained from Dr Briggs’ work will not only inform HS2’s design but also the future design and construction of buildings and infrastructure in many UK locations and beyond.”
Earlier in October plans to integrate HS2 with the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project took a big step forward, with a consultation launched over key changes to the North West section of the project.
Phase One of HS2 is a line that will run between Birmingham and London and will comprise two new stations in the capital alongside sites in Birmingham city centre and Solihull.
The latter, to be called Interchange and built on land east of Birmingham Airport, received planning consent in August.