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Research project for rail that will better withstand heavy rain

February 23, 2023 – 12:26 pm

A year and a half after the flood of the century, there is still much work to be done. Rebuilding of several rail bridges and embankments on the badly damaged Ahr Valley route is proceeding at full speed.

Reaserach projekct: flood damages


Sarah Geißler

Head of
Marketing & Communications
DB Engineering & Consulting
EUREF-Campus 14
Torgauer Strasse 12-15
10829 Berlin

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DB Engineering & Consulting (DB E&C) is not only involved in the rebuilding efforts; it is also conducting research with the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management (IWW) at RWTH Aachen University to make rail more resilient in the face of extreme weather.

Over the next two years, solutions will be developed as part of a Federal Railway Authority research project to make rail more resistant to extreme weather conditions.

A flood of devastating proportions

The research project was prompted by the floods in July 2021, which caused devastating damage to infrastructure in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. In some parts of Germany, up to 150 liters of rain per square meter fell overnight from July 14 to 15, 2021. Most of the water fell in just a short window of 10 to 18 hours. Multiple regional Deutsche Bahn lines in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were heavily damaged by the flooding.

Deutsche Bahn has been conducting its extensive repair and rebuilding work in the regions affected by the flooding for the past year. The experts from DB E&C have helped in a number of ways, including by assessing damage in the flood areas, the restoration and repair of multiple railroad bridges and embankments in the Ahr Valley.

Using the ground-penetrating radar, it was possible to explore and visualize areas of damage and phenomena such as cavities in traffic routes and structures. The representation of the data in BIMmodels provided a solid point for future design work. From the as-built survey with TRACKORD – an on-site inspection app – it was possible to record the flood damage in real time and derive measures to upgrade the rail infrastructure as quickly as possible. In addition, the experts supported the damage assessment from the air with multicopters.

Research project: destroyed bridge due to flood
Destroyed bridge in the Ahr valley. Research project for rail to become more resistant to heavy rain

A noteworthy project for Strong Rail

Together with the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management (IWW) at RWTH Aachen University, the experts from DB E&C’s Environment & Geo Services unit are developing a concept that takes a comprehensive look at the current state of knowledge based on past heavy rainfall events.

In addition to numerical simulations, the concept includes expert interviews, which will provide information about current crisis management at the German and international level. These findings are of particular importance for the processing of the 2021 flood events.

The research project will also create a comprehensive, geo-referenced database (QGIS) of damage along the Eifel route and in the Ahr Valley, which will serve as a crucial foundation for developing improvement measures for disaster management. The focus will be on risk analysis, prevention and resilience.

Master plan for rail that can withstand heavy rain

Upon completion of the project, DB E&C will hand over a manual to the Federal Railway Authority containing proposed measures for developing a sustainable heavy rainfall preparedness concept for rail and an action plan developed based on it. The manual is essentially a master plan for a rail system that can better withstand heavy rain.

By participating in this research project, DB E&C, along with RWTH Aachen University, is making an important contribution to Strong Rail in Germany and is actively working to manage the impact of climate change.

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