Global Landscape: Present systems and their safety mechanisms for the future

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Ehimare Ehon

Peat landscapes are generally associated with coal deposits and gas fumes. They form a considerable part of the landmass associated with swampy regions. Experts believe that as long as rail transport remains an important means of locomotion, the use of coal deposits would continue to be on the rise. This is expected to occur regardless of the developments in alternate technologies and power sources. The challenge however lies in the reduction in overall landmass to house these networks. Associated with ear-splitting noise during operation, people would be rather ebullient to learn that these networks can be assembled and developed in quiet areas such as the peaty landscapes. But how feasible is the emplacement of such systems within peaty landscapes? A number of options have been put forward for consideration by professionals to address the potential challenges associated with such environments.

One approach that has been opined as a method of navigating through peaty terrains involves the use of surface excavations. This method adopts a variety of assessment techniques ranging from laboratory tests on particle behavior to stability assessment tests (which could include simulations to evaluate structural impacts during aircraft incidents or train operational failure). This method is generally inexpensive as it involves the use of tests on small samples and incident analysis using simulations on software that are readily accessible at little or no costs.

This approach serves a dual purpose of creating a channel for rail network installation and the harvesting of peat deposits for their eventual packaging and marketing to consumers of the product. This allows for an overall reduction in costs in contrast to other methods that require that the operations be performed separately. As appealing as this method is, the drawback is that the presence of a fault on the surface could trigger series of movements that could hamper the overall excavation process and could constitute a safety hazard for workers operating within such terrains. Hence, an assessment team is generally required to view the area using a number of techniques (such as aerial photogrammetry) to evaluate and decide on the appropriate areas to excavate. The use of maps available within the relevant survey authorities could provide a pre-assessment of the fault patterns associated with the region where these peat bodies occur and assist in the decision of the optimal method to adopt in abating the effects of local anomalies as they are identified.

Another approach, which has gained popularity over the years and requires a great deal of geological knowledge is the tunneling method. Tunnels are hollow cuts made through the earth to assess the stability of the ground during projects as well as provide a means of access for underground operations. Tunnel designs are subjected to a number of scenarios before they are finally adopted since they are quite expensive (for small navigational tunnels, costs could exceed a company’s overall budget) and would usually requires some form of external financing for final development. Designs are assessed by experts ranging from test pilots to mining engineers on the ideal trajectory. This pathway should also mitigate environment impact. Further assessment by geotechnical engineers would also be important as tunnel networks are notorious for initiating faults within the earth during their development, thereby triggering incidents that range from over pressuring (and consequent soil failure) to fire incidents that could cause damage of unimaginable scale over a short period. Therefore, an adequate pre-planning, planning and post-plan schedule should be designed and communicated to all members of the relevant teams to prepare them. Since tunneling is usually a deep operation, gases (such as methane) are expected to be encountered during their development. A proper plan would also take into consideration, an outlet for this gas and provide channel for its transport and storage for future use.

One other method which is largely based on the combined use of specialists from various fields is the overground cable suspenders. In contrast to the other two, there is little or no destruction to the earth as operations are performed in an air-suspended manner for the most part. Suspension networks are generally imported into the area under consideration for installation. A number of specialists assess a variety of properties to identify ideal locations for the tasks before apertures are marked for drilling. With such considerations, the earth is generally left intact and challenges associated with fissures within the ground are avoided. Vibrations due to wind action and train activity could constitute a setback and create a possible scenario for overall system failure. Routine checks and tests would need to be performed in such areas to assess the probabilities that these vibrations could result in overall failure. Generation of vibration data charts should also be performed to predict regimes of suspender failure via time series analysis. The technical nature of this approach makes it a bit lengthy when compared to the preceding methods. The data generated should also be archived since they constitute an integral part of the suspension system history and can be referenced after a long time (even decades) of operation.

Although they are characterized by advantages and setbacks, a closer look at the features of these systems can form a basis for the development of safe transport platforms that would preserve the landscape.

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