Public clients bemoan legacy-assets data gap

Public infrastructure clients have a limited picture of when ageing assets will need maintenance work, MPs have heard.

New infrastructure assets are built with data-monitoring systems, allowing easy identification of when an asset needs repairs, or when weather conditions will have an effect on safety.

But Network Rail and National Highways each told the told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on Wednesday (21 February) that they have had to commit substantial resources to understanding the state of assets from as long ago as the Victorian era.

Martin Frobisher, group engineering and safety director at Network Rail, said the work required “invest[ing] extra time and resource in mapping and surveying the network”.

“The biggest issue is old assets,” he told the panel. “When the Victorians built the railway, they put good drainage in over the years, [but] some of the records have got lost,” he said. That meant Network Rail has to “survey the whole network”.

National Highways chief data officer Davin Crowley-Sweet said the body faced the same challenge.

“These assets were installed a long time ago, many before digital data and systems existed,” he said.

“But we’re working with the likes of NUAR [National Underground Asset Register] as a means of collecting those datasets, especially the geographic ones that are available to us.”

Arcadis senior director Paul Watson added that the data systems used in the past were also a problem: “Part of what we suffer from is legacy assets and also legacy systems. Some of the older systems weren’t necessarily designed to get information out.”

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