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Durham University

Department of Engineering


Transport Africa Project Research by Durham Engineers

(23 August 2019)

Professor David Toll in the Department of Engineering is leading important research which is part of Transport Africa project, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. Durham’s engineers are working with partners in Africa to find ways to use cheaper and more sustainable local materials to build all-weather, low-traffic roads and railway lines.

This has significant impact because poor transport is one of the main barriers to investment and growth in Africa.

Good roads provide a lifeline for people in rural areas for trade, mobility and access to education and health services. This helps to reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of people living in these areas. Our researchers are looking at how locally available soil materials can be used successfully in road and rail construction.

However, these local materials are more sensitive to water movement than those traditionally used to build roads or railbeds that lie underneath railway tracks.

This means our research has to identify how these materials react when they get wet or dry out and which are suitable for use in a changing climate.

To do this, sensors have been installed to see how much rainwater penetrates roads and railway embankments in Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa, and how the material might change as a result.

Using data from the sensors, the team will create a computer model to test the impact of future changes in climate on materials used to build transport links.

This is vital as roads and railways built now will still be in use in 50 to 100 years’ time when the climate might be very different.

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