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To ensure that road and rail transport networks remain operational, both highway and railway embankments require continual maintenance and renewal to mitigate against ongoing deterioration and repair any sections damaged by realised failures. This paper provides a review of recent developments in the understanding of highway and railway embankment degradation and failure. Failures due to pore water pressure increase, seasonal shrink-swell deformation and progressive failure are considered. The material composition and construction of highway and railway embankments differ, which influences the dominant type and timing of embankment failure. There is evidence for highway embankment failures induced by pore water pressure increase, but not seasonal deformation and progressive failure. Some railway embankments are susceptible to pore water pressure increase, seasonal shrink-swell deformation and progressive failure due to the age and nature of the dumped clay fill used in their construction. The approaches used to measure and explore embankment failure mechanisms are compared and discussed. Field observations have been used to understand pore water pressure increase and seasonal shrink-swell deformation in embankments, while the investigation of progressive embankment failure has mainly utilised physical and numerical modelling approaches. Further field and laboratory investigation is required before the rigorous analysis of embankment failure can be routinely undertaken. However, progress is being made to empirically identify and evaluate the various risk factors affecting transport infrastructure embankment failure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-117
JournalEngineering Geology
Early online date2 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2017


  • Embankments; Railway; Highway; Failure; Shrink-swell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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