Mechanical and hydrological impacts of tree removal on a clay fill railway embankment

Joel Smethurst, Kevin Briggs, William Powrie, A Ridley, Derek Butcher

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Seasonal shrinkage and swelling of clay fill railway embankments can disturb the track geometry, resulting in train speed restrictions that disrupt normal operations. Such movements are exacerbated by vegetation, but reliable analytical descriptions of the effects of trees on embankment behaviour are not yet established. This paper presents and analyses the results of a field experiment, carried out on a heavily vegetated clay railway embankment to investigate quantitatively the influence of trees. After the first year of monitoring, the mature trees initially present on the upper two-thirds of the embankment slopes were removed. The field monitoring data are used to assess and understand the mechanisms of soil water content and pore water pressure changes before and after tree removal, and their influence on the vertical and lateral displacements of the embankment slopes. Removal of the vegetation stopped seasonal volume changes in the clay fill at the crest of the earthwork, but also resulted in the loss of the deep-seated suctions generally beneficial to embankment stability. The wider implications for the management of vegetation on embankment slopes are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-882
Number of pages14
Issue number11
Early online date13 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • embankments; monitoring; pore pressures; slopes; suction; vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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