Solving the Problem of Abandoned Utilities

Introduction

During a career spanning more than 30yrs’ within the construction, civil engineering, utilities and wider infrastructure sectors, our Utilities Manager Graeme Clarke has experienced countless occasions where abandoned and uncharted underground assets have caused delay and/ or cost overrun to projects he has been working on.

These uncharted assets are typically owned by utilities or telecoms companies, referred to as Statutory undertakers. These Statutory undertakers, along with their agencies and contractors, are given general licence to carry out installation, development and maintenance of their various networks within the highway’s environment.

To provide an example of the type of issues these uncharted assets can cause, while supporting construction of a new office block, the site team where undertaking trial holes prior to commencing piling activities and came across an unknown metallic pipe. Representatives for the Statutory undertakers had no knowledge of a metallic asset at this location and there was no sign of it on C2 utility records.

Eventually the decision was taken to pin drill the pipe in an attempt qualify the asset and it was then proven to be out of service. A further camera inspection proved the asset to be a length of water main that had been laid previously but had never been completed or commissioned due to change of land ownership and development plans.

Finding the uncharted asset caused the site team to stop all work due to the risk of working near to a live asset and as a result foundation installation activities experienced a 4-week delay. The time lost was never recovered within the schedule, causing a delay to project completion.

Collaborating to resolve the industry challenge

Having experienced the impact of this risk on projects of all shapes and sizes, D2’s Utilities Management team workshopped the issue and captured a workflow with the intention of developing an app to collect abandoned utilities data at source, from boots on the ground, in real time so that delays and cost overruns could be mitigated by rapid response.

Additional user requirements were also identified relating to documenting the steps taken to resolve abandoned utilities in a safe way and to do so in an easy-to-use format, avoiding issues around communication.

Having mapped out the workflow and captured user requirements, our team met Symterra at Highways UK 2022 and then embarked on a collaborative process of co-development, utilising Symterra’s software platform to bring the workflow to life in the app now known as PAUSE.

Added Value – PAUSE in action

The app was deployed by our team supporting the Transpennine Route Upgrade programme in July 2023. Today, around 30 Site Engineers working on the programme now have access to the PAUSE app with the ability to notify D2’s Utilities Management team immediately upon discovery.

PAUSE has so far delivered the following benefits:

  • It prompts and records safety assessment at each stage of the process, enabling prioritisation of unsafe assets.
  • Reducing potential delays between encountering the asset and booking a site visit for the utilities management team to then begin the asset identification process.
  • Minimising travel to site for the utilities management team, boosting productivity and reducing carbon impact.
  • Enabling clear and secure communication through the app captures everything in one place and avoids any miscommunications.
  • Supporting continuity of service, should a member of the team be overloaded or off work for any reason.

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