Rail tracks often run through countryside areas, and across a variety of different terrains. These terrains are often not naturally good at draining surface water away from the tracks, so ditches are built alongside them. These ditches protect rail assets from large volumes of surface water, ensuring train services can operate safely.
Preventing potential flooding during heavy rainfall and ensuring water is channelled correctly so as to not destabilise the ground beneath a rail track are two key benefits of ditching. Ditches serve as natural streams which transport water to neighbouring areas of land, or to a more distant source for irrigation purposes.
There are a variety of materials that these ditching solutions can be made from/lined with, each of which regulate the flow of water in a different way. A concrete ditch solution, for example, ensures a fast flow of water, whereas SmartDitch technology slows and regulates water flow. Ditches are also required to house a variety of track drainage structures, ranging from crest and cascade drains to under-track culverts and toe drains.
At UKDN Waterflow, we’ve been delivering complex ditching solutions to support with rail operations around the country for years. Reach out to us if you’re in need of a ditching solution, and want to understand the full range of ditching options we can deliver.
Where can ditches be built?
Ditches can be built virtually anywhere. Should a train track run along the middle of a hill, it is likely ditches will need to be dug out for drains to be installed:
- Above the tracks; slowing and channelling the flow of water down the hill
- Beneath the tracks; taking water that has collected on the rail tracks away
- Below the tracks; connecting to outlets and returning
See our track drainage systems page for a practical insight into how ditches work alongside rail tracks.
Ditches aren’t necessarily visible from surface-level, either. A culvert drainage ditch, for example, is a type of ditch that contains a culvert and can commonly be found beneath or beside railway lines across the country. Housing culverts underground protects them from any damage that could be brought about by the weather or debris.
Geographically, it makes the most sense that ditches are built in places where water is likely to build up. Relatively flat areas are where you’ll typically find them, and they can vary in size from a few inches to a few metres.
What is required to build a ditch?
Ditches are most commonly dug into soil. Ideal soils include stiff clays, silt, clay-like sands and angular gravels, while soft clays and loose sands are less likely to be stable and thus may need additional foundation materials to be added.
A concrete ditch can also make for a reliable drainage solution. Concrete ditches, such as Concrete Canvas channel lining, prevent the growth of weeds, and silt generation. They allow for much faster water flow than regular ditches, and require very little maintenance work when compared with a soil ditch.
Regarding equipment, most ditches associated with rail drainage require excavators to dig out an area of sufficient width and depth for a proper drainage solution. Drainage equipment should also be moved by machinery unless manufacturer guidelines state otherwise.
What problems are associated with ditching?
Aside from rare and extreme weather conditions distorting ditches and causing them to flood or become blocked, the most common problems facing ditches today are minor blockages from debris. Ideally, water flow should maintain a stable rate throughout the length of a ditch. Blockages can disrupt this, causing overflows which destabilise the embankment of a drainage ditch by soaking the surrounding environment.
This can lead to areas of ground sinking, which affects the rail tracks directly and can endanger passengers and cause damage to rail assets. To combat this, regular maintenance is recommended to ensure that no long-term build up can occur. If your ditches haven’t been subject to any maintenance work for a while, contact our experts.