Pipe network

Pipe network to be mapped in 3D
By Jonathan Amos, BBC News science reporter

The maze of pipes and cables that snake beneath the UK’s streets are to be mapped in a £2.2m pilot project. An intimate knowledge of this tubular underworld is expected to help reduce the number of holes that need to be dug by utilities, and cut traffic jams.

Nottingham and Leeds researchers will trial new 3D mapping technologies at half a dozen UK locations. It is thought there are enough pipes and cables below ground in Britain to stretch to the Moon and back 10 times. Some were laid more than 200 years ago and accurate information on their precise positions is often non-existent or sketchy at best. There are 30 to 40 incidents each year where workmen are seriously injured because they have accidentally sliced through electricity cables. “When utilities and highways authorities are digging in the street, they often find things they didn’t expect, or don’t find the things they were looking for,” explained Mike Farrimond, director of UK Water Industry Research Ltd, which is managing the mapping project. “If we had detailed 3D maps of what was down there, we’d be much more efficient at finding and fixing leaks, and connecting people to services.”


Schematic showing what lies under a west London street (Leeds) .The schematic diagram above shows the typical level of complexity of pipes and cables that exists under one London street.

In the UK there are: 275,000km of gas pipes; 353,000km of sewer pipes; 396,000km of water pipes; 482,000km of electricity cables.

A third of the pipes in London were laid more than 150 years ago; 20 cable firms have worked in London in the last five years. Camden High Street in London was dug up 144 times in one year; Glasgow’s Great Western Road, 223 times. “You can’t look at an Ordnance Survey map to find out what’s under the ground,” explained Tony Cohn, professor of automated reasoning at Leeds University.

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