27 May 2022

CIRIA guidance pioneers new approaches to bridge assessment

Department for Transport-funded guidance on masonry arch bridge assessment, co-authored by Professor Matthew Gilbert and Dr Colin Smith, has been published by CIRIA.

Masonry arch bridge image

Researchers from the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering led the drafting of the new government-funded guidance on masonry arch bridge assessment, published by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA).

Supported by the Department for Transport, the new guidance seeks to address challenges faced by masonry arch bridge infrastructure who need to keep transport corridors open though have limited budgets at their disposal.

Many masonry arch bridges are also of significant nation or regional heritage value.

Research undertaken by Professor Matthew Gilbert, Director of the Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research (ICAIR) Centre and Dr Colin Smith, Senior Lecturer in Geomechanics, carried out jointly with experts from the University of Salford, has informed the writing of the new CIRIA guidance.


Traditional assessment methods can produce inaccurate predications of bridge load carrying capacity, often leading to needless strengthening, infilling or demolition, at significant financial cost and also cost to the planet.

Professor Matthew Gilbert

Director of the Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR)


Forming almost half of all bridge spans in the UK, most masonry arch structures are now well over 100 years old and are carrying far greater loads than their designers originally envisaged. 

The guidance pioneers a new approach to masonry arch bridge assessment, taking advantage of understanding gained in a research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This allows engineers to identify bridges that are likely to be most susceptible to the damaging effects of repeated cyclic loading. 

Related research undertaken in the Department of Civil and Structural engineering has focused on the renovation of existing structures, to avoid the carbon impact associated with the demolition and rebuilding cycle that has become commonplace for buildings.

As part of this, Dr Danielle Densley Tingley and Charles Gillott, have recently gained wider attention for their advocacy of more sustainable approaches to the built environment, also showcasing the important role the department's research can play in relation to the carbon crisis.

The new CIRIA guidance (CIRIAC800) can now be freely downloaded from the CIRIA website: https://www.ciria.org/

The guidance will also be presented by Professor Gilbert at the NCE Future of Bridges conference on the 8 June, 2022.

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