There are approximately 70,000 masonry arch bridge spans on the UK road and rail networks (approx. 1 million worldwide), the vast majority of which are now well beyond the 120 year life usually expected of bridges. Though masonry arch bridges are in general considered long-lived structures, large numbers are now showing signs of distress.

The cost of replacing these bridges in the UK alone would run into tens of billions of pounds, and their aesthetic and heritage value is also significant. Unfortunately the methods currently used to assess their capacity are antiquated and/or over-simplistic, making the task of prioritising renewal or refurbishment schemes extremely difficult.

The present situation stems from our limited understanding of the 'real-world' behaviour of masonry arch bridges, which typically contain soil fill material surrounding and interacting with the arch barrel when loading is applied, and where both working (cyclic) and ultimate loading regimes are important. Developing an improved understanding of such behaviour is the main focus of the project.