back to article Hitting underground pipes and cables costs the UK £2.4bn a year. We need a data platform for that, says government

The UK government has awarded management consultancy Atkins a £23m contract to help it get to grips with accidental damage to underground pipes and cables, which is costing £2.4bn a year. The Geospatial Commission, an independent expert committee within the Cabinet Office, has awarded the work to help it build "a secure data …

  1. WayUpNorth
    FAIL

    Too late, the fibre bringing the internet to our business park was modified by a JCB this morning...

  2. Joe W Silver badge

    Mark it on road signage

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinweisschilder_zu_Stra%C3%9Feneinbauten

    that said, still even then there are occasional incidents of baggers digging up phone lines or damaging a gas pipe.

    If ze Krauts can do it, you can do it!

    1. Andrew Scaife
      Joke

      Re: Mark it on road signage

      Phew, for a minute there I thought Bagger 293 had escaped from the opencast reserve where it lives on lignite! You wouldn't want that crossing the road in front of you...

  3. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Joke

    Now just a matter of time before the first TITSUP

    Total Inability To Show Underground Pipes

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Now just a matter of time before the first TITSUP

      Not enough upvotes.

  4. Paul Smith

    Somebody can't count. Headline, "Hitting underground ... costs the UK £2.4bn a year". Text body says, "industry could save £350m a year by avoiding accidental asset strikes". So this system might prevent one strike in seven?

    1. KBeee Silver badge
      Joke

      "industry could save £350m a year by avoiding accidental asset strikes"

      The other £2.05bn is from intentional asset strikes.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Facepalm

        You joke, but I have heard a digger driver state that he'll happily cut through a water pipe if it's in his way - that's what his insurance is for.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
          Flame

          I bet he doesn't say that about HV electrical cables or gas pipes.

          1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

            Fire

            I saw the consequences of that.. amazing fire, melted the plastic blinds in the buildings nearby

            JCB burnt and they claimed they had a paper map on the jcb (I did not see that before the fire, I did see reckless operation).

            In Spain the maps are known.. in theory

          2. ecofeco Silver badge

            I was a mile away when a digger cut a high pressure cross country gas pipe. I swear it sounded like a very large airliner had just flown over very low and then crashed and exploded.

            Not even exaggerating.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              The last full-bore rupture of the UK's HP gas network (>34bar) was in the 1970's; where groundworks outside Glasgow for the then-new motorway resulted in a landslip shearing off the line.

              How the hell it didn't ignite is enough to make you believe in a deity, but I can assure you a full bore rupture of a 36inch diameter pipe at 60 bar is something you do not want to be within a mile of if it does ignite. And preferably further than that.

              The risks being what they are, thankfully, they are mostly approached carefully and such events are exceedingly rare. (And examples have been reported in El Reg iirc).

              1. John Sturdy
                Mushroom

                In my area there are a high-voltage overhead line and a major high-pressure underground gas pipeline running close to each other for some distance, and crossing over at least once. Another reason to be particularly glad it's not an active earthquake zone.

            2. PRR
              Mushroom

              > cut a high pressure cross country gas pipe. I swear it sounded like

              When that happened near me, the newspaper headline in the largest font I've ever seen (the "2nd coming" font) was "HELL BROKE LOOSE"

              Yes it is equivalent to a good size jet engine except more fuel than air. The gas ball burns far up into the sky. LOUD.

              I AM a bit puzzled why you have unexpected line-cuts. In the USA we have "Dig Safe". (I see it is known down under too.) Any excavation MUST call a single hotline, often 811, after marking the proposed area. All known line-holders are asked to quickly go to the spot and mark their lines.

              http://www.digsafe.com/how_it_works.php

              Obviously imperfect. Some digs are urgent, like burst water mains. Some calls are pointless: there are no buried utilities in my neck of the woods, there is less than a foot of soil over the bedrock, so a 811 call results in 7 little flags "No known lines -- PhoneCo", electric, gas, water, sewer.... And as said, a lot of line-owners don't really know where they left those KiloVolts.

              But if you didn't call 811 first and anything goes wrong, the utility can be really upset. In court if it goes that far.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I gave direct instructions to a third party that wanted to work above our assets to dig-by-hand only and request the presence of one of our ops personnel while undertaking works to ensure they do not hit them. Per the guidance in HSG47.

          10km away from the site in question we had just had a cable strike from a different third party. I shared the details of said incident with the the new enquiry; photographs, burn damage etc.

          6 months later I recieved an incident report where a sub-contractor to a sub-contractor to the third party, has jammed their JCB bucket through said asset. No request made for ops personnel to attend the dig.

          The JCB driver didn't speak a word of English and had essentially been told go-over-there and do so and so; which he duly did and swiped the cable. No evidence that the requirements of digging safely in that location had made it down to the bottom subcontractor in the chain. He's also bloody lucky to be alive.

          The incident in question contributed to the catastrophic failure of a large and expensive circuit breaker besides severing the cable; which could have caused fatalities had anyone been within 100m of it at the time.

          Was there anything I could have humanly done to prevent the incident? Short of doing the work myself? What do we have to do, say to all third parties that they can't work in proximity to our equipment and have to pay us to do it? We do not have that degree of land ownership to remotely consider such an approach?

          I lost a lot of sleep over this incident that should never have happened, if the right people were to talk to each other. Initiatives like this are good ideas, but the proof is in the delivery.

          1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
            Unhappy

            This is just another case of too far down the sub-contractor rabbit hole.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            "I lost a lot of sleep over this incident"

            Yes, you should have done. If someone got seriously hurt, you'd have been prosecuted.

            While you can never prevent an idiot giving stupid instructions to an innocent, you can make sure the whole process is documented and said idiot has had to do something spectacularly stupid, deliberately ignore the process, etc. At that point you're at least covered against legal action.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              > While you can never prevent an idiot giving stupid instructions to an innocent, you can make sure the whole process is documented and said idiot has had to do something spectacularly stupid, deliberately ignore the process, etc. At that point you're at least covered against legal action.

              That's exactly what he did: gave clear dig-by-hand instructions. You seem to be ignoring the fact that the work (building a rocket silo, who knows) was nothing to do with him or his employer (presumably an electricity supplier) other than that the work extended over their cables. The work was not for his employer. He did not commission the work. He did not engage the contractors. He had only one point of contact - the person who asked for permission and they were fully warned, as per HSG47 as stated. Then those instructions were incompetently or negligently ignored by people he has no control over. And yet you seem to think this is somehow his fault?

              The OP posted this message as a reminder for us all - that systems effects stymie the best intentions. And all you can do is blame the messenger. You'd do better to learn as you'll be in the same boat one day.

              1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

                I haven't blamed the messenger. I replied with advice on how to achieve what he needs to do to sleep well at night.

                "You'd do better to learn as you'll be in the same boat one day."

                I'm in the same boat every day. It's my job. That's why I can advise on how to do it.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              It was documented as far as the handover to the third party that wanted to do the work.

              The paper trail went cold at the point they handed it to the first subbie. Legally, "I've" done what was required, BUT that still doesn't make it any easier.

          3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
            FAIL

            There was a case

            local to here where a major building project was getting off the ground, and needed foundations dug.

            One of my relatives took the highly accurate map given to him by southern electric(as it was then) and put in fence posts and red tape to mark the route of a 11Kv line.

            JCB driver begins to dig after being forcefully reminded not to dig into the marked area.

            Big flash, big boom the driver is flash blinded, the bucket and arm are worse for wear and most of the area has gone dark.

            Said relative arrives to find trench exactly where it should be.... smoking 11Kv line is 6 feet left of where it should be. the map was wrong.

            1. Diogenes

              Re: There was a case

              My BiL was a contract excavator operator. Here in Oz we have something called "dial before you dig".

              On one job, the supervising engineer called dbyd and got the position of a very large buried power conduit. Then as the excavator operator he got the bil to do so as well. Bil got the same info, and as it was high voltage, they got the surveyor to mark a no go zone 10m wide, ie 5m either side of the centre line.

              Bil starts digging, big bang and flash and bil wakes up in the back of an ambo. Yes he hit the line, only he was digging 20m away from where the line was supposed to be.

              Power company presents bil with a 30k bill for the repair. They were not happy when both engineer and bil replayed their recordings of the dbyd calls and were presented with photos of the site and GPS confirmation of the marked out no go zone. Bil gets a new excavator worth 150k from power company. It also seems that the electricity company had also dug their trench too shallow and neglected to lay warning tape at the standard depth to show their was high voltage cable below.

              Site engineer had been caught before by bad dbyd info hence the 2 phone calls, recordings and the extra wide no-go zone.

          4. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "Was there anything I could have humanly done to prevent the incident? Short of doing the work myself?"

            Institute $STAGGERINGLY_LARGE penalty charges with personal liabilties on company officers who screw up and make sure they sign off on it

            Once your house and job is on the line, you start paying attention

            If you think I'm jesting, it's more or less what several telcos started doing in the 1990s - the level of litigation damages they started going after JCB operators for was so high that liabliity insurers would wash their hands of the deal, leaving the companies high and dry.

            A couple of well-publicised rounds of that ($250k-$500k/hour outage charges were common and liability insurance capped out at $2-5 million in most cases) and suddenly operators were _vastly_ more careful about where they dug - which was the intention all along

            1. Binraider Silver badge

              I fear a penalty approach might scare "smaller" requirements even more into the hands of two-bit nobodies that don't care for the risks nor do anything about them.

              There's a happy medium to be found somewhere.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Always been a problem. Even where they exist the maps aren't reliable, and for most businesses it's cheaper to just dig than to take the time to search for underground plant, and/or to dig delicately just in case. Even if the insurance doesn't pay it's still usually cheaper for the business just to pay up. The dangerous ones (gas, HV electricity) are in fairly predictable places, and have warning mesh above them. Fibre and phone, it costs too much in time and labour to care in advance.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Not most businesses. Perhaps ones very badly run.

            My company was peripherally involved in a cable strike some years back (serious injury / no fatality).

            Nothing to do with us.

            Our Directors got seriously grilled by HSE, and it was hugely stressful, and expensive (time lost to dealing with things/insurers/lawyers).

            I can't remember what the fine was for the contractor, but it was not a token slap on the wrist.

            The cost to fix the asset can be very high, and your insurer may refuse to cover you.

            If you failed to do a search, you'll (almost certainly) be found negligent (which probably invalidates your insurance, so now you have the repair cost), which means HSE prosecution, huge fine and potentially a jail term.

            For a small to mid-sized company, the fine will probably kill the company.

    2. Giles C Silver badge

      Presumably it costs the diggers that amount in wasted time, the rest is the money lost by everyone else affected.

      Regardless this seems a rare case of public sector IT actually doing something useful and with a defined outcome… as long as companies all contribute.

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    One of the other issues is that alot of services are in unknown locations..

    Out local power company managed to "not be sure" that the farmers field wasn't being powered by the cable they had laid a mere 18 months earlier, despite it being the same person on site (who did remember putting the cable in, and knew we were the only property supplied by it) - computer said "don't know"... farmers fields aren't known for using a lot of power, and it's a good half mile to the nearest roundabout (which probably takes power from the power lines along the main roads feeding it)

    1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Yup. I suspect a lot (perhaps the majority) of cable/service strikes are not because no one checked to see if there was anything there, but because they only checked the record plans, and the record plans can be far from accurate.

      Active confirmation of services locations is increasingly expected / undertaken (PAS128 survey type A or B).

      But didn't we all have this conversation about a month ago?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      >One of the other issues is that alot of services are in unknown locations..

      Another is that they aren't in the location the plans or system says they are.

      A laugh I have is that my house is 3ft closer to the road than indicated on the plan, but it is in the right place if you use the geographic data off the plan - I know this because the OS surveyed it.

      The problem was that the road was built 3ft off the plan location, given they had already done the foundations for my house the only option was to build the house between mine and the road 3ft closer to my house, but failed to amend the plan... Result neighbour thought the boundary fence should be located 3ft into my land rather than being located where it was...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so which MP's mate got the job?

    So what ties to MP's/comittee members do they have, not that I'm cynical.

  7. Huckleberry Muckelroy

    Dowsing

    With Blighty's rep for witchcraft and other arcane sciences, I would think that dowsing for cables and pipes would be the norm.

    I used dowsing in many years as a land surveyor. It works better than many metal detectors.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Dowsing

      In fairness, I wouldn't expect a metal detector to detect underground streams. The clue is in the name: it detects metal, not fluidic conductors coursing at a rate of knots.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Dowsing

        they don't, but other devices do (geophysics is a fairly well-understood science)

  8. IGotOut Silver badge

    Having worked with BT /Openreach....

    ....the database will be useless.

    Multiple engineers have rocked up asking if I knew where the cables ran across the road as the documention hadn't been updated for decades.

    This was typical across multiple towns.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

      >documention hadn't been updated for decades.

      So long as the cablea are non-migratory

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

      Agreed. BT's asset register is, in my experience, low quality.

      To be fair: BT Openreach do maintain a *very* large estate of assets, so even a single percentage error is still going to result in a large numbers of errors.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

      Privatisation is the cause. I recall that in the mid 1980's that BT were implementing a database system using laserdiscs, not just for BT cables, but applicable for other pipes in the ground.

      Such an important service/capability was not seen as money making or beneficial, so did not get funding.

      Having worked at BT Labs (above was not BT Labs) there were some fantastic ground breaking products that never saw the light of day, such as video phones using ISDN (2B+D) - that was 30 years ago.

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

        such as video phones using ISDN (2B+D)

        I was using video conferencing kit running over ISDN-2 well over a decade ago. (I fondly remember trying to bond multiple ISDN-2s - it was very fragile!)

        This was during the era of "sleepy ISDN" (If you didn't use your ISDN-2 circuit for a while, BT would recycle the exchange line card for another customer as there wasn't enough capacity)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

        Privatisation is the cause.

        Not really, most of the plant whose location is uncertain long predates privatisation.

        I also worked for BT Labs, and there were plenty of good products that did make it. Many that didn't were technically clever, but had little market appeal. Video phones were a case in point, at the time they and their required network connectivity were too expensive for widespread use. 2B+D ISDN at 128 + 16kbit/s simply didn't give a useful experience until the mid-90s, CODECs were still too basic. Those were the days when the BTRL video conference suite needed 2Mbit/s connectivity.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Having worked with BT /Openreach....

      I created a similar system in Spain.. the quality of the input data was.. "interesting".

  9. uncle sjohie

    There is a full European framework for that, in use by the Dutch and Belgians, why not just use that?

  10. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    About bloody time!

    A few years ago I accidentally put a fence post spike through the gas feed pipe to my house. It was buried about 50cm underneath my front garden. Beforehand I had asked Cadent, the local council, and the house builders and not one of them had a clue where the gas/electric feeds went. So, I put the spikes in and one of them hit the yellow plastic gas pipe. Luckily I smelt the gas before it blew up my house and I managed to claim the cost of the fix (£1000) on my house insurance. The Cadent guys who came out to fix the leak told me that the feed was too shallow (should be over 60cm deep) and that I was lucky as the main electric feed for the house was next to it and I had missed that by millimetres. It turns out that cheap builders only dig one trench and lay the gas and electric feed in the same one. Sounds dangerous as **** to me!!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: About bloody time!

      Wait till you find out how many data centers have multiple independent fibre links - all in the same conduit

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: About bloody time!

      > "Sounds dangerous as **** to me!!"

      Especially given your handle, Big_Boomer

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    10,000+ cable strikes per year, hitting the HV Distro networks. Any of which have potential for fatalities, and obviously, supply loss.

    This is partially because services like "dial before you dig" are relying on data manually copied from 100 year old drawings using references like "cable 2 ft from kerb edge".

    That means, given changes in road design and construction over that period, the info on where the cable is, is at best very uncertain.

    The old GIS for Gas Systems has other problems; chiefly they are "2-D" and have no concept of vertical lines feeding into, for instance, tower blocks. At the time they were built, they were cutting edge, but somewhat old hat now. And not that old really, as infrastructure systems go.

    Going back and re-cataloguing it using current technology is absolutely possible in a GIS environment. Should we have a centrally controlled register of all utilities and their locations to this standard? Yes. Who is going to fund building it.. There's your problem. Nobody is prepared to fund such things with no (direct) financial benefit.

    Crossrail had a team of 70+ staff employed building digital twins of their infrastructure, and that is but a fraction of the scale of what's needed to catalogue national infrastructure.

    A/C because I'm employed in one of the utilities and have long blown the trumpet about crap data leading to crap decisions. Though I do enjoy time capsules like the drawings of cables I have from the 1940's, where you can see where they were repaired and re-routed following bomb damage.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      > This is partially because services like "dial before you dig" are relying on data manually copied from 100 year old drawings using references like "cable 2 ft from kerb edge".

      What amazes me is that I was taught how to use a Cat and Genny to determine depth 40 years ago, but most modern users seem to have no clue how to do it (it takes about 30 seconds and is quite accurate)

      It wasn't even my area of work, but I was expected to be able to repair the things, (they're a simple RF circuit) so I was expected to be able to use them in the field and understand the kinds of errors users would encounter

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The Cat and Genny is a great tool, and all our staff are trained on it. Unfortunately, it isn't our staff that are the problem with regards cable strikes.

        Any sod can go buy a JCB & dig a hole - badly and cheaply.

  12. wiggers

    I thought this was already a thing. It was certainly being talked about in the '90s when Nynex were busy digging up everything. They certainly found the location of a large number of underground services, usually by damaging them!

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    But there is no uniform process for "asset owners" – the gas, water, telecoms or electricity companies who dig up roads to lay pipes and cables – to share their data about where exactly they have put everything.

    The antics of those customers suggests the main obstacle isn't the lack of a platform, it's their existing lack of data about exactly where they've put everything.

  14. Dr Fidget

    Eton OB?

    So did the CEO of Atkins go to Eton with Boris the Liar or does Atkins run the sweet shop at the end of one of his cronies streets?

  15. kevin king

    So they just found out about https://lsbud.co.uk/

    and the underground asset register they announced in 2019? https://www.gov.uk/government/news/map-of-underground-pipes-and-cables-designed-to-save-lives-and-prevent-major-disruption

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Its not clear whether Lsbud are involved in the project, or whether Atkins are expected to deliver something different. given the timescales I would have thought usage of the pre-existing Lsbud database was a given, but then we do have a Conservative government...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Please see the story above concerning a HV cable strike being a very-near miss with regards potential for multiple fatalities.

        The third party looking to do work used LSBUD and talked to the right people in my organisation. i.e. Me! But they didn't act or even pass on the instructions given to them both in person and in writing, and ensure everyone working for them knew what was involved downstream.

        Absolutely infuriating, and thinking about it again 5 years later I can still lose sleep over incidents like this- however out of my "fault" it might be.

        One might even consider it a mild form of PTSD.

  16. KBeee Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Costs

    The trouble is that keeping records costs money. Keeping GOOD records costs a lot of money. That word "cost" is anathema to most companies, especially after the utilities were privatised.

    Even where legislation exists about keeping records, the bare minimum will be done to comply with the law.

    1. PhoenixKebab

      Re: Costs

      If your service is listed as being in a place that someone else digs into, that's the digger's fault.

      If a place is apparently free of your service and someone hits something you didn't record, well tough. The company that failed to update their records should be liable for cost of repairs.

      That's the only encouragement they need.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Costs

        Although that adds costs.

        If I'm going to be responsible for damage where I dig then I don't just want a 1-800-CALL-BEFORE-YOU-DIG I'm going to need the precise locations in writing, signed by a director, witnesed and filed with my lawyers before I set foot on site. From every water, gas, power, telco, etc that MIGHT have services in that area.

        If a water main bursts in a High St on a friday evening then it's going to take till well into Monday before anyone can start work.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Costs

          I'm going to need the precise locations in writing, signed by a director, witnesed and filed with my lawyers before I set foot on site.

          You're never going to get it, and the job will go to someone less picky.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Costs

            But they are going to have to have $$$ of liability cover in case they take out a fibre link.

            So I can't hire Mick-the-dig, I have to call McAlpine to dig a hole

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Costs

      "Even where legislation exists about keeping records, the bare minimum will be done to comply with the law."

      In the UK, yes. In many other places it's regarded as more expensive to NOT keep records because you end up having to repair damage

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Costs

      Echoed. Org where I sit has just downsized it's drawings team from 4 to 2, in a period where we are doing more new build (and therefore new drawings) in the coming 5-10 years than we've done in the last 20 combined.

      Faster computers are all well and good but you can't automate QC beyond check-box compliance.

      Senior Management are oblivious and ignored all the feedback given to them in the re-org consultation. Local management, and staff, are absolutely furious. But powerless to do anything about it.

      It's almost like, you know, people should sign up to trade unions and take collective action? Too many people living hand to mouth though to garner much support for action.

  17. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Not a hope

    20-30 years ago I worked in a GIS company that had a significant percentage of the UK's utility firms as customers. With water companies in particular, the assets are so old that they have no idea where a load of them are. I remember one company telling us "well, the water pipe goes into the farmer's field here but we have no idea where it goes after that, but if we shut it off we get complaints from 5 different villages, even though they're supposed to be fed by different pipes".

    In other cases it's the usual "as built" ≠ "as designed". Gas pipes 10 feet away from where the map says, electricity cables only 18 inches down when they're supposed to be 6 feet down (that one took out the power in my neighbourhood when the local council put it a parking restriction sign), stuff rerouted because of a Victorian sewer that wasn't supposed to exist.

    Good luck to whoever gets the job, because they're seriously going to need it.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Not a hope

      >Good luck to whoever gets the job, because they're seriously going to need it.

      I don't think the contract is to find all the stuff

      I don't think it's even to record all the stuff

      It will probably end up being a web page with links to various utility companies 'contact us' page

  18. TimMaher Silver badge
    Happy

    Nobody told the rats

    Apparently, some rodents chewed through broadband cables in Devon, taking out comms. to some 1800 properties.

    I think that happened yesterday.

    OpenBreach are investigating.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Nobody told the rats

      That could be a security problem.

      With this new system the rodents would know exactly where to dig.

      What precautions are being put into place to prevent toothy herbivores accessing this data ?

  19. Scene it all

    I had a summer job at an electric utility 50 years ago and even back then they had the location of every piece of equipment and cable surveyed down to one-foot resolution over several counties. This turns out to be very useful in predicting power flows and heating and overloads. "Which transformer do we replace first?"

    But these days, where I live all the services are underground and stll, if you have any sort of utility work done a guy will show up with his underground scannig device and look for everything again, putting in little flags and spraying red paint on the grass. The local power utility is replacing street lights and I saw sombody pushing a Ground Penetrating Radar down the street.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "The local power utility is replacing street lights and I saw sombody pushing a Ground Penetrating Radar down the street."

      Yup. The technology to _find_ stuff underground exists and is widely used. The problem is it costs and cowboys don't want to pay for it (quite frequently seagull management aren't even aware such equipment exists)

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Yes but it's easier, especially at the planning stage, if someone had noted where they buried a gas main etc rather than every digger having to try and ground penetrating radar search for every fibre

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          totally agreed, but then it costs to keep the records and seagull manglement throw them away as worthless

          You can't win with MBAs in charge. The best thing to do is kill them and bury them in the trench backfill

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It'll go over budget and fail. Sorry to sound pessimistic but there are too many companies involved and each of those companies will have to implement processes once (if?) the current data which will be in many many formats is consolidated. It reminds me of the various attempts to fix the NHS.

  21. ecofeco Silver badge

    Data platform?

    If data platform means anything other than better maps, then it's utter bullshit.

    But you will never stop willful stupidity.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are a number of cable circuits in our major cities that follow particularly convenient routes, such as canal tow paths. These areas are clearly marked with danger warnings not to moor in those particular locations.

    Unfortunately that doesn't stop someone hammering a whopping great iron spike into the earth to tie up their barge. First we knew about it the oil pressure in the cable dropped to nothing. It was, fortunately for the hapless barge owner, out of service at the time for maintenance, so getting a geyser of mineral oil in the face was the worst that happened. Dumb luck that it wasn't much worse outcome.

  23. Kev99

    Wouldn't be cheaper & simpler to have some kid from the Brit equivalent of high school use MariaDB or even and open source bit of kit like Ralph, OpenMaint or Reftab? For that matter, don't the local assessors have GIS maps that already track that stuff?

  24. johnrobyclayton

    This reminds me of a story

    Several years ago I read a story of a Uni student who decided to try an map the various bits of cabling that existed in a particular location from public sources of information.

    He observed some risky conglomerations of various bits of infrastructure on his map.

    He observed that one particular bank had all of its communication infrastructure going through one point accessible by a manhole cover a little bit down the street and around a corner.

    He went to the bank and asked then if they were aware of this vulnerability. The bank got very upset and would not let the student leave the building.

    Some alphabet agency got involved and they promptly hired the student and got him to do the same project on a national scale.

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Gimp

      Re: This reminds me of a story

      @johnrobyclayton - "promptly hired the student and got him to do the same project on a national scale"

      But did they ever let him leave the building?

  25. Richard Pennington 1
    Mushroom

    We had gas moles in my town about 2 years ago ...

    We had our local gas supplier dig up all the gas pipes across $TOWN a couple of years back ... they were replacing the old cast-iron pipes with new yellow plastic ones. The result was a network of molehills, tunnels and so forth right across town, for several weeks. And, by and large, the contractors were obvious cowboys.

    [1] As part of the operation, they turned off my gas, took the meter out, put the new pipework in and replaced the meter. So far, so good. But when they did the leak test, it failed, and they were about to walk away (leaving me with no gas heating, in November ...) when I suggested that they might like to try tightening up the meter connection *that they had just re-installed*. Yup, that was where the leak was.

    [2] A few houses up the road, they had a fault with an electrical earth. The electricity supply was earthed to the gas pipe, and the new plastic pipes do not conduct electricity. The result was that one house got a 400V+ surge which destroyed every appliance in the house, the owner was bodily thrown off the ladder he was half-way up at the time, and half of the estate lost all its electrical power (and random appliances were destroyed in several other houses). The electricity crew turned up and restored power after about 6 hours (at about midnight!), by somewhat unconventional means (some houses, including mine, were supplied via a bypass cable running *above ground* through several front gardens).

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: We had gas moles in my town about 2 years ago ...

      "they were replacing the old cast-iron pipes with new yellow plastic ones."

      Most of the ones I observed ran the new plastic yellow pipes up the inside of the old cast iron ones

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: We had gas moles in my town about 2 years ago ...

        Not, strictly speaking, "inside" the old cast pipe - more, along the old route and surrounded by bits of broken cast pipe.

        They have a mole they can pull through the old pipe which splits it and expands it, while towing the new plastic pipe behind in behind. Then they have to dig a hole at every tap off point to re-connect each customer. If the customers are lucky then the same technique will be used to put the new plastic service pipe in - otherwise they'll have their nice smooth drive "re-designed" with a trench.

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: We had gas moles in my town about 2 years ago ...

      Ah, that sounds like a "lost neutral" which is a known problem with TN-C-S (a.k.a. PME) supply systems.

      Basic lecky supply description. There's a 4 core cable runs down the street - three phases and once combined neutral and earth (CNE). The CNE is earthed wherever it's convenient (typically at joints) and the DNO (Distribution Network Operator) will have rules about how many and how "good" these earths must be.

      A typical domestic customer gets a two core cable* which brings in the CNE and one of the three phases. At the services head (a.k.a. "main fuse"), the CNE is split to provide both your neutral connection and the earth. The more awake will already have spotted that if the CNE is broken, then there's nothing to carry away the lecky that's come through the live core and through your appliances - hence the CNE at the user's premises will rise to a significant voltage (could be as much as 240V (nominal) above ground).

      But if the shared CNE in the street cable is broken, then multiple houses will be sharing the "not a neutral any more" core, and as the houses will have different loads and be on different phases, the voltage seen between live and "not a neutral any more" will vary between "not a lot" and "up to 415V". This will fry a lot of equipment.

      But the voltage between the consumer's earth terminal and ground won't go above 240V (well actually, the upper limit is 253V) relative to local ground. The problem here being that all that carefully "earthed" metalwork - like the body of the washing machine, probably your plumbing, etc, etc - is now "live" relative to local earth.

      In many ways TN-C-S is very far from ideal, so much so that there was a proposal (that didn't make it into the latest edition) for the wiring regs (BS7671) to require that every property be fitted with it's own earth rod just to deal with the "broken CNE problem". And it's also why almost all home car charging points now actually have a system to detect this and disconnect the "earth" from the car (after disconnecting the power) to avoid having a car with live bodywork surrounded (potentially) by earthed metalwork like fence posts or lamp posts.

  26. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Trollface

    Unintended benefit...

    This will be a wonderful asset for criminals stealing copper... no more ripping out a few km and finding it's fibre.

    Nice to see the Government doing something for a significant sector of the economy that is often overlooked for support.

    1. DWRandolph

      Re: Unintended benefit...

      Thieves, crackers, terrorists, ... If built imagine the less savory will find some off-brand uses for the data.

  27. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Here when something is buried, a beautiful colored warning grid is put a little bit upper to warn the digger there's something behind. Yellow for gas, Red for electricity, blue for water, green for telecoms. It didn't stop backhoe operators to sever fibre cablers in the neighbourhood every year three years in a row. Last time they severed 72 fibre cables which were buried 1.2m deep.

    I'm not sure having a map with everything indicated would help lot, when anybody in public works don't give a damn.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "It didn't stop backhoe operators to sever fibre cablers in the neighbourhood every year three years in a row."

      If there's a warning grid above and the operator keeps going then personal liability should be accruing to BOTH the operator plus employer (for lack of training) - and liabliity insurers will soon get leery

  28. Jim Whitaker
    Coat

    Not in a million years

    Yes, of course this is going to work.

  29. TRT Silver badge

    NUAR?

    Not good enough.

    Something like...

    National

    E-register of

    Assets (sub-

    Terranean) and

    Hypogean

    Utility

    Structures.

  30. David Hicklin

    Have you ever looked down an open hole?

    Around here whenever they dig a big hole to fix or install something, there is usually a maze of criss-crossing cables, pipes etc - its amazing anything survives sometimes..

  31. Greavsie

    Metric Mix Up

    IIRC didn't a big chunk of London lose broadband for several days back in ~2010 when tunnelling work on the Olympic Park site got metres and feet mixed up and drove straight through a major broadband trunk they believed to be many metres below (or above, I forget)?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Metric Mix Up

      From what I recall, it was a deliberately unmarked/unrecorded duct because when it was installed it carried government communications (which were unencrypted at the time). When they slung fibre through it nobody thought to add it to the mapping because they assumed it was already there.

      It also contained asbestos which hindered the remediation works.

  32. Wim Ton

    The Netherlands have this as part of the land register for a long time. (Kabel en Leiding Informatie Centrum KLIC)

    Still prone to errors: a draftsman told me he forgot a bit of a 20" water pipe in the corner of the map. Needless to say, that was the spot that was dug into with a huge fountain as a result.

    A housemate had a holyday job with a digging firm. Near an airbase he encountered some cables that where not on his maps. He phoned and asked: "are these cables yours"? Answer: "We don't know, we won't tell and it is a secret anyway" "OK, so you are fine if I cut them?".Within minutes the military police arrived.

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