Loughborough University

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External loads on buried steel pipelines: 3D finite element simulation

journal contribution
posted on 2019-03-08, 11:54 authored by Abdinasir Mohamed, Ashraf El-HamalawiAshraf El-Hamalawi, Matthew FrostMatthew Frost, Andy Connell
The combined internal and external loading on a buried pipeline produces an interaction between the pipe structure and the adjacent ground that would lead to the failure or damage of the pipeline. This interaction will depend on the form of loading on the pipe, nature and condition of the surrounding soil and on the structural characteristics of the pipe. To assess the integrity of the pipelines against combined loads, it is necessary to accurately estimate different external loads that buried pipeline are subjected to, specifically dead and surface loading. Various standards exist for estimating the external dead and live loads that the buried pipelines are subjected to, such as American Lifelines Alliance (ALA) "Guidelines for the Design of Buried Pipelines", and NEN3650 "Requirements for pipeline systems". For the calculation of backfill loads, these methods are based mainly on the same theory, i.e., Marston load theory, while the calculation of live loads, such as traffic loads, is mainly based on different approaches. Depending on the design methodology selected, there is a large variation in the calculated external loads. In this paper, current design standards and empirical methods are compared to finite element analysis (FEA) simulation of buried pipes. The comparison is validated using site-measured full scale results from Transport for London (TFL). This study shows that the approach used to assess external loading is important and using empirical approaches can lead to an overconservative analysis. Using FEA to predict external loads is the most accurate way to undertake analysis due to traffic and soil loads. Although conservative, classical empirical methods will continue to be applied to the analysis of buried pipelines, much more reliable and realistic results would be obtained by using the finite element method.


The authors would like to acknowledge the British Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and DNV-GL for sponsoring this research.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Published in

Journal of Pipeline Engineering






91 - 103


MOHAMED, A. ... et al, 2018. External loads on buried steel pipelines: 3D finite element simulation. Journal of Pipeline Engineering, 17 (6/2018), pp.91-103.


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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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