Slope Stability 2011: International Symposium on Rock Slope Stability in Open Pit Mining and Civil Engineering

Vancouver, Canada (September 18-21, 2011)

Combining Geology, Morphology and 3D Modelling to Understand the
Rock Fall Distribution Along the Railways in the Fraser River Valley,
Between Hope and Boston Bar, B.C.
R. Macciotta Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
D.M. Cruden Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
C.D. Martin Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
N.R. Morgenstern Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Railways across the Canadian Cordillera have long histories of losses caused by ground hazards, rock falls
being the most frequent events. Effective use of resources for rock fall risk mitigation requires understanding of
the rock block detachment and motion processes. Analysing the physical settings, event records, and modeling
tools to study dynamic behaviour are essential. Rock fall Analyst is a rock fall process modeling extension in 3D
for geographical information systems software that can be used to gain information on the rock fall dynamic
behaviour. The railways along the Fraser River’s west bank between Hope and Boston Bar is a study area
illustrating these concepts.



Rock falls are frequent hazards in transportation corridors cutting through mountainous areas (Bunce et al. 1997,
Evans & Hungr 1993, Hungr et al. 1999, Hoek 2007, Dorren 2003). In particular, railways across the Canadian
Cordilllera have long histories of losses caused by ground hazards, rock falls being the most frequent events
(Hungr et al. 1999, Lan et al. 2010). A rock fall is defined as the detachment of one or more blocks from a steep
slope and its descent mainly by falling through the air, bouncing and rolling (Cruden & Varnes 1996, Bjerrum &
Jørstad 1968). Even though these events have small volumes compared to other slope processes (Whalley 1984)
their frequency and rapidity make them threats to the railways operating in the Cordillera.
Rock fall studies, like all geotechnical-related problems, are characterized by the uncertainties. Quantitative
prediction of behaviour in such problems, even under ideal circumstances, may not be reliable (Morgenstern
2000). As such, when these problems potentially endanger society, engineers (in a conscious or unconscious
manner) use some form of risk assessment to evaluate the hazard (Fell et al. 2005, Macciotta et al. 2010).
Formal risk assessment procedures create a framework for the assessment of these hazards and focus engineering
efforts and expenditures on the highest risk areas (Pine & Roberds, 2005). Bunce et al. (1997) showed how rock
fall risks along transportation corridors could be quantitatively assessed at specific locations. However, when
entire transportation corridor sections are to be assessed qualitative risk assessments are often employed when
evaluating mitigation strategies.
Due to the difficulties associated with predicting rock fall location, timing, volume and motion (Hantz et al.
2003, Dorren 2003, Azzoni & De Freitas 1995), mitigation strategies are mostly reactive, providing protection or
avoiding the hazard after an event has occurred. To proactively mitigate the risks of rock falls, regular
inspections are usually employed. These inspections are a form of qualitative risk assessment. To improve this
qualitative risk assessment and effectively use the resources available for rock fall risk mitigation, understanding
the processes leading to rock block detachment and the factors affecting their motion is essential. This requires

6. and its relation to the observed rock fall distribution. Three dimensional rock fall modelling is applied at a specific location to illustrate its use to further understand the rock fall distribution and observed concentration of events. as well as the probable source height.9. (CP personal communication). typical of the section between Boston Bar and Yale. location and volume of the events. and the use of modeling tools to study dynamic behaviour. (a) steep cut along mile 2. along the Fraser River valley.7. This paper presents an analysis of the geological and morphological setting of an important transportation corridor along the Canadian Cordillera. (b) typical rock fall encountered during field assessment along mile 14. Study area and slope stability problems along the CP's Cascade subdivision. the records of events in the area. Figure 1 shows the location of the study area as well as the mileage along CP's track. Figure 1. (c) unstable blocks along mile 5.the analysis of the physical settings. Both the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the Canadian National Railway (CN) utilize this corridor. These records include date. 2 Study area The Canadian Pacific Railway Cascade subdivision is located in the Canadian Cordillera. South-west British Columbia. Scar covered with shotcrete and debris from previous events are evident. The section between miles 0 and 40 of the CP Cascade subdivision (along the west riverbank) was analyzed because of its history of event records dating back to the 1940's. weather conditions and any site observations considered relevant by the inspector. .

pelite. This intense deformation during the midCretaceous to Early Tertiary time resulted in complexly folded rock mass cut by north-south trending faults (Monger 1970). Figure 1(a) shows a typical slope cut along CP's Cascade subdivision. Monger 1970). faulted and mylonitized from pervasive shearing so that the rock is rather friable (Monger 1970). North of Hope. diorites. The complex geological context is evidenced in the various lithologic units present in the study area. in the Early Tertiary. Fault breccia is considered in this study as a distinct lithology from an engineering perspective. this unit is closely jointed. It mainly comprises granite gneiss with abundant pegmatite dikes. Chert is probably the most abundant. Figure 1 also shows the scar and deposits of a previous event (a). Several orogenic episodes took place in this area which involved folding and faulting. Intense shearing is observed at and near the contacts with other units and major structures (McTaggart & Thompson 1967. The Sedimentary unit 2 is the earliest within the study area (Eocene). and folding trends are mainly northwest (McTaggart & Thompson 1967). and that the Fraser River Fault zone might have been active intermittently from Early Cretaceous to relatively recent times (McTaggart & Thompson 1967). of reverse and strike-slip faulting concentrated along these zones. Limestone occurs as isolated beds continuously interbedded with weakly metamorphosed volcanic rocks. and due to the various degrees of shearing and alteration. . Foliation and bedding are parallel and disposed in open or recumbent and overturned folds (McTaggart & Thompson 1967. These faults are associated with broad zones of weak materials and differential weathering. The steepness of the section of the Fraser River canyon between Boston Bar and Yale required steep slope cuts through tectonically altered rock in order to accommodate the track.Instabilities documented along this section include rock. glacial scouring and river erosion (Piteau 1977). Ministry of Energy 2005). apparently in a nearly constant direction (northwest). They show great variety due to variation in their original composition or texture. quartz diorites and granites. Ministry of Energy 2005). the Fraser River lies along the junction between the Coast Mountains and the Cascade Mountains. conglomerate and argillite (B. The Metamorphic unit 2 mainly consists of pelitic schists local amphibolite.C. 1987). The latest movement of the Hope Fault was probably in the late Eocene. Massive and thick-bedded chert can be found in some areas. soil and snow falls. These rocks have been subjected to repeated folding.C. Metamorphic unit 1 is also known as "Custer Gneiss". The Fraser River fault zone is considered inactive (Trettin 1961. It appears that the latest movements of the steeply dipping Hope and Yale faults were dip-slip. the hazards of rock blocks coming to rest along the track (b) and potential future events (c).C. Ministry of Energy 2005). A study by Coleman and Parrish (1991) describes a Tertiary dextral strike-slip fault system. where rock falls account for more than 80% of the records. 2. Intrusive rock unit is comprised of granodiorites. where strong shearing is observed. It consists of intensively sheared material associated with the faults in the area and could have a marked influence in the rock fall events frequency where the railway alignment approaches the fault traces. these have been grouped in rock units of similar lithological characteristics in Figure 2. there was an episode. argillite and slates (B. The Sedimentary unit 1 consists of chert. It consists of sandstones. minor ultramafic rocks and siliceous schist (B. limestone. with a high percentage of ribbon chert layers separated by slate or argillite. Monger 1970). sheared. Rock masses are locally broken and closely jointed in some areas (McTaggart & Thompson 1967). Pronounced metamorphism is observed at and near the contact with the Metamorphic unit 1. The Hope and Yale Faults together with many other major cross faults to the east and to the north of the study area comprise the heavily faulted system known as the Fraser River fault zone (Piteau 1977) and are illustrated in Figure 2. different levels of metamorphism and intrusion (McTaggart & Thompson 1967).C. According to Monger (1970).1 Geological setting From Boston Bar to Hope. with different grades of foliation. Rock masses at and near contacts with other units are highly sheared and deformed. Wernicke et al. Ministry of Energy 2005). For convenience. pelitic schist and amphibolite (B. pale gray to white colour.

have led to significant lateral erosion by the river. resulting in toe unloading and steepening of the valley slopes.5 m per km (0. as well as numerous sharp bends and curves. and with steep side slopes where rock benches are common. steep and irregular. resulting in a small V-shaped cut in the base of the glacial scoured surface. steeply Ushaped section. Several of these peaks are horns.C. This has lead to a succession of constrictions within a larger canyon where the river velocity increases significantly. (with information from B. bare rock buttresses and spurs. The bottom of the valley has been notched to a depth of about 30 m by stream action. and cirques are common. with a river gradient approaching 1. Geomorphologic setting The study area has been glaciated with the highest peaks staying above the ice. has a very constricted. Lower mountains stood below the Pleistocene ice sheet and are rounded. Valleys were glaciated and are generally characterized by U-shaped cross sections and hanging side valleys and most drainage is structurally controlled (Monger 1970). together with well-developed alluvial fans. Ministry of Energy 2005).15%).Figure 2.2 Rock units and faults in the study area. The first 27 miles of the study area (roughly between Boston Bar and Yale). Common features are steep scarp faces. The slopes in the area are generally sparsely forested. Evidence . These. 2.

with less frequent events. Alluvial fans in the 40 mile section can be regarded as static or dormant. to become gentler as they approach the track (see Figures 3 and 4). the lateral river erosion opposite to alluvial fans will continue to take place (Piteau 1977). The authors assume for this study that recording standards were consistent along the entire section for any given year. However. however. with most of them between 24 and 34 degrees (except in areas where tributary creeks discharge to the Fraser River from the west).07%). Analyzing the elevation of the drainage divide adjacent to the CP track. In the southerly 13 miles between Yale and Hope. thus resulting in a wider section. and between miles 23 and 26 which probably caused blockage of the river (Piteau 1977). from a stronger. Figure 3. The approximate location of this slope change coincides with a change in the rock unit comprising the slope. A topographic break consisting of north-trending hills with relatively low elevations when compared to the surrounding mountains is present on the west side of the river valley. but also influences the geometry of the slopes adjacent to the track. This is consistent with the description of this section of the Canyon provided by Piteau (1977). this is not considered to greatly influence their spatial distribution. shows that the presence of these hills limit the height of the potentially unstable slopes. the valley widens and the river gradient averages about 0. 3 Spatial distribution of events CP rock fall records in this section include the event volume and location. The slopes in the southern 13 miles are believed to be in an abandoned state of erosion. immediately to the west (Figure 3). Given the river gradients and typical cross sections. Intrusive-rock unit. So. and also show a slower rate of mass wasting. In this section the valley is broader and with densely forested slopes. between miles 16. to the highly altered Metamorphic unit 1. Rocks between Yale and Hope (Metamorphic unit 1) would have been more easily scoured and excavated by glacial action than the slope forming material immediately upstream. the slopes change their constantly steep configuration. less sheared. it is believed that the slopes in the first 27 miles are at an active state of river erosion. Drainage divide elevation immediately adjacent to CP track and typical cross sections of the canyon . Recorded events include blocks landing on the tracks and blocks caught within the ditches or behind protective walls. Typical sections along the 40 miles show average slope angles between 27 and 32 degrees. where smaller events or events with no consequences were not consistently recorded in the early years. as they approach their ultimate (stable) state. The event recording standards have evolved.of major post glacial or inter glacial slides is observed between miles 6 and 9. thus the rate of lateral river erosion is not likely to increase with time.7 m per km (0. From about mile 27 at Yale.5 and 40 and are a consequence of their presence. the entire set of records is not statistically uniform for the full time range they were kept. A reason for the valley section change at Yale is the change in the rock mass at this location (Figure 2). These antiforms clearly follow the alignments of both the Hope and Yale Faults. The occurrence of the Hope and Yale faults (and associated orogenies) not only provides the context of sheared and altered rock units.

e. Rock fall spatial distribution and average slope angle of the initial 50m from the track.e. The data also showed that more than 80% of the recorded events along the west river bank originated from slope heights of less than 50m. Previous studies of this section by Piteau (1977). 24 to 26 and. The spatial distribution of events along the 40 miles is presented in Figure 5. the events are not evenly distributed.H. previous protective works). It is believed the spatial distribution of events corresponds to differences in general settings (i. vegetation. slope steepness. These studies suggested that river erosion opposite to alluvial fans. but concentrated at certain locations (peaks). were important factors influencing the spatial distribution of the rock fall events. Typical sections along the study area (west side). This work was updated by C. Figure 5 shows that the distribution of events is generally associated with average slope angles of the initial 50m from the track exceeding a threshold between 20 and 30 degrees.Figure 4. . Also. focused on CN's track located on east river bank. Events are concentrated in the first 15 miles with the exception of miles 19 to 20. Lim in 2007 (personal communication) who focused on CP's track on the west river bank. lithology and geomorphologic process) and each location's particular characteristics (i. west river bank. river bends and postglacial landslides. Figure 5. 38 to 39.

This would explain the presence of softer reliefs between miles 15 and 27. about 15 m high. thus transitions to flatter slopes before the track alignment are expected to be rare and steep cuts to be necessary to accommodate the rail alignment. further steepened some of these slopes. The presence of hard intrusive rocks between Boston Bar and Yale (miles 2 through 27) led to a steep canyon after glacial scouring. Mile 33. does not show any apparent conditioning for the occurrence of rock falls. where the track is located. the valley widens when compared to the previous section. where a rock block was found lying on the track. Events have been recorded along mileage 28 and 33. This corresponds to a change in lithology to a metamorphosed. however. Between miles 27 and 40. the presence of the Hope and Yale faults led to the formation of antiforms about half the height of nearby mountain peaks. where glacial erosion would have reshaped them to rounder hills. Our analysis is based on the slope angle of the initial 50m from the track and conditions at mile 28 gave an average slope less than that observed. The river gradients and typical steep cross sections in this area indicate the slopes are likely to be at an active state of river erosion. . mostly opposite to valley constrictions caused by alluvial fans. Here a steep cut is needed to accommodate the railway alignment. sheared unit. River erosion. This cut slope. sits below a gentler slope. The railway alignment at mile 28 was accommodated by a steep cut on altered rock. being the likely cause for the concentration of events. where the average slope angle of the initial 50m from the track does not exceed 20 degrees. limiting the potential source areas when compared to miles 2 through 15. Figure 6. where glacial erosion and the presence of the antiforms promoted a softer relief. Preventive and protective work completed is also shown.Figure 6 presents the relation between the event distribution and the geologic-geomorphologic setting. However. It is worth noting that between miles 38 to 40 the relief is soft relative to the canyon topography with the exception of a ridge. Event distribution and geologic-geomorphologic setting. It has to be noted that only one event was recorded in 1957 at mile 33.

Understanding the factors affecting the spatial distribution of events is considered essential to better allocate the resources available for risk mitigation and to estimate the event spatial probabilities within a quantitative risk analysis framework. This section is located at the discharge of a small creek which could act as a chute for blocks detached from sources located at higher elevations than the 50 m source location used for these analyses. Modelling was done using Rockfall Analyst (RA). In these analyses we assumed the same number of blocks are detached from each source location. can aid in the design of protective measures (Giani et al. A plan view with the modelled rock fall distribution is shown in Figure 7 together with a typical cross section of the rock fall path and the variation of the block velocity.2 and 0. The sources were estimated by analysing source locations containing sharp topographic contrast.7. a three dimensional rock fall trajectory modelling extension for ArcGIS software (Lan et al. Routine inspections and on site assessment of the slopes currently constitute a qualitative risk assessment.7 recorded substantially more rock fall events than predicted. The model considered values of restitution coefficients and friction angles used in previous studies in the area and calibrated against historical records (Lan et al. and increase our knowledge on the factors affecting the spatial distribution of the events (Agliardi & Crosta 2003.2 and 7. Figure 7 presents some of the results obtained from the RA model for the section between miles 6. 2010).3 and 8. The observed agreement between the model and measured events obtained using a single model for a 2 km long section suggests that accounting for three-dimensional changes in topography is likely the factor controlling the spatial distribution of events. Monnet et al. A section of the study area between miles 6. Given the same frequency of block detachment and the same restitution coefficients one would expect a uniform spatial event distribution along the track. Mitigation work-records shows that at mileage 7. Dorren 2003).7 and 8 was selected to illustrate the influence of topography on the rock fall trajectories when modelled in three dimensions and the importance of the slope profile near the track in the spatial distribution of events. 2007). 5 Summary and discussion Methodologies for managing risks associated with rock falls along transportation corridors through mountainous terrain are moving towards more proactive approaches rather than reacting after the event occurrence. Energy loss is estimated by energy restitution coefficients after each impact for rolling or sliding. and in particular three dimensional modelling.7 and 8. The analyses were carried out within the Intrusive rock unit. Variations in the material covering the slope and the associated energy restitution coefficients appear to play a minor role.3 rock bolts and shotcrete were used extensively to stabilize the slope when compared to other locations. The software output includes rock fall path. this trend will lead to a wide application of quantitative risk analysis for decision-making regarding mitigation measures. height and energy for given sources and slope materials based on the particle kinematics (assuming parabolic trajectory while flying and an equivalent frictional model while rolling). The model results are in general agreement with the observations except for mileage 6. Models are currently being developed for other track sections to check on the validity of these observations within other rock units and slope-track configurations. 2004.4 Three dimensional modelling of rock falls Modelling of rock fall trajectories. 7. 2010). These were taken for vegetated slopes with normal and tangential restitution coefficients of 0. where cut slopes were used throughout the entire section to accommodate the track alignment. Mileage 6.5 respectively and equivalent rolling friction angle of 30 degrees. A comparison between the recorded and predicted event frequency is presented in Figure 7c. . with the increasing capabilities in data storage and processing. which is the basis for resource allocation for mitigation works along transportation corridors. depending on the slope materials. The authors believe that. These findings may not be applicable to the metamorphic or sedimentary units in the area. At mileage 8 only one event was recorded and the source for that event is uncertain. velocity. 2007. slope steepness and considering that most source areas recorded in CP rock fall event data base are located within the first 50 m of elevation from the track.

This shadow angle is defined as the angle between the apex of the rock fall talus slope and the farthest run-out boulder. The analysis of this section of the CP Cascade subdivision shows that the geological and morphological setting determines the 40 mile scale distribution of events. Section view of a predicted rock fall trajectory and its velocity at mileage 7. The model results are consistent with observations. the shadow angle is more likely to intercept the slope before reaching the track. These results are encouraging for the use of three dimensional modelling to better allocate resources for risk mitigation along transportation corridors. Models are being developed in other . They argued that this shadow angle appears to be the lower limit of the rolling friction angle of large boulders over talus slopes.Figure 7. The influence the material cover has on the event distribution is expected to increase with increasing distance to the source. Rockfall Analyst model output for mileage 6. It is worth noting that a threshold value between 20 and 30 degrees is consistent with the minimum rock fall shadow angle estimated at about 27.1 (b). It seems that three dimensional changes in topography is likely the factor controlling the spatial distribution of events for the geologic/geomorphologic context of the modelled section. This was observed regardless the geologic or morphologic context. while the site specific distribution (peaks) is influenced by local three-dimensional topography immediately up-slope of the railway. Comparison between the predicted rock fall distribution and the distribution from CP recorded events. However. This same concept could explain the absence of events at flatter slopes near the track. within the 40 mile section. Evans & Hungr (1993) reported that typical shadow angles range between 22o and 30o. For these slopes.5o.7 through 8. The event distribution appears to correlate to slopes angles above a threshold value between 20 and 30 degrees for the initial 50 m from the track. geology and morphology appears to determine the frequency of these steep slopes. Plan view of the predicted rock fall paths (a).

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