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Reimagine the Future of Infrastructure with Digital Twins

Bentley Systems has sponsored this post.

Bentley presented at the EFCG Technology Leadership Conference on June 11, sharing insight on the how digital twins are helping organizations to reimagine the future of infrastructure.

With the impending passing of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, there is no better time to bring up digitalization technologies. During the EFCG Technology Leadership Conference, Bentley Systems’ Steve Cockerell, industry marketing director for Rail & Transit, and Katherine Flesh, senior director of Transportation,  hosted an informative session on why innovation is needed and how available technologies are providing new ways to create reliable, sustainable and cost-effective infrastructure.

Steve Cockerell (left) industry marketing director, Rail & Transit, Bentley Systems and Katherine Flesh, senior director, Transportation, Bentley Systems.

Current State and Challenges

In March, the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) showed that the U.S. still has a lot of work to do in terms of its infrastructure systems. For infrastructure professionals, in addition to dealing with aging systems, there are other challenges that must be met. Key factors affecting the industry include population growth, urbanization, climate change and changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current world population is 7.9 billion and is expected to be 9.7 billion by 2050. That means nearly 2 billion more people will need to live and work somewhere, as well as have adequate roads, water and other infrastructure. Approximately 55 percent of people globally live in urban areas. In the U.S., that number is already at 80 percent. Considering that extra strain, a move to smart cities and a digital process to build better are becoming essential.

Along with factoring in people, climate change is an urgent challenge that can’t be overlooked. While it may be a political or delicate topic for some, for Bentley’s Steve Cockerell, it is an engineering problem.

“Our future needs to be more sustainable and this has already been reflected in government, project or organizational targets for carbon reduction or neutrality,” said Cockerell. “It is clear that transportation is a significant contributor (to climate change) and within that, road vehicles account for three-quarters of all CO 2 emissions, attributed to mostly passenger vehicles with freight accounting for the remainder. Rail, however, accounts for only 1 percent of harmful emissions.”

COVID-19 has also left a lasting mark on nearly every aspect of people’s lives across the globe. The destabilization of the global economy and the upending of lives has forced change. Urbanization is shifting toward the suburbs and smaller communities.

“It has also impacted the projects we are working on, anything from adjustments to project schedules, or in extreme cases, cancellation altogether,” said Cockerell. “It will also change the way assets are operated, including with the introduction of new processes to ensure the trust of passengers is restored, so that they can feel safe to return to public transport, their offices and their homes.”

Roads, Rail, Bridges and Water

Cockerell and Flesh focused their discussion on four key infrastructure areas: road, rail, bridges and water.


Flesh noted that the greatest need is roads. According to the infrastructure report card, more than 40 percent of U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Considered the backbone of the economy, roads have not received sufficient investments. It is estimated that there are $130 billion in extra repairs and operating costs per year, while congestion is costing every commuter $1,000 per year and there is a $435 billion backlog in repairs to existing roads.

Rail and Transit

While rail scored a B on the report card, mass transit scored a D-. And although they share similar challenges, transit requires government investment.

As with many countries, the U.S. rail network is divided into two categories: freight rail and passenger rail. Both freight and passenger rail are integrated into one system and share similar challenges but there is one significant difference, according to Cockerell.

Freight maintains a strong network largely through shipper fees that are used to invest on average $260,000 per mile. However, passenger rail requires government investment. The lack of government support has led to the current state of good repair (SGR) for rail and a backlog of $45.2 billion.

This has significant knock-on effects to the level of service—for example on the nation’s busiest passenger rail corridor, the Northeast Corridor, infrastructure-related issues caused 328,000 train-delay minutes—the equivalent of roughly 700 train trips from Boston to Washington, D.C.

For transit, the situation is even worse. There is currently a $176 billion backlog for SGR, about four times as much as transit, and the deficit is expected to grow to more than $250 billion by 2029.

Transit ridership has been on a decline, a trend compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. APTA [American Public Transportation Association] reported at the beginning of the pandemic that stay-at-home orders caused a 70 percent drop in passenger volume along some routes.

Failure to address the transit revenue shortfall will only exacerbate ridership decline as service cuts mean that trip delays and reliability issues become more frequent.

“It’s a downward spiral unless we make a change and reimagine the future,” says Cockerell.


Bridges may have received a C on the report card, but 42 percent of current bridges are more than 50 years old.

The current backlog of repairs is estimated to be $125 billion dollars, according to Bentley’s Katherine Flesh, and if those repairs continue at the current rate, ignoring the further degradation that would happen over the same period, it will take 50 years to clear the backlog.

Issues with bridges can result in tragedy, as they did with the Genoa Morandi Bridge collapse which caused 43 deaths. Even if no lives are lost, bridge issues can be serious blows to the community and economy, as in the case of the Interstate 40 bridge in Memphis, where traffic had to be rerouted after a crack was discovered in the span.


Water infrastructure did not fare well on the report. Drinking water got a C-, inland waterways a D+. Levees got a D-, which can’t be reassuring to the 17 million people who live or work behind them. Stormwater got a D.  The 91,000 dams in the U.S. collectively received a D, with 2,300 dams deemed as “high hazard.”

How Digital Twins and Other Technologies Are Helping

Change has been occurring and will continue to happen. In many ways, the pandemic has been a wake-up call for change. Bentley continues to be a leader in expanding the use of advanced technologies to make smarter decisions. Data is also driving that change and, according to Cockerell, “is or soon will be your most valuable asset.”

“Digital twins will be the next digital disruption in our industry, all fueled by data we collect, create and consume,” he said. “Bentley’s digital twin capabilities are already enabling organizations to visually immerse teams in the decision-making process, running all manner of analytics to predict different outcomes and, importantly, track and manage change not only on the projects we deliver but also throughout an asset’s operational life.”

Bentley’s iTwin technology enables the federation of data and deliverables from engineering and design, with live or near real-time data streams from IoT connected devices in operations to connect the physical asset in the real-world with its digital counterpart – its digital twin. Its that link, that connectivity, that really makes the difference." Cockerell added.

A single BIM enables an entire team to work together during the design, construction and maintenance of a project. (Image courtesy of Bentley Systems.)

A recent report by McKinsey & Company, “How Construction can Emerge Stronger After Coronavirus” looked at how construction could be reimagined. It advocates for an increase in digitalization, remote working and greater reliance on BIM, including advancing 4D and 5D simulation. These digital applications provide long-term benefits of increased productivity, acceleration and automation across the design and construction phases.

Digital transformation is proving to facilitate a solid solution to enhance safety and service, reduce time and costs, increase the life of assets and mitigate risk and liability along the way. Cockerell and Flesh’s informative session included some examples of how advanced technologies are already being used so that the decisions made today will make for a better tomorrow.

The United Kingdom’s High Speed 2 Project

The Skanska, Costain and STRABAG (SCS) joint venture (JV) was contracted to work on a 230-kilometer high-speed rail network from London through Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds north, paving a new transport backbone for the U.K. Using an array of Bentley’s tools, the team has improved data consistency to 98 percent. They are also using a 5D + BIM approach.

According to Maciej Kindler, BIM manager at SCS Railways, “Whatever needs to be built will be designed. Whatever needs to be designed needs to be priced. And whatever is priced will produce carbon. Instead of putting the price in pounds, you put the price in CO 2 and you come up with two numbers.”

Kindler continued, “There is a dynamic link between how a change in the design will change the cost, will change the carbon, and a process that before took many months to derive can now be done in a day.”

Cedar Falls, Iowa Road Corridor

Consulting engineering firm Foth took advantage of the digital twin approach as part of a $38 million revitalization project to turn a six-lane highway into a four-lane, multipurpose road. The goal was to enhance traffic flow and road safety as well as create bike paths while minimizing capital investment. A single BIM model was the foundation for an entire team across locations.

Using Bentley’s tools, the team’s design schedule was cut in half. It saved an estimated 1,600 hours of time and more than $200,000. Since the highway’s opening, there has been an 18 percent reduction in crashes and an 89 percent reduction in injury crashes. It will provide an estimated $32 million in savings over the next 25 years.

SMRT Trains Ltd., Singapore

This 141-kilometer network of four lines and 108 stations is essential for the 5.7 million residents of Singapore. Carrying 2 million passengers a day in 2019, the system’s reliability is a key metric. SMRT measures reliability by mean kilometers between failures (MKBF).

“In order for SMRT to meet the 1 million MKBF target, the organization had to reimagine the way they worked and as part of its digital transformation, decided to adopt more advanced processes including what it calls its Predictive Decision Support System (PDSS) based on Bentley’s linear analytics solution,” Cockerell said. “The solution brings together data from multiple sources, including data from disparate legacy maintenance management systems, into a digital twin of its network.”

The system, which is available 24/7, has enabled proactive maintenance, cutting daily planning from many hours to 30 minutes while reducing the risk of human error. With around the clock access to the data, engineers are able to focus on more critical track defects, using the system to identify potential degradation in track condition. As a result, SMRT expect the total length of rail requiring replacement each year to decrease.

Minnesota Bridge Inspections

Along with using digital twins to help transform the bridge inspection process of the state’s 20,000 bridges, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Collins Engineers also apply other available technologies to ensure that information is being transferred accurately and in real time.

“Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and Azure Remote Rendering leveraged within Bentley’s AssetWise Inspections was a really unique way to bring the bridge back to the office to do the inspection,” said Barritt Lovelace, P.E., director of UAS, Artificial Intelligence and Reality Modeling, at Collins Engineers. “We have all this information at our fingertips that we never had before.”


Cockerell and Flesh provided other use cases, including a smart motorway digital twin for Highways England; a digital twin of the city of Gothenburg, Sweden, to help plan new infrastructure; and Aguas Do Porto unifying data for multiple water systems in Portugal.

As more organizations seek to capture infrastructure assets digitally, they would do well to partner with software vendors that have helped others go down the same road and provided a solution.

“Bentley users from around the world are some of the most innovative and visionary owners, operators, consultants, contractors and inspectors you will find today, and they truly are leading the way in terms of delivering different and improved outcomes,” concludes Cockerell.

“Our mission is to provide innovative software and services for the enterprises and professionals who design, build and operate the world's infrastructure—advancing both the global economy and the environment for improved quality of life.”

Learn more about digital twins for infrastructure at Bentley .

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