ARC Centre of Excellence Geotechnical Science & Engineering

Australia’s First National Field Testing Facility (NFTF), Ballina NSW

During 2013 one full-scale embankment, with both conventional wick drains and biodegradable jute drains, was constructed and instrumented at Australia’s first National Field Testing Facility (NFTF)
for soft soils at Ballina NSW. The instrumentation of this embankment is extensive and includes
the measurement of pore pressures, vertical deformations, horizontal deformations, vertical soil
pressure, and horizontal soil pressure at a large number of key locations over time. In 2014, another
embankment without wick drains was constructed to serve as a benchmark for assessing the benefits
of installing drainage. In parallel with this development, high-quality soil samples from the Ballina
site were extracted and subject to advanced laboratory testing at the Newcastle node of the CGSE.

This laboratory work was augmented by a program of careful in situ testing, including detailed
geophysical characterisation. The NFTF was established by the Centre at a total cost of close to
$2M, and was made possible by the financial support of the Australian Research Council, the Office
of the Chief Scientist and Engineer NSW, Coffey Geotechnics and Douglas Partners.

It is pleasing to note that the Symposium has attracted input from asset owners, academic researchers
and practitioners. The last of these groups typically make predictions under tight deadlines using
characteristic values of material parameters that are based on incomplete field and laboratory data.
When doing so, they usually appreciate that their predictions may have limited accuracy. It follows
that practitioners have an obligation to communicate the degree of uncertainty associated with their
prediction to asset owners and, therefore, must know the implications of their choice.

The CGSE held an Embankment Prediction Symposium on 12-13 September 2016 which aims to improve
the accuracy and reliability of numerical predictions of the behaviour of embankments which are constructed on the soft estuarine clays along the East Coast of Australia. Another key aim is to quantify the potential variability of these predictions by comparing them with the observed field response. Ultimately, it is hoped that the engineering profession will obtain a better understanding of the behaviour of complex soft soils, and thus be able to derive more cost-effective geotechnical solutions for the construction of transport and other infrastructure.

Access Site Data

All data from the Embankment prediction symposium can be accessed at

Download Bob Higgins’ Presentation:

Bog Higgins RMS 120916

Download Chris Harrison’s Presentation:

Chris Harrison RMS 120916

Download James Doherty’s Presentation:

James Doherty Datamap

Photos of the Embankment Prediction Symposium

Download Day 1 Photos

Download Day 2 Photos

The CGSE is grateful for the efforts of all the predictors and would like to sincerely thank everyone
for their contribution. All predictions have been included in these proceedings ISBN  978-0-9953750-0-0.

Link to e-Book of Proceedings – including discussion transcript

The CGSE wishes to acknowledge the contribution of the Ballina Bypass Alliance (Leighton
Contractors, the Roads and Maritime Authority of NSW, AECOM, SMEC and Coffey Geotechnics)
and the Roads and Maritime Authority of NSW in the development and operation of the National
Field Testing Facility for soft soils. The fieldwork and hence this symposium could not have been
performed without their input.

Last, but not least, the CGSE acknowledges the invaluable financial support provided by its industry
sponsors (Douglas Partners, Coffey Geotechnics and Fugro Advanced Geomechanics), the Australian
Research Council, the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer NSW, and the Universities of
Newcastle, Wollongong and Western Australia.

Shallow Foundation Tests

Foundation failure screen shot

The video shows one of the instrumented shallow foundation tests at the Australian National Field Testing Facility (NFTF) being loaded to failure. More information of the NFTF, the shallow foundation tests and an accompanying international prediction exercise are available here .