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Rail climate change costs set to soar

The UK rail industry is set to face a dramatic rise in costs from dealing with extreme weather events over the coming decades unless its starts to take a more proactive approach now, according to a new report.

The Tomorrow’s Railway and Climate Change Adaption project, commissioned by the Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) and led by Arup, has “found that climate change is forecast to have a significant and damaging impact on the railway network”.

The report predicts that, without mitigation, climate change will present a significant increased risk to the railway network, to passengers and railway workers.

RSSB interim manager Mark Phillips said: “The rail industry has already introduced wide-ranging measures to combat the effects of climate change. But more investment and support will be needed to maintain an effective rail network, which is prepared for the potentially damaging impact of extreme weather.”

The research, undertaken by Arup, the British Geological Society, Ciria, JBA Consulting, Met Office, Transport Research Laboratory, University of Birmingham and University College London, presents a number of recommendations to improve the network’s resilience. These recommendations include; improved mapping of vulnerable assets, accurate logging of the location of incidents and the weather, revising rail industry standards to make them fit with future climate predictions and developing a “journey availability” metric to assess the long-term availability across UK transport networks during extreme weather.

The report also found that some climate change adaptation and resilience projects often fail to gain the funding they need owing to the wider economic and social impact of disruption to rail services not being taken into account.

A potential major disruption to the rail network caused by adverse weather conditions, as happened at Dawlish in February 2014, could have a range of impacts on other transport modes and the wider economy, the report found. Any assessment of the relative merits of climate change adaptation or resilience projects should take into account the wider socio-economic benefits and the knock on effects it has on other networks.

Arup associate director Tim Armitage said: “The true cost of the collapse of the railway at Dawlish is far higher than just the bill for repairs and compensation payments. When you take into account the impact on local businesses and communities, the case for building alternative routes becomes much more compelling.”


Key recommendations

The project made a number of recommendations to improve the climate change resilience of the UK rail network, including:

  • Develop a multi-agency co-operation model.
  • Identify vulnerable assets and locations through detailed vulnerability mapping (including buildings, track, lineside equipment and trees, vegetation and adjacent land)
  • Enhance weather incident reporting and asset condition monitoring. Incident reporting requirements should include associated local weather conditions, and the consistency and accuracy of recorded weather conditions where delays occur or assets fail should be increased
  • Expand the use of Geographic Information System-based (GIS) alert systems and weather susceptibility maps: extreme weather conditions must be understood better before special mitigation methods can be applied
  • Review and revise standards (such as: increasing the maximum temperatures used in rail asset design standards to fit with future climate predictions, changing workforce safety standards to take into account working in adverse weather conditions) and make rail assets ‘climate change proof’
  • Replace vulnerable assets based on life-cycle costs analysis, and take a long-term view of climate change adaptation policy (for instance, consider vegetation planting to reduce temperatures at vulnerable sites and to ensure more stable earthworks)
  • Consider a “Journey Availability” metric to assess the long-term availability across UK transport networks during extreme weather.

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