Sunday, 24 August 2014

Climate change: "Britain's crumbling rail network is at risk of a repeat of the severe disruption of last winter."

A second article in today's Independent on Sunday looked at the impact of climate change on our transport infrastructure:

Continued rail disruption certain without urgent action, says report

Infrastructure is too weak for extreme weather caused by climate change, transport review finds

JONATHAN OWEN Sunday 24 August 2014

Britain's crumbling rail network is not built to "modern standards" and is at risk of a repeat of the severe disruption of last winter unless urgent action is taken, according to a major new report being considered by ministers.

A review of the transport network's resilience was commissioned in the wake of the storms and floods of last winter. Cornwall and much of Devon were cut off and rail services west of Exeter suspended for two months after storms washed away the main line at Dawlish.

The report warns that it is a case of when, not if, disruption happens again. The severe winter of last year will be a regular fixture, it says.

"Large parts of the railway's earthworks and embankments are 150 or more years old and not constructed to modern design standards," it states.

Many rail embankments have slopes that are steeper "than would be normal now and therefore at greater risk of slips". The last two winters have seen "unusually large numbers of embankment slips with 144 and 127 slips across the network in both years".

Network Rail's 18,200km (11,300 miles) of embankments and cuttings are "a particular area of risk" and more than 200 embankments are being monitored for signs of slipping, says the review. In the past decade, the number of earthwork slips has more than doubled. There has also been a worrying rise in the number of trains derailed by slips – six in 2012-13, up from one in 2010-11.

Routine inspection and maintenance of drainage systems and embankment slopes have "not always been given the priority they should have [had]". And the railway network suffered "severe investment restrictions and tight financial constraints for a number of decades under British Rail, and subsequently under Railtrack".

Among its recommendations, the report calls on Network Rail to "improve its ability to … anticipate slopes that will fail and target remedial work as efficiently as possible".

Last winter's extreme weather cost Network Rail £240m. Fears of further disasters have prompted rail bosses to more than double the amount spent on track drainage: £201m will be spent over the next five years, up from the £81m between 2009 and 2014. New "weather resilience and climate change adaptation plans" for rail routes are expected to be in place by next month.

Scientific consensus, the report says, is that "we will see an increasing incidence of extreme weather events … because of climate change.... By the 2040s, more than half of the summers are projected to be warmer than that [of] 2003 if emissions of greenhouse gases continue along their current rising path."

Sea levels will rise, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. The report states: "A further overall 11-16cm of sea level rise is likely by 2030, and 18 to 26cm by 2050, relative to sea levels in 1990.". These figures are for London; the rise in sea level varies around the British coastline.

Recommendations for action before the onset of this winter include transport operators having emergency plans for extreme weather, and revising climate change risk assessments "in light of recent experience".

Michael Roberts, director-general of the industry body Rail Delivery Group, said: "Network Rail will invest £38bn over the next five years in maintaining and renewing track and signals, as well as specific measures to improve the railway's resilience to weather, such as better drainage and smarter monitoring." He pledged that train operators will work closely with Network Rail to ensure that passengers get "accurate, consistent and relevant information when adverse weather causes disruption to their journey".

In the longer term, the Department for Transport should work with Energy and Climate Change and other Whitehall departments "to identify a 'critical network', comprising routes of national economic significance. That network should be maintained and, where appropriate, enhanced to a higher level of resilience".

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is to consider the report's "recommendations in more detail and to publish a full response in due course".

Continued rail disruption certain without urgent action, says report - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

In fact, the report from the Department of Transport came out last month:

Weather resilience – rail embankments in focus

Published 23 July 2014, 11:26

18,200km of embankments and cuttings are a particular area of risk from extreme weather

A report about the resilience of the transport network to extreme weather events has been published by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, asked Richard Brown CBE, former Chairman of Eurostar and now a DfT non-executive director, to lead the review.

The report notes that that large parts of the railway's earthworks and embankments are 150 or more years old and not constructed to modern design standards. The 18,200km of embankments and cuttings are a particular area of risk, with some 105 earthwork failures this winter, a small number of which caused lines to be closed for significant periods.

Network Rail is sharpening its risk assessment process and investing in a range of monitoring technologies, says the report, but it ‘needs to do more work to determine the optimum level of spend on rectification of at-risk slopes and is in the process of agreeing this with the Regulator.’

Network Rail also needs to substantially increase its focus on vegetation management and felling of trees which pose a risk or which are damaging embankments, says the report; some 1,500 trees or branches fell on the railway last winter causing a small number of routes to be closed for a day or more on several occasions, damaging substantial numbers of trains and posing a significant safety risk.

Network Rail coped relatively well with a number of flooding events during the winter, developing several innovative approaches to reducing the impact on services, says the report, but it needs to more systematically identify solutions proactively rather than reactively.

Finally, the report says Network Rail needs to undertake a review of route sections at risk from coastal storms or flooding, and determine what works would be required to make them resilient. The Weather Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation Plans being prepared by each Network Rail route should be used as the opportunity to address all of these issues.

Mr McLoughlin said, ‘I welcome this report and am grateful to Richard Brown and his fellow experts, Brian Smith and John Curley, for completing such a thorough analysis in time for the transport industry to consider the findings before the onset of next winter.

‘As today’s report notes, transport operators on the whole responded well to last winter’s series of extreme weather events, but there were clear areas of weakness. I therefore welcome the practical measures identified to improve the transport network’s performance further at times of disruption. Given the comprehensive nature of Richard Brown’s report, I propose to consider his recommendations in more detail and to publish a full response in due course.’

Modern Railways: Weather resilience – rail embankments in focus

This is the hard-to-find report itself:
Transport resilience review: call for evidence - Consultations - GOV.UK
Transport resilience review: recommendations - Publications - GOV.UK

Meanwhile, the railways themselves are preparing for the worst:

Network Rail ramps up weather resilience following UK floods

6 August 2014, source edie newsroom

End of the line: Extreme weather and flooding have impacted numerous rail lines and services over the past year

The rail operator is developing new weather resilience and climate change adaptation plans for all of its routes following the floods that hit numerous services earlier this year.

Network Rail will work with the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Natural Resources Wales to improve flood risk management, with primary focused placed on the Western Route which bared the brunt of the extreme winter weather.

"The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is anticipated to increase in future years and this could impact on the performance of our network," said Network Rail. "As a key infrastructure manager in Great Britain, we need to make our assets resilient to the weather and maintain the provision of rail services."

The extreme weather of 2013/14 caused havoc for communities and businesses that use the Western train line that runs through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. The line had washed away entirely at Dawlish and Network Rail workers and contractors spent some 300,000 hours repairing the site, which eventually re-opened in April.

As a result, Network Rail devised a new 'Strategic Crisis Management team' which manages future risk from extreme weather. The new adaptation report will be fully drawn up for all Network Rail routes by the end of September and will be presented to Government to explain the actions being taken to increase weather resilience.

Sustainability Report

The announcement comes as Network Rail today (6 August) posts record figures in terms of waste, energy and water reduction, in its 2013/14 Sustainability Report. (Scroll down for full report).

In the report, the train operator updates its progress in delivering the objectives of the Sustainable Development Strategy, which it established last May in a bit to improve its environmental and social impacts.

Commenting on the report, Network Rail's head of sustainable business strategy Iain Groark said: "Whether it's providing safe and weather resilient rail services, how we select materials for our £5bn annual infrastructure investment or the continued development of our diverse graduate programme, sustainability is fundamental to achieving our vision to develop a better railway for a better Britain."

Related articles
Businesses with no climate change plan risk 'failure' 
Lord Smith: Extreme weather is nation's 'number one challenge' 
IPCC report: human influence 'dominant' cause of global warming 
American SMEs already feeling harmful effects of climate change 
UK's national infrastructure 'at mercy' of extreme weather, ICE warns

REPORT: Network Rail's 2013/14 Sustainability Update

Network Rail ramps up weather resilience following UK floods

See also:
Futures Forum: Flooding in the West Country... "to become normal"... but questions asked over preparations...
Futures Forum: Flooding in the West Country... and climate change
Futures Forum: Flooding in the West Country... and development

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