Network Rail warns of climate change risk to rail network

Network Rail has said that climate change poses an increasing threat to the rail network and that this is accelerating the deterioration of some of its underlying infrastructure.

In its third 'Adaption Report', Network Rail sets out the progress made from 2016 to 2021 on making the network more resilient to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change and what further actions can be taken as these events increase in frequency.

The impact of the changing climate has been increasingly evident in recent years, with the railway suffering more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, the report states.

Weather trends also point towards an increased frequency of extreme drier periods, followed by prolonged and extreme wet weather, in the coming years.

These factors accelerate the “deterioration of earthworks and put pressure on drainage systems and other rail infrastructure,” the report said.

Network Rail has deployed a 'Weather Risk Task Force', which is collecting data to help it improve its future response to extreme weather events.

Between 2006 and 2021, the report calculated that weather-related incidents caused over 322,000 delay events, totalling around 26 million total minutes of delay. It also cost train firms over £1bn in resulting compensation payments.

The report added that while not all incidents are correctly attributed to weather, the figures used are likely to be conservative estimates, with the actual cost being much higher.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “Climate change is having an undeniable impact on our infrastructure and the effects are forecast to be greater still in the coming years. More infrastructure failures would mean delays for passengers and our freight partners who move thousands of tonnes of goods across the country by rail.

“As the greenest form of large-scale transport, its critical we can continue delivering low-carbon travel to customers. While there is no silver bullet to making our railway more resilient to the effect of climate change, the action plan outlined in this report demonstrates the progress we are committed to making.”

Network Rail has already committed to sticking to United Nations' targets to help limit global warming to 1.5°C. By the end of 2021, half of its suppliers were also making attempts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles