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Brown report calls on NR to tackle rail resilience

Network Rail should undertake a review of route sections at risk from coastal storms or flooding, in light of events at Dawlish earlier this year.

A government-commissioned report, led by former chairman of Eurostar Richard Brown CBE, said Network Rail must determine what works would be required to make those routes resilient.

The Transport Resilience Review also stated that the rail industry should keep its design standards under regular review in the light of “evolving understanding of the impact of climate change on extreme weather”.

The review acknowledged that a major challenge to making the railway resilient is the fact that large parts of its earthworks and embankments are 150 or more years old and not constructed to modern design standards.

And, although the report highlighted that much progress has been made by Network Rail in recent years in addressing the various challenges, its 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.

It has been recommended that Network Rail amends its classification of embankments to take account of the economic importance of the traffic on the route; and continues to trial newly available condition monitoring and slope stabilisation technologies.

RTM has a feature in our June/July edition on new sensor technology to help remotely monitor embankment stability.

With regards to vegetation management and felled trees, which pose a risk or which are damaging embankments, it has been suggested that Network Rail develops a 10 year strategy to significantly reduce the number of trees, particularly those posing a risk to the railway and its users, and the overall level of vegetation.

The report noted that Network Rail coped relatively well with a number of flooding events during the winter, developing several innovative approaches to reducing the impact on services. However, it needs to more systematically identify route sections at risk from flooding and apply these solutions “proactively rather than reactively”.

Brown said: “There is no silver bullet or instant solution to make our transport systems more resilient, instead it is a task of attending to one hundred and one details. But by prioritising our efforts, applying already good practices much more widely and ensuring that transport operators and authorities learn continuously from other's experience as well as their own, there is much that can be achieved.”

He did concede, however, it will not be possible to make the UK’s transport systems totally resilient in the future.

Following the publication of the report, McLoughlin said: “As the review 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.”

A Network Rail spokesperson told RTM: “Last winter more passengers were delayed by fallen trees than any other weather related cause which is why we need to do more in this area to strike the right balance between encouraging biodiversity on the railway and protecting passengers and services from the impact of fallen trees.

“As part of this strategy, we will be working closely with local communities and environmental groups to discuss how best to manage any significant reduction in line side vegetation.

“It’s no coincidence that HS1, which was built to modern engineering standards with appropriate levels of trackside vegetation, was unaffected by the extreme weather.”

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