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Network Rail report highlights increasing challenges of climate change

The UK rail network has suffered from more frequent and extreme weather events in recent years, as the impact of the changing climate is felt. To help better understand the challenges at hand, and the reactive and futureproofing work underway, Network Rail has released a new report alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Highlighting a number of growing risks to the railway, Network Rail is taking proactive action to limit the impact and disruption these events can cause to regular service.

Changes to weather is one of the common trends of the changing climate in recent years, with an increased frequency of extreme drier periods, followed by prolonged and extreme periods of wet weather.

These factors combine to accelerate the deterioration of earthworks, put pressure on drainage systems and other rail infrastructure and increase stress on the track as it expands and contracts with the temperature changes.

Risks of this nature increase the likelihood of critical coping thresholds being exceeded and causing emergency, often disruptive, maintenance to be carried out.

The newly-released report is Network Rail’s third Adaption Report, setting out the progress made from 2016 to 2021 on climate change and resilience. It also identifies further actions, as well as providing a comprehensive quantitative risk assessment of assets and climate change risks.

For the first time, the report also brings together advanced work being carried out across Network Rail, including the Weather Task Force responsible for delivery of the recommendations from Lord Robert Mair and Dame Julia Slingo in their independent reports, to provide a wide-ranging, integrated and comprehensive approach.

Network Rail has been a leading voice in the global rail sector around climate change too, becoming the first railway company in the world to set independently-verified science-based targets to help limit global warming, as well as unveiling its Environmental Sustainability Strategy in 2020 to inform its green progress.

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.”

The full Network Rail Third Adaption Report can be read here or below:

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