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Climate change poses a challenge to the old UK railways

In the coastal town of Dawlish in southwestern England, engineers are working around the clock to protect its 175-year-old railway from the threat of climate change.

The waves of the English Channel hit a straight line on the seafront wall built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the leading Victorian architects, which made the railway even more dangerous. In 2014, another section of the railway, linking London with Penzance at Cornwall, was swept away by a hurricane.

Seven years ago, teams of construction engineers returned to the area, waiting for the waves to clear, as they made their way to the affected area. The new wall, made up of eight long concrete slabs, is designed to protect the Dawlish station and railway for the next 100 years.

The new coastal defenses, built to withstand one meter high water, are a clear picture of how large areas of the UK railway, first built in the 19th century by Victoria businessmen, threaten the growth of climate change . .

Britain was a pioneer in railways, which contributed to the industrial revolution. But for years now it has been the enemy of the network. Railways still run the routes established from the 1830s onwards unlike in Europe, where many railways were rebuilt after World War II.

Work on the new beach wall on the Dawlish railway in 2021 © Peter Titmuss / Alamy

The legacy is a network that has not been programmed to adapt to climate change. In particular, planners of the 20th century tried to buy as little space as they could to save money while building railways, which meant that smaller cuts and sloping sections could now overflow.

The cost of weather-related delays on UK railways has risen sharply over the past decade, from £ 45m in 2009-10 to around £ 100m in 2019-2020, according to Network Rail, a public works official.

Extreme weather can damage railways, numerous dilapidated bridges and tunnels and tens of thousands of expensive networks and poles.

“This is a case of individual and ever-increasing personalities,” said Martin Frobisher, Network Rail security and engineering director. “We break the weather forecast every year. . . and the whole season affects the rails. ”

However, the Network Rail faces serious doubts about the state’s future finances: cabinet ministers have reduced funding cuts that affected some upgrades and repairs to new railways, especially in northern England.

Tony Travers, a travel specialist at the London School of Economics, warned that developing climate change strategies could be “costly,” adding: “It is extremely unknown.”

Under the five-year financial stability that is underway until 2024, Network Rail plans to spend £ 500m on climate change. Frobisher said he plans to allocate more money to maintain land and canals for the next five years.

Typhoon severely damaged railway line in Dawlish in February 2014 © Ben Birchall / PA

It is encouraged financially to deal with climate change as it has to pay sailors for climate change. When the line in Dawlish was very damaged in 2014, Network Rail paid £ 16m.

Rail controllers have warned that the dangers of cyberbullying will intensify in the next few decades as the dangerous climate increases.

Network Rail reported that “the effects of bad weather and climate change [was] is rising faster than expected, “according to a 2018 report by the National Audit Office, the state treasury.

“This is a risk for the railway industry to thrive, it is a risk that the companies are aware of, and once you know about it you can start taking action,” said Malcolm Brown, Angel Trains’ chief marketing officer. rental company, and chairman of the Sustainable Rail Executive.

Network Rail has turned to new navigation technology and other tools, using drones and advanced data filtering technology that is compiled by overhead rail cameras. It is also working with the Met Office to try to predict which parts of the railways could be at risk in the event of a hurricane.

Three people have been killed in a train crash in northeast Scotland in August 2020 after heavy rains © Derek Ironside / Newsline / PA

“We are seeing a shift from traditional design to predictable future-based digital technologies,” said Nicola Sandri, McKinsey’s global traffic director.

Rail security experts have warned that the UK is not immune to the floods in Germany and Belgium last summer, which killed at least 200 people and damaged at least € 1.3bn. The floods destroyed 180 crossings, more than 50 bridges and more than 1,000 signatures and power windows.

Three people have been killed in a train crash in northeastern Scotland in August 2020 following heavy rains, the first fatal crash in the UK in more than a decade.

While the companies are still awaiting their findings from the crash from the accident investigators, the Rail Safety and Standards Board climate change report said it appears “clear that climate change is a bad weather phenomenon. [was] for good reason. ”

New projects are boldly developed. Specialists in the construction of the HS2 railway, a new high-speed railway built between London, Birmingham and Manchester, are incorporating so-called permanent canals using landfill control techniques. This is designed to ensure that operations can take place even after a flood of 1,000 years.

But the age of many railway networks in Britain makes the cost of protecting railways prohibitive and means that difficult decisions may be needed, according to George Davies, head of sustainable development at RSSB. In the end, the best solution is to break your business into a series of smaller steps.

“I do not believe it is possible and it is impossible to make our rail to be 100 percent weatherproof, then there needs to be a switch,” Davies said. “I’m not sure these companies have a very good idea of ​​what can be acceptable.”

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