As railways invest billions to protect networks against climate change, a new framework shows how to target investment that makes comprehensive changes to withstand more frequent extreme weather.

The Rail Resilience Framework, from global sustainable development consultancy Arup, details the huge toll extreme weather events caused by climate change are already taking on rail networks around the world – from US$7.6bn of restoration work for the New York City subway network, to €2bn of flood damage to railway infrastructure in Germany.

And this will only happen more often, with forecasts showing that once-in-50-year weather events will soon happen as much as once in every six years. And those who can least afford it are worst affected; with transport disruptions causing a $107bn annual loss to businesses in low-and medium-income countries.

Rail networks are taking action – including £2.8bn of investment recently announced to defend UK railways against climate change. But authors of the framework warn that action needs to include collaboration between all sections of rail operation, governments, businesses, and local communities. Otherwise, railways face the risk of expensive and repeated piecemeal repairs and upgrades that could lead to long closures.

The framework sets out a proactive, whole-system approach to resilience planning across the three key dimensions of any rail network around the world. Drawing on a methodology tested across cities and infrastructure, it helps rail operators, owners, and planners to move from a position of worrying about the next week or the next year to creating a clear line of sight into the future.

This helps avoid a cycle of repeated costly and disruptive emergency repairs by helping to:

  1. Identify potential gaps that impact long-term resilience and risk

  2. Unlock cost savings and efficiencies across rail organisations.

  3. Enable better day-to-day decision-making on operations and maintenance.

  4. Spread action and cost to prioritise actions over the long-term

  5. Develop shared knowledge and understanding of resilience across the network. 

Hear from our experts

Climate change is already having a huge impact on railways, so rail operators are rightly making major investments in infrastructure, operations, and maintenance to protect their networks against extreme weather. But to avoid the risks of unmanageable budgets as rail is hit by more heatwaves, floods, and other threats, it’s vital that investment decisions don’t become too insular. Instead, we need collaboration between everyone that rail networks rely on.

TC Chew

Global Rail Leader

If trains are to be successful as the low-carbon, climate-friendly transport of the future, they need to be resilient to extreme weather caused by climate change. Railways are vital to local and regional economies, communities, and businesses, so it’s crucial to make the right decisions now to ensure we can keep trains running.

Juliet Mian

UKIMEA Adaptation and Resilience Leader