The performance of the rail network and local authority roads has been criticised by the Transport Resilience Review, published today.
Network Rail’s embankments and cuttings, which experienced 105 earthwork failures last winter, were described as “a particular area of risk”, while the local roads network poses a “big challenge”.
The report, commissioned by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, makes 60 recommendations for action by transport operators and central and local government.
The study was led by former Eurostar chairman Richard Brown CBE following the winter’s extreme weather conditions, which caused many high profile failures in the transport network.
McLoughlin said he would “consider [the report’s] recommendations in more detail and publish a full response in due course”.
Brown said: “There is no silver bullet or instant solution to make our transport systems more resilient.
“The principal weather events we need to plan for are more rainfall over sustained periods in winters, more intense localised rain storms particularly in the summer, and more severe storms, against a background of rising sea levels.
“We believe there are a considerable number of lessons that can be learned [from last winter’s weather], to better anticipate the impact of extreme weather events, reduce the vulnerability of our transport networks to them and speed up the restoration of normal services.”
The review said: “Network Rail’s 18,200km of embankments and cuttings are a particular area of risk, with some 105 earthwork failures this winter.
“Network Rail is sharpening its risk assessment process… but needs to do more work to determine the optimum level of spend on rectification of at-risk slopes.”
Vegetation management and felling of trees was also identified as a key risk to be addressed; some 1,500 trees or branches fell on the railway last winter.
The review recommended that Network Rail “needs to more systematically identify route sections at risk from flooding, of whatever type, and apply these solutions proactively rather than reactively.
“[It also] needs to undertake a review of route sections that are at risk from coastal storms or flooding, and determine what works would be required to make them resilient.”
In contrast to the rail network, the study noted that “much of England’s 4,300 miles of strategic road network managed by the Highways Agency, is relatively modern, constructed to higher design standards, and has enjoyed more consistent maintenance over its life to date. It is therefore physically much more resilient.”
The report identified “a significant risk” from flooding but said “instances of this have been relatively isolated and often caused by run off from adjacent land or problems at junctions”.
The resilience review said that the “sheer scale” of the local highways network - 183,300 miles of roads in England, managed by 152 local authorities - poses a “big challenge”.
It pointed out that the winter damage “was caused to a network already under strain”.
It continued: “Over recent decades, a backlog of structural maintenance and renewal of roads has built up. This has left some roads more prone to damage, particularly degradation of surfaces, often leading to potholes, a problem compounded with a series of winters with difficult weather since 2008/09.
“This damage has a high profile with the public and politicians and many councils are struggling to deal with it. This is a vicious circle, for failure to deal with this regular maintenance, including the associated drainage, speeds up the deterioration process.
“The flooding this year has compounded this with erosion and water ingress into the sub bases of roads.”
The report praised the “more efficient and innovative ways of maintaining roads” such as the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme that have emerged recently.
But it also said: “It seems inevitable that, with continued public expenditure reductions, and the complex world of local government finance, some local authorities will be unable to maintain the current condition of all of their roads, which inevitably impacts on the resilience of some of the less important ‘C’ and unclassified roads.”
Key recommendations made by the review include:
- Highways Agency and Network Rail use the recently updated national flooding risk maps to identify sections of the strategic road network and railway routes that are potentially at risk of flooding.
- Local authorities identify a ‘resilient network’ to which they will give priority, in order to maintain economic activity and access to key services during extreme weather.
- Government consult local authorities on a single set of criteria to be applied to emergency highway repair funding.
- The Department for Transport (DfT) and HM Treasury ensure that funding decisions for road and rail do not unduly restrict maintenance and resource expenditure.
- The use of asset management plans is strongly encouraged and used to inform funding decisions.
- All major ports and airports should review the location and flood-protection of their power, communications and IT infrastructure.
- Some key sites such as the Port of Immingham are inadequately protected. The Government should consider such cases and the argument for funding to supplement the private and public sector resources currently available.
- Network Rail should develop plans to raise track heights and raise lineside equipment cabinets above track level on sections of track at risk of flooding, as part of its new route resilience plans.
- Network Rail should commission studies of the resilience of its sections of coastal railways in light of events at Dawlish.
- The rail industry should also keep its design standards under regular review in the light of evolving understanding of the impact of climate change on extreme weather.
On engineering structures, the review recommends that Network Rail:
- Amends its classification of embankments to take account of the economic importance of the traffic on the route.
- 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.
- Addresses at-risk embankment slopes, with trees confined to the bottom one third or so of the slope where they can help stabilise it.
The full report can be viewed here.