Rail looks to go climate-resilient

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Climate changes such as steady increases in temperature and changing groundwater-levels will have an effect on the durability and functioning of rail infrastructure. UITP's latest report looks at how the rail sector shall adapt to these inevitable changes. 

Hurricane Sandy hit New York’s metro system in October 2012 with devastating force, destroying South Ferry Station, flooding tunnels and wreaking billions of dollars’ worth of havoc. It served as an extreme and tangible example of the devastating potential of climate change on public transport systems.

“The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," said Joseph Lhota, then chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) at the time. "Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots," he said.

Within a week, the subway was 80% operational.

Thankfully MTA’s foresight meant that precautions were taken to avoid even more devastating consequences: before the storm, MTA moved trains away from flood-prone areas and removed electric signals from tunnels. After the floods, the water was pumped out and the signals replaced. Within a week, the subway was 80% operational.

The effects of climate change are only set to increase the frequency and severity with which events like this occur, according to UITP’s latest report, ‘Urban rail, climate change and resilience’.

In addition to events such as in New York, less extreme and more gradual climate changes may go unnoticed but will still have an effect on the durability and functioning of rail infrastructure, such as steady increases in temperature, sunshine (UV exposure), seawater-level and changing groundwater-levels.

Building in resilience

Despite the sector’s extensive climate change mitigation efforts being made through the adoption of low carbon technologies, urban rail infrastructure will be significantly impacted, affecting the way that the sector plans, designs, constructs, operates and maintains its assets in the future.

A survey was designed to gather information about the potential impacts on different subsystems of rail infrastructure, possible measures to avoid disastrous effects in the future and measures to rapidly restore systems to normal service in case of damage. The survey feedback suggests that some rail companies are already taking measures with others planning to implements steps to avoid climate effects.

This report looks at how rail infrastructure shall adapt to the inevitable changes. It includes concrete measures that have been implemented among UITP’s rail company members, many of which have been confronted with major climate change-related disruption and damages in the last 10-15 years, as well as guidance for measures to take in the immediate-, short-, medium- and long-term.

'Urban rail, climate change and resilience' - Download the report

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