£45bn rail improvement plan puts climate change firmly in its sights.

Posted on 11 April 2024

Network Rail has announced the start of its five-year £45.5bn rail improvement plan aimed at delivering a simpler, better, greener railway to provide the best level of train performance possible. It is more geared up than ever before to cope with the extreme levels of climate change.

Chief Executive of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, commented; "Delivering a better railway for passengers and freight users is at the heart of our new five-year investment plan. Tackling climate change, safely improving train performance, adapting and responding to changing commuter habits whilst managing an ageing infrastructure requires the whole industry to rally for the benefits of all rail users.

“Whilst there are challenges and opportunities ahead, our mission is constant – we’re here to connect people and goods with where they need to be. The railway is part of the fabric of our everyday lives and has been for generations. It provides essential services to society, underpinning economic growth and our plans will support that over the next five years – a period that will mark the railway’s bi-centenary.”

Over the next five years, spanning all the way to 2029, Network Rail will invest around £2.8bn in activities and technologies that will help it better cope with extreme weather and climate change, which will help deliver a more reliable and better performing railway. examples include:

  • Increased investment in looking after thousands of miles of drains, cuttings and embankments to make them more weather resilient

  • Recruiting almost 400 extra drainage engineers who will increase the care and maintenance of our drainage assets to be able to better handle increased and intense rainfall

  • Hundreds of key operational staff will attend Network Rail’s new ‘weather academy’ to help make them ‘amateur meteorologists’, better able to interpret forecasts and make better operation decisions such as when and where to slow trains in stormy conditions

  • More than 600,000 metres of drains will be built or rebuilt, redesigned or see increased maintenance to enable our railway to cope with much heavier rainfall and reduce flooding

  • Targeting over 20,000 cuttings or embankments for attention, with over 300 miles being strengthened through renewal and refurbishment and over 900 miles seeing planned maintenance

  • Installing significantly more ‘smart’ movement sensors to cuttings and embankments giving early warning of any changes enabling engineers to react, hopefully before a full landslip

  • Installing CCTV at high-risk flooding sites to enable better and faster response

  • Introducing new technology that will help us keep services running safely in difficult conditions, such as;

    • GUSTO – that uses topography to better predict windspeeds distinguishing valleys, trees and buildings enabling trains to run at higher speeds during stormy weather

    • Precise ‘real-time’ world leading rainfall forecasting, detailing weather conditions every 500m that will link with asset condition data for even better train service management

Network Rail operates under a funding structure divided into five-year cycles known as control periods. The present period, CP7, spans from April 1, 2024, to March 31, 2029. The allocation of funds and planned activities undergoes a meticulous three-year planning phase, intricately coordinated with the Office of Rail and Road, the Department for Transport, and Transport Scotland.

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