Network Rail’s plans to increase resilience are not keeping up with severe weather events, the rail regulator has said.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said more needs to be done to tackle the impacts of climate change on the railway, which has seen risks increase over the last year.
The regulator’s Annual Report of Health and Safety Performance on Britain’s Railways shows that although safety across Britain’s railways has improved over the last 12 months, exceptional seasonal weather conditions continue to adversely affect safety performance.
In the last year four railway workers lost their lives on Britain’s railways. The ORR said this further emphasises the high-risk environment in which many railway staff work and the importance of good safety working practices.
The chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser CBE, said: ‘There’s no doubt our railway remains one of the safest in Europe. There have been improvements in health and safety to the operation of Britain’s railways and this bears testimony to the great efforts made across the industry over the past decade.
‘However, the last year saw significant increases in flooding, earthwork failures and trains striking trees on the line, which had a big impact on the number of delays on the network.
‘It is so important that the sector employs best practice if we are to meet all the pressures on the network in the future and to make sure the railway plays its full role on climate change and reducing carbon emissions.’
The ORR said the number of earthwork failures and trains striking objects such as trees increased almost fourfold compared to last year.
It found infrastructure was vulnerable to increasingly hot, dry summers followed by high rainfall, which can cause earthwork to collapse, while movement in clay embankments can adversely affect the precision layout of the tracks.
The ORR said that although Network Rail has drawn up plans to address climate change and increase resilience to extreme weather, these plans are not keeping up with the frequency and severity of weather events.
Network Rail must focus on improving identification of imminent failure by means of remote monitoring and on refining the measures it has to respond to forecasts of extreme conditions, the regulator said.
The annual report found important progress in level crossing safety, with a repeat of last year’s lowest-ever number of two level crossing fatalities, and praised Network Rail’s long-term strategy for efficient improvement to level crossings.
The ORR said there has also been a levelling out of the estimated risk from Signals Passed at Danger, over the last year but that it nevertheless saw an increase in incidents where train driver alertness was an underlying factor.