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WIREs Clim Change
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Implications of climate change for railway infrastructure

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Abstract Weather phenomena can result in severe impacts on railway infrastructure. In future, projected changes to the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events could change weather–infrastructure risk profiles. Infrastructure owners and operators need to manage current weather impacts and put in place adequate plans to anticipate and adapt to changes in future weather risks, or mitigate the impacts arising from those risks. The assessment of the risk posed to railway infrastructure from current and future weather is dependent on a good understanding of the constituent components of risk: hazard, vulnerability, and exposure. A good understanding of the baseline and projected future risk is needed in order to understand the potential benefits of various climate change adaptation actions. Traditional risk assessment methods need some modification in order to be applied to climate change timescales, for which decisions need to be made under deep uncertainty. This review paper highlights some key challenges for assessing the risk, including: managing uncertainties; understanding weather‐impact relationships and how they could change with climate change; assessing the costs of current and future weather impacts and the potential cost versus benefit of adaptation; and understanding practices and tools for adapting railway infrastructure. The literature reveals examples of progress and good practice in all these areas, providing scope for effective knowledge‐sharing—across the railway infrastructure and other sectors—in support of infrastructure resilience and adaptation. This article is categorized under: Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Evaluating Future Impacts of Climate Change
(a) Retaining wall collapse at Kupjak Tunnel, Croatia (Gavin, 2016). (b) Sea wall failure at Dawlish, Devon, UK; image © Network Rail
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Rock fall at Krušljevac, Podrute, on the Zaprešić‐Čakovec line, Slovenia; after Gavin (2016)
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Landslip near Hatfield Colliery, UK, February 2013. Image © Network Rail
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(a) Shallow landslide on the Ljubljana‐Kamnik line, Slovenia. (b) Failure at the Zaluka Tunnel, Croatia, on the Karlovac‐Kamanje line. After Gavin (2016)
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Examples of the relationships between weather (or related) hazards, railway infrastructure impacts, and direct/indirect consequences, showing the complexity of the railway system
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Ice formation in rail tunnel, Slovenia; after Gavin (2016)
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(a) Lateral buckling of the track due to high temperatures, Slovenia. (b) Embankment scour at Krušljevac, Podrute on the Zaprešić‐Čakovec line (Gavin, 2016)
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Scour of foundation at Plaznica bridge on the line between Ljubljana and Jesenice (Gavin, 2016)
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Damaged overhead lines and equipment during heavy icing in 2014, Slovenia (Gavin, 2016)
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Risk management process (left; based on ISO 31000:2018 and ISO 31010:2019) and a possible application to climate change risk (right). The shaded area represents the risk assessment component
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Examples of uncertainties in climate model simulation outcomes. (a) The same model is run under four different RCPs, sampling scenario uncertainty. (b) Two different sets of climate models, run under RCP8.5 only, are compared: one set (orange) in which the same model is run with slightly different input parameters (sampling parameter uncertainty), and one set (blue) comprising results from many different centers’ climate models (sampling structural uncertainty). Temperature anomalies (y‐axis) are plotted with respect to the same pre‐industrial baseline, 1861–1890. A dashed line is plotted at a temperature anomaly of 2°C. (a) Adapted from Figure 1 of Caesar et al. (2013); (b) adapted from Figure 2.13 of Lowe et al. (2018)
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Italian railway, with rails painted white to reduce buckling risk. Image courtesy of Peter van der Linden—used with permission
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