More political will, industry awareness and coordination required for climate adaptation
While the railway companies, operators, infrastructure managers and stakeholders are doing their part in combatting climate change and adapting to extreme weather, the combined effort falls short of what is required. Furthermore, the level of awareness does not necessarily translate to the same sense of urgency, a panel at RailTech Europe 2022 found.
On Wednesday, Keir Fitch, head of Unit Rail Safety & Interoperability at the European Commission, TU Delft professor Rob Goverde and Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment managing director Roland Nolte joined Carina Hermann, scientist at the German Centre for Rail Traffic Research, and Network Rail’s climate adaptation manager David Quincey for a discussion on resilient rail and climate change adaptation.
Hermann pointed out that there is a difference between mitigation and adaptation. “If you do the former you are not necessarily doing the latter. A lot of people and companies do not understand the difference. If you do not think about that, you might not take the right actions.”
Fitch added that that many in the railway sector are still focussed primarily on decarbonisation. While important, it will not address the main issue of adaptation, which will be a difficult and costly endeavour. This is not helped by the fact that expensive programmes are often not politically attractive.
‘Different sectors of the railway industry are focussed on different things’
Nolte also sees that many companies do not have adaptation managers and are simply not prepared or only partially. “The actions companies take are often still very reactive, and knowledge is compartmentalised within organisations. You need a broad, long-term perspective”.
As such, different sectors of the railway industry are focussed on different things, Quincey said. “Rolling stock companies have a different view on climate change than infrastructure managers. Furthermore, those in the signalling and telecoms business have hardly been affected at all, so they are perhaps not as concerned about future impact.”
This also means that there are different approaches to climate adaption and, thus, different means to achieving goals. “If you are talking about actually building better, higher and more resilient railways, then surely the issue of money is at play. However, for other approached there are also organisational aspects to consider within companies”, Nolte stressed.
‘Catching up involves identifying who can do what and when’
The panel was in agreement that the industry is moving in the right direction, but that the pace and progress is slow. There is little involvement from the EU whereas central coordination is need, especially as changes will need to built into European rules governing the sector. A change in regulation is required to reflect the change in climate.
“Catching up involves identifying who can do what and when.We are clearly behind in changing standards – we are all but experimenting at this point”, Nolte also said.
Quincey cautioned that while new standards are necessary, he at the same time questioned whether they can applied in the same fashion in parts of Scotland and at the same time in places in Italy. “New standards must not stand in the way or progress”.
And progress is needed, the panelists stressed. Goverde: “In the coming ten years, will see more serious, more disruptive events in more countries. As such we need more awareness and a greater sense of urgency”.
Also taking a long-view, Hermann added that the sector will need to be more focussed on implementing actual measures even when there is no political will or enforcement.