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Railways aren't bulletproof but must be resilient, warns ORR

The rail regulator has told Network Rail to compile climate resilience plans for all its routes by September, Construction News has learned, in the week storms led to collapsed railway lines and forced services to a standstill.

Speaking to Construction News, Office of Rail Regulation director of railway performance Alan Price said the operator already had a “very good” plan for the Western region and had been told to publish plans for its remaining regions within seven months.

As part of the western regional plan, a list of priority projects has been drawn up which includes a job worth between £6.5m and £13.4m to install a higher track slab and improvements to a bridge and culvert to cut flooding, damage and closure time at Cowley Bridge Junction between Tiverton and Exeter.

Mr Price said: “The government is not funding them to make a bulletproof railway but we do want it to be more resilient.”

EC Harris head of infrastructure Mat Riley said there needed to be much longer-term strategic planning around weather-related events as they become more common, and that it should be taken into account when making infrastructure spending decisions.

He said it was difficult for highways, utilities and rail organisations to deal with climate mitigation against a background of funding cuts, a drive for efficiency and political pressure to reduce bills for consumers.

Few contractors had spotted the opportunity to win work by advising clients on how to strengthen their projects against severe weather, he added.

“I am not sure many will have thought about this as a market opportunity. They will do it on a reactive basis but are they set up to help them plan for these eventualities? One or two are, but they are isolated examples.”

Skanska executive vice president Bill Hocking said the weather resilience of the UK’s transport infrastructure should be reviewed.

He said: “I think there has to be a root and branch review of transport infrastructure resilience over the long term and that should lead to significant investment.”

Storms have battered the West and South of England and parts of Wales, Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin will now review the resilience of the transport network for extreme weather events and report by the summer.

WSP has said it is working on a programme where it will advise clients on how to design their projects to take account of future changes in weather patterns.

Under the programme, called Future Ready, WSP will inform clients how designs could be tailored to take account of a range of future risks, such as climate change or movement in metals or electricity prices.

Director at WSP’s environment and energy business David Symons said: “Our core focus is how we make sure the designs we provide for our clients are future-ready.”

Impact on output?

Construction economists said output in the industry could drop this quarter as severe weather delayed work.

Construction Products Association economics director Noble Francis said: “I would expect new work in the first quarter to fall compared with the fourth quarter but it should be temporary, and we must remember that it is in isolated areas where the flooding has occurred.”

Hewes & Associates founder Martin Hewes said output for the quarter was likely to be down, but could rise in 2014 as a result of extra repair work. Experian head of construction futures James Hastings said the floods were unlikely to have a significant effect.

Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation director of policy and technical affairs Andrew Hugill said protecting networks against increasing levels of weather related damage was likely to require a “substantial increase” in the level of funding.  

“Current long-term predictions indicate that these extreme weather variations will continue and situations such as the current flood events, and the disruption caused, underline how adequate maintenance and funding of the network must be a fundamental part of UK transport policy.”

The Local Government Association, which represents England’s councils, said repairs to local roads following storms and heavy rain in 2009 and 2012 cost an estimated £400m and £338m respectively.

Contractors in the flooded areas have been helping with the highways flood relief effort carrying out work including filling and distributing sandbags and clearing fallen trees.

They include Skanska (Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset), Amey (Hampshire and Plymouth) and Kier May Gurney (Surrey).

Network Rail has also brought in contractors to repair severe storm damage.

Bam Nuttall, Sisk and Amalgamated Construction were called in to repair the stretch of coastal railway at Dawlish badly damaged by storms, while Carillion and Osborne were among those brought in to tackle landslips.

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