UK: Infrastructure manager Network Rail has launched two independent task forces to improve its understanding of severe weather and help it better manage its earthworks, following the fatal derailment of a ScotRail train near Stonehaven on August 12.

Dame Julia Slingo

Dame Julia Slingo, former chief scientist at the Met Office and an expert in climatology, will lead the review of NR’s capability to manage and understand the effects of heavy rainfall on the railway.

This will look at:

  • how the data and research collected by NR could be used to understand likely levels of rainfall at a location level in the present and 10 years in the future, in order to estimate potential damage to infrastructure;
  • how data can be used to ensure future engineering decisions take local weather factors into account, and to better understand how changing land use or river management policies near the railway affect how quickly rain enters and leaves the system;
  • the effectiveness of NR’s use of existing forecasting and weather monitoring technology to identify where rainfall could pose a risk to the railway, and how that might be improved;
  • the extent to which NR has explored the potential of real-time weather monitoring technology;
  • how NR might use the weather expertise available to provide input into longer-term planning and procurement decisions.

Lord Robert Mair, a geotechnical engineer and member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science & Technology, will lead the earthworks management task force, to see how NR can improve the management of its massive earthworks portfolio, looking at past incidents, latest technologies and innovations and best practice from across the globe.

This work will cover:

  • the effectiveness of NR’s existing approach to managing drainage and earthworks assets, and whether or not a more integrated, co-ordinated approach is required;
  • an independent view of the suitability of its controls framework, considering whether it is effective in controlling risks and whether it is too onerous for frontline engineers;
  • whether NR has sufficient resources and skills to manage earthworks and drainage, and whether certain teams or regions could be strengthened;
  • what NR might learn from other organisations with responsibility for managing earthwork risks;
  • whether NR is fully aware of the latest technologies and whether or not they are deployed effectively.

‘The Stonehaven tragedy resulted in three people losing their lives — this is a stark reminder that we must never take running a safe railway for granted’, said NR Chief Executive Andrew Haines on August 24. ‘With more and more extreme weather and tens of thousands of earthwork assets across Great Britain, our challenge is massive. And while we are making record investment in these areas, we have asked world renowned experts, Dame Julia Slingo and Lord Mair, to help us address these issues as effectively as possible, and at pace.’