Network Rail is drawing up plans to reroute coastal railway lines that will be swept away by rising sea levels as it speeds up its climate preparations following last week’s heatwave.
The company, which owns tracks and stations across Britain, is starting to identify lines close to the coast most at risk of becoming swamped and considering options to mitigate the impact. These include fortifying sea defenses and moving lines most under threat.
Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s director of safety and engineering, said the state-backed company is ranking areas on their risk and conducting modeling over concerns that sea levels will rise.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimates that 650km of railway line and 92 train stations will be at risk from coastal erosion this century.
Coastal erosion is expected to worsen from climate change causing sea levels to rise and wilder weather.
Experts have said tracks on the coast in south Devon, North Wales and Cumbria are among the most at risk.
Mr Frobisher said: “We either build sea defenses on a scale that we haven’t seen before, we route lines that are close to the coast, or the country tolerates a level of reliability that’s way below what we get at the moment.
“The modeling that we’ve received shows a real point of inflection and real change in sea levels and coastal erosion… since 2050, we can see low lying railways being really exposed to coastal erosion.”
“This is not something that gets into build within the 2020s but if you’re not building it by the mid to late 2030s, then you’re going to miss the date from the latest projections.”
The CCC estimates the value of infrastructure exposed to coastal flooding, including railways, ports, power stations and roads, is between £120bn and £150bn. It said that adaptation measures would cost up to £30bn.
A report by the CCC warned that coastal erosion could cause “cascading impacts on many people and businesses”.
It said: “Certain coastal locations with significant and increasing flood or erosion risk also house key infrastructure assets such as power stations, mainline railway lines, roads or gas terminals.
“These assets typically have significant direct value but their indirect value in terms of power supply, transport links or supporting local economies is also significant.”
Network Rail is also speeding up its preparations to make the railway network more resilient to extreme heats after being surprised by the record-breaking temperatures seen last week.
The company revealed earlier this week that it has put together a task force of experts to look at accelerating preparations after the heatwave caused travel chaos.