As I write this, large parts of the UK rail network are suffering serious disruption from the weather. Tracks have been washed away (see above), services cut and with high winds adding to record rainfall, the country’s 25kV electrified lines are now set to bear the brunt of the conditions.
Engineers across the UK are working around the clock to repair the damage, but could more have been done to make the infrastructure more resilient? At Dawlish it seems unlikely that any engineering could have prevented the damage, but there’s more to it than the tracks. Signalling cables are being cut and lineside cabinets inundated with water: after the tracks have been repaired there will still be a requirement to ensure the signalling is safe.
So what are the options? Clearly radio based signalling with no lineside infrastructure offers the chance to limit the potential damage, but as we discussed recently there are fundamental problems to resolve before this becomes the norm. In the meantime, is there any way that lineside infrastructure and cabling can be made more weather resistant to allow services to run more quickly when the weather clears? And, with incidents of extreme weather increasing all over the world, is there now a business case for doing so?
One thing is for sure: if the forecasters are correct and we are set for more extended periods of bad weather, the rail industry faces a major challenge in upgrading its infrastructure to cope.