Network Rail launches resilience taskforce

A rail with sun shining on it.

Network Rail launched a resilience task force on 20 July following extensive disruption to services across the country on the previous day.

The East Coast and Midland main lines were temporarily closed, while on 19 July overhead line equipment failures forced Avanti West Coast to suspend services between London and Glasgow. Knock-on disruption ran into 20 July on the West Coast and East Coast routes, the latter due to a lineside fire near Sandy.

The taskforce will investigate and make recommendations on how the railway can develop its approach to resilience during hot weather. It will focus on four areas, each led by an independent expert. Three will focus on gathering insights from other countries and making comparison with networks more used to dealing with extreme heat and fluctuations in temperature. 

Dame Julia Slingo FRS, a world-renowned expert in climatology, will examine the likelihood of more frequent extreme hot weather events in the UK and how high-quality, detailed and timely weather forecasting can be maximised by Network Rail to mitigate the impact of heat on its infrastructure. She recently led a weather action task force focussed on equipping Network Rail with a better understanding of the risk of rainfall to its infrastructure.

Sir Douglas Oakervee will investigate engineering options to ensure railway infrastructure can continue to function safely and reliably in very hot weather. This will particularly focus on the performance of track and overhead line equipment.

Former senior Australian rail manager Simon Lane will explore operational standards, policies and practices which could allow services to operate safely and without highly limiting speed restrictions in extreme heat. 

Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith, meanwhile, will examine how Network Rail communicates with passengers before and during periods of extreme weather, as well as its planning for disruptive events.

Announcing the taskforce, NR Chief Executive Andrew Haines said: ‘The weather we’ve experienced this week has put a huge amount of pressure on our infrastructure, our staff and our passengers, and with extreme weather events becoming more frequent as our climate continues to change, we’ve got to pull out all the stops to make our railway as resilient as possible.

‘That’s why I’ve decided to commission this taskforce, spearheaded by leading global experts, whose considerable experience in their fields both in the UK and across the world will arm us with the guidance we need to make our railway resilient in the face of climate change for generations to come.’