Government's new transport resilience committee could rewrite rail workload plans

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has hinted that Network Rail’s £38bn CP5 programme could be amended to take account of new Department for Transport work on infrastructure resilience.

As Tuesday’s Transport Committee probed the rail industry's winter resilience performance, McLoughlin told MPs that he has set up a new committee within DfT tasked with looking at resilience across transport fields. The committee will be overseen by industry experts and led by former Eurostar chairman Richard Brown.

Talking about Network Rail and its £38bn CP5 settlement he said: “If the work I have commissioned comes up with more things to be done more urgently I’d certainly want to re-look at plans over next five years and see where we finance that from”.

Earlier Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne in his first appearance at a Transport Committee had said that he hoped to be able to absorb cost of the impact of the floods on his network in his current budget. “The way we work we have to absorb the cost, find savings and make ourselves more efficient,” he said.

Carne said the current estimate for flood damage was £170M.

“We have suffered enormous damage to the network. In Devon and Wales we lost a lot of railway. There was flooding at 280 sites. We suffered unexpected groundwater issues with the worst at Maidenhead. And landslips were a serious problem with over 50 in Kent alone when we expect two to three a year.”

The most spectacular flood damage was at Dawlish where a long stretch of the coastal railway was destroyed by the sea in the huge storms earlier this month. The most pressing task there, Carne said, was to restore the railway and he is hoping by next week to know whether the current opening date of the Thursday before Easter can be brought forward.

Then, he said “we have to look at how we make Dawlish more robust”. Network Rail is beginning a study in the next couple of weeks to look at the options which may mean breakwater in front of the railway or further out to sea”. This will report in June.

A report into the longer term additional routes will start shortly and will report by autumn. The cost of one of the routes likely to be on the list which takes the railway inland by Okehampton has been priced at between £500 and £700M.

Carne also said Network Rail has committed to complete a series of climate change resilience studies across its entire network. A report is due in September. There is £300M allocated within CP5 by Network Rail for climate resilience work and the detailed, route based studies will establish if this is adequate.

The Office of Rail Regulation is also seeking clarity over Network Rail's resiliance spending plans. ORR perfomance and planning director Alan Price told Infrastucture Intelligence ealier this month that Network Rail had committed to come back with a plan to boost resilience by September this year, adding: "Clearly we are not going to fund a bullet proof railway but there are things that Network Rail can do to improve the resilience." (click here for full interview).

The Environment Agency and Network Rail will be collaborating far more going forward when planning flood defence, the committee heard, with the two agencies are about to sign a memorandum of understanding. A major issue, Carne said is, can you use rail as flood defence; particularly the limits of using rail embankments as defence when that was not what they were designed to do.

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