Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Sunday, December 23, 2012
climate change proofing
I doubt there's a person left on the planet who doesn't now accept that climate change is not only happening but that it is far worse than even the biggest pessimists forecast.
As well as railways I've a keen interest in the weather so not totally without knowledge, and it's pretty clear to me that this year's extreme rainfall events are very abnormal, not so much in their intensity but in their frequency. Here in Bristol in 2012 we've had FIVE 'month's worth of a rain in a day' events with rainfall well over 50mm, one of which (yesterday) was over 60mm and another over 70mm. In the UK as a whole we've had about twelve of these events. We'd normally expect one or two a year.
There is now a whole new groundswell that Peak Oil won't save us from Climate Change, that it's simply too late. I'm beginning to agree with that, which is a HUGE turnround for me! We can't stop Climate Change but we can adapt to it.
This week's events have caused massive problems for the Network, especially around Exeter. The section where the Barnstaple (and future Ilfracombe, Bude, Torrington, North Cornwall and Plymouth) services leave the GWR main line has been particularly badly hit, yet this happens regularly. Some commentators have suggested that the lines may not reopen for THREE WEEKS! Unfortunately the alternative route (that Beeching would have loved to have closed!) via Salisbury has also suffered from flooding, though not as severe. In effect the whole of Devon and Cornwall are cut off.
Yet surely the solution, at least at Exeter, is simple? Why not just rebuild the routes around the junction on a low viaduct, so that the water just flows under them and also safely off the track, which could be mounted onto steel girders? Even a modern diesel train can run through a few feet of water, if the driver can be sure there's no washed out ballast etc.
My point is that we are going to rely 100% on our railways to get around and move freight in the future. Flood spots are well known, as are those sections prone to blizzards, drifting and high winds. We'll also need to allow for greater expansion as heatwaves become more common.
As for the S&D we have two major problem sections - the climb over the Mendips (Shepton has always been notorious for snow!) and the Burnham branch, which lies on the Somerset Levels. In both cases these routes will need to be totally weatherproofed so the line can stay open no matter what the weather.
The same policy needs to be adopted by the entire Network. Where the S&D leads the rest should follow ...