Andrew McArthur and Brian Anderson from WRc’s management consulting team discuss the climate threat and how responses to this can be woven into existing asset management frameworks

Our climate is changing, and we must adapt. More frequent and intense droughts, storms and heat waves, rising sea levels and warming oceans will affect the services we rely on and impact the way we all live.

This is particularly true in the UK rail sector, in which an ageing asset base is vulnerable to increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, affecting services and increasing the risk of
significant financial and safety impacts. So how do train operating companies (TOC) ensure that climate risks are woven into their asset plans?

Anthropogenic climate change
The climate in the UK and around the world is changing and the impacts of this are likely to be ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible’. Although natural variations in the climate occur periodically, the present warming trend is, for the first time, the result of human activity. The consequence of this is anthropogenic climate change: unprecedented warming leading to the rapid destabilisation of the prevailing climate.

We can still do a lot to mitigate the impact of climate change; however, its effects are already being felt and can cause severe disruption to rail services. This is only likely to get worse, as ageing infrastructure struggles to cope with more frequent, intense and sustained extreme weather events. Supporting adaptation strategies are therefore of paramount importance to ensure that assets, and the processes, systems and people that manage them, are resilient to the likely impacts identified within future climate scenarios (for example, the UK Climate Projections (UKCP18)).

Climate change adaptation and infrastructure asset management
Asset management sits squarely at the centre of the response to climate change. It is the vehicle for helping us develop and implement climate change strategies and associated action plans. It helps us to prioritise investment on the basis of risk, criticality and value, so that it improves operational resilience and, in the context of rail asset management, supports more resilient local communities and national economies.

Risk-based asset management has been shown to be effective for asset-intensive organisations, not necessarily by reducing risk, but by using risk to balance the operational performance of the
assets against asset life-cycle costs. Criticality should therefore direct attention so that asset interventions can be planned and prioritised based on the value they offer to service delivery, safety and sustainable business performance. This requires continuously balancing trade-offs between service, risk and cost, whilst climate change introduces uncertainty and impacts that need to be managed to maintain this balance.

A regulatory nudge
For several years, the Department for Transport (DfT) has been mandating certification to ISO55001 (asset management) and the introduction of station asset management plans with 40- year horizons in franchise agreements. This is to ensure commonality of approach across TOCs, but also to push for longer term and more joined-up planning across key rail stakeholders. The move to Great British Railways and the introduction of National Rail Contracts (NRC) further embeds these key requirements – including the need for extreme weather plans – and builds on the learning of the last eight years since the first UK TOCs established ISO55001-compliant asset management systems. As their asset management capabilities mature, so too does their ability to identify, evaluate, own, control, mitigate and monitor risks – beyond safety risks – in a joined-up way.

Adapting to a changing environment
With established asset management frameworks in place, it becomes easier to identify adaptation options and minimise the risk, or enhance the opportunities, that climate change can have.

Figure 1 sets out our indicative high-level process, with associated outputs, for the assessment of climate risk, the identification and selection of adaptation options and the development of associated action and asset management plans.

Step one – Assess climate change risk and vulnerabilities. This provides an assessment of the risks posed by one or more plausible hypothetical future scenarios, taking into account the specific reasons for vulnerability in a given location or asset type across multiple time horizons. A typical output would include a risk matrix providing an overall risk score following assessment of the level of hazard (probability × consequence) and level of exposure / vulnerability (exposure × vulnerability (inclusive of sensitivity × adaptive capacity)).

Step two – Identify adaptation options. Adaptation options will hold degrees of importance to individual stakeholders. It is thus important that options are identified, interpreted and sequenced
in one or more temporal adaptation pathways with reference to knowledge of the scale and timing of specific adaptation triggers, before shortlisting, to maximise the value they offer. ‘Value’ should be objective (criteria-driven), aligned within a common context and agreed by multiple stakeholders. Adaptation options may be physical (favouring nature-based solutions where appropriate); social (educational, informational and behavioural); or institutional (policy, programmes, law, regulation etc.).

Step three – Assess and select adaptation options. It is important that a framework for qualitative assessment of the costs and benefits to human, environmental and social capital of adaptation measures is devised and applied to record the likely scale of capital required per option. One such approach is multi-criteria analysis (MCA). MCA is a pragmatic and objective approach to comparing different adaptation measures and identifying those that should be shortlisted. It provides an auditable, structured approach to compare adaptation options in advance of any full economic appraisal and is increasingly valued in sustainability policy evaluation.

Steps four and five – Action and investment planning. A climate change adaptation action plan (CCAAP) is a time-bound action plan that outlines how an organisation will adapt its business model, assets and operations towards a trajectory aligned with the latest and most accurate climate predictions. It sets out what needs to be done to transform the chosen adaptation options into actions. These can then be woven into an organisation’s long-term asset management plan(s) to deliver an agreed and sustainable level of service.

Keeping the gateways open
Every passenger will experience at least two stations on each journey they take. As the gateways to our rail network, stations play an important role in the customer experience. With the roll-out of the NRC and with the introduction of the Service Quality Regime (SQR), it has never been more important for TOCs to align the way they manage their station assets with the services that they provide, mindful of the actual or potential risks to meeting their objectives. Increasingly, this includes the risks associated with climate change. The UK rail industry is going through a significant period of change: a period of change that provides the opportunity to re-evaluate the way we manage station assets so that they are more resilient to the impacts of chronic and acute climate change. Fortunately, with improved asset management capabilities in the rail industry, increasingly robust climate projections and well-established methodologies for climate change adaptation, TOCs can and should reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate impacts and embed resilience into their everyday operations.

Andrew McArthur ( is Technical Director and Brian Anderson ( is a Senior Consultant at WRc.

About WRc
WRc (an RSK group company) is a multidisciplinary engineering, scientific, technical, environmental and management consultancy working across multiple sectors over its 90-year history. This includes climate change adaptation action planning and supporting the UK rail industry to develop asset management and asset management system capability improvements.