UNECE works to build the resilience of transport systems to climate change

Extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change increasingly threaten the ability of countries worldwide, including those in the UNECE region, to sustain safe, reliable, and equitable transport and mobility.

Adapting to future impacts of climate change is therefore no longer a concern to be postponed: it is an issue that needs to be dealt with now. In fact, a failure to create policy action and solutions to address extreme weather and climate change is considered one of the greatest threats to development in the short- to medium-term.

Under the auspices of the Inland Transport Committee, UNECE has been working for more than a decade to raise awareness and enhance the knowledge about how to make inland transport more resilient to adverse effects of climate change. As part of the knowledge building, important frameworks and guidelines have been developed within the UNECE Group of Experts on Assessment of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation for Inland Transport, among them, the stress test framework for evaluating the resilience of transport systems.

This framework provides practical guidance on how to define and apply one or more stress tests on transport systems to determine whether they can provide acceptable levels of transport service in the event of specific climate change hazards or whether adaptation interventions are needed.

The framework was explored by railway experts who recently met in Krakow, Poland, at a workshop organized under the auspices of the Trans-European Railway (TER) project. The workshop was hosted by Polish Railway Lines Plant in Krakow (PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe S.A.), and Professors Dr. Bryan T. Adey and Dr. Marcelo Galleguillos Torres from ETH Zurich guided experts in a simulated stress test on a railway line exposed to a flood hazard.

The experts discussed the scenario in which a flood affects a fictive but realistic railway line, and they focused on the time and intervention capacity needed to remedy the consequences of the flood, as well as the costs to the economy caused by a non-functioning railway line. They determined acceptable levels of impact from the flood event and then stress tested the railway line against additional scenarios, such as experiencing a more intense flood than originally anticipated, including more damage to the infrastructure and having fewer crews available for restoration, and compared the effects of intervention costs and service measures against the previously determined acceptable consequence levels.

On this basis, the experts concluded that adaptations to the railway system were needed to improve its resilience, primarily related to ensuring the transport of freight in the case of complete loss of function of an asset in the railway line.

“The workshop demonstrated that standardized expert opinion stress tests help to quickly identify problems in the transport systems in relatively short periods of time,” explained Prof. Dr. Bryan T. Adey. “The workshop helped show that transport system stress testing has the potential to be as effective in ensuring transport managers are as prepared for climate change as banks are for banking crises.”

According to Włodzimierz Zembol, Director of Railway Lines Plant, the workshop confirmed that the stress tests presented in the simulation provide an opportunity to better understand railway lines’ resilience to climate change.

“The events that affected infrastructure during the 2010 flood in the Poprad Valley in Poland show that knowledge about the extreme weather hazards and their impacts could help to ensure targeted preparedness by planning suitable infrastructure maintenance action, as well as appropriate planning of investments, and consequently should help to avoid disasters, such as those that occurred on 4 June 2010,” he noted.

The workshop showcased the practical application of a series of stress tests on a railway asset. However, these tests can be applied to any transport asset and operation. They can be carried out through qualitative assessment as the simulated stress tests, or by applying quantitative simulation models.

For more information, please consult the UNECE Stress Test Framework for evaluating the resilience of transport systems.