Written evidence submitted by the Office of Rail and Road


Introduction to the Office of Rail and Road


  1. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain’s railways and monitor for England's strategic road network. We operate within a framework set by various parts of legislation and are accountable to Parliament and the courts. We hold several infrastructure operators to account, the three most prominent being Network Rail, High Speed 1 (HS1) Ltd and National Highways; our role differs with regard to each company.


  1. As safety regulator for the railways, ORR requires infrastructure managers and train operators to have a suitable safety management system. Any system must demonstrate that there are processes in place to evaluate the risks associated with adverse weather and to identify mechanisms to prevent or mitigate the effects of weather and climate change.


  1. We hold Network Rail to account through its network licence which we issue. We determine the outputs it must deliver in each five-year control period based on the High-Level Output Strategy and Statements of Funds Available issued by government. ORR’s duties are set out in Section 4 of the Railways Act 1993 and include a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. Network Rail operates the infrastructure and is the System Operator of the mainline railway, the trains themselves are operated by separate companies.


  1. We hold HS1 Ltd to account by monitoring its operational performance against the measures set out in the 30-year concession agreement to operate and manage the railway between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. We are encouraging HS1 Ltd to take more account of the impacts of climate change than they have done so in the past when making whole life decisions based on a 40-year horizon.


  1. We hold National Highways to account by monitoring the obligations set out in its licence issued by the Secretary of State for Transport, and for the delivery of the government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS) which sets the funding and outputs required for each five-year road period. Our powers come from the Infrastructure Act 2015 which requires ORR to consider the environmental impact of National Highways activities to achieve its objectives, and the long-term maintenance and management of highways.


Q1. A brief summary of the requirements placed on operators to identify, plan for and mitigate the effects of climate change, including extreme weather events, and the reporting requirements placed on them.


  1. Network Rail’s licence requires it to maintain, renew and enhance assets in a manner which is timely, efficient and in line with best practice. ORR requires that Network Rail must have written policies and technical standards setting out how it will meet requirements; and that every Network Rail region must demonstrate compliance with these policies and standards. ORR has required Network Rail to produce Weather Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation plans since 2013, which set out priorities and high-level approaches for eight geographical routes, which are now covered by Network Rail regions.


  1. The August 2020 fatal derailment at Carmont, Aberdeenshire is a stark reminder for the industry why adaptation to adverse weather is critical. After this accident Network Rail commissioned reports by Lord Robert Mair and Dame Julia Slingo. The reports set out recommendations for improving operations and asset management to minimise safety risks and mitigate the impact of climate change. These include:



  1. In response, Network Rail has been implementing convective storm alert systems, installing instruments in high-risk embankments to provide real-time warnings of bank slips, and introducing temporary speed restrictions via radio communications. ORR will continue to monitor progress against all recommendations.


  1. National Highways’ licence places a similar requirement on the company where it must operate and manage in the public interest, in respect of both current activities and needs and in providing effective stewardship of its long-term operation and integrity. This means that asset management must consider future weather projections, including extreme weather events, and should aim to provide a resilient network through the prioritisation, design and construction of asset interventions, as well as ongoing maintenance and operational decision making, so far as is reasonably practicable with the available funding.


  1. The Department for Transport (DfT) produce a 5-year RIS that sets out its strategic requirements for National Highways. The current RIS sets out a strategic vision for 2050 for, amongst other things, a safer and more reliable network that is resilient to climate change and weather-related incidents. National Highways reports to ORR on its performance through a suite of indicators against RIS strategic outcomes which includes a well maintained and resilient network. There is one measure of network resilience which is for the condition of the SRN drainage asset, although performance is untargeted.


  1. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has powers under the Climate Change Act 2008 to request operators to submit regular adaptation reports. These are produced every 5 years, setting out actions taken during the previous 5 years and planned actions for the coming 5 years to tackle climate change adaptation. Network Rail and National Highways’ third adaptation reports were published in December 2021 and January 2022 respectively. HS1 Ltd’s report will be published in the near future.


Q2 The timeframes for this work e.g. how far in advance the ORR requires operators to plan for the effects of climate change and how regularly the operators are required to report to you on this work.


  1. ORR works with infrastructure operators and stakeholders such as the Environment Agency, the Rail Safety and Standards Board, Natural Resources Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to determine what metrics may be required in the future whilst also considering risk, funding and long-term outcomes.


  1. When planning for the five-year control period for funding, Network Rail considers asset performance over future control periods extending beyond a 40-year time horizon. Weather resilience is one factor ORR considers when assessing those plans and we seek alignment between Network Rail’s investment plans and weather resilience. Network Rail provides information to ORR on asset reliability each month and quarterly liaison meetings take place to review the strategic approach to climate change.


  1. HS1 is funded via its concession agreement, that requires train operators to make payments into an Escrow account operated jointly by the Secretary of State for Transport and HS1 Ltd throughout the concession. HS1 is a relatively modern infrastructure built to modern design standards, however climate change is driving HS1 Ltd to develop its own adaptation plans.


  1. ORR does not currently specify requirements on National Highways to plan for the effects of climate change. The RIS sets out a strategic vision for what the Strategic Road Network (SRN) should be like in 2050. National Highways assesses the longer term needs of the SRN to produce a business plan for delivery over the five-year RIS period. This is assessed by ORR in its efficiency review. Once DfT agree to the business plan, National Highways produces annual delivery plans that focus on the work it will do over the year. ORR monitors delivery of that plan over the five-year RIS. 


Q3 Whether or not ORR have established something akin to resilience standards against extreme weather and the effects of climate change, against which you assess your operators in the short, medium and longer term?


  1. ORR does not produce standards in this area. We assess and monitor asset policies and standards produced by infrastructure managers. For Network Rail, critical policies are under review and climate resilience standards are in development through Control Period 6. ORR expect these to align to design and process standards that encapsulate climate change in disciplines such as earthworks, drainage, structures, or vegetation.


  1. ORR undertook an independent review of Network Rail’s resilience plans in 2020, to evaluate their efficacy in managing weather and climate risk. This found that there are many strengths to the current plans and they should be considered an example of good practice. Two areas of improvement were identified:



  1. For National Highways, design standards include guidance on dealing with climate change through oversizing of pipes and retention reservoirs for road infrastructure, which allow for green field discharge rates. However, maintenance and renewal activities are unlikely to provide for extreme events, where a more strategic plan for the entire drainage system and river catchment is required


  1. National Highways has a well-established method of responding to severe weather events. These are covered under its Crisis Management Manual and its Severe Weather Plans. Both plans are regionally focused and highlight areas prone to extreme weather with agreed responses. The plans do include resilience measures including a reserve winter fleet, reserve salt stocks and additional drivers. These plans are updated annually, and ORR is engaged in obtaining assurances that National Highway’s procedures and processes are in place to deal with extreme weather.


Q4 ORR’s assessment of the current state of climate resilience in your sector, and what obstacles are preventing achievement of the agreed/desired standards of resilience.


  1. The railway in the UK is considered one of the safest modes of transport, however, it has always succumbed to severe weather events albeit infrequently. The frequency has been increasing and the impact and location of the events has become more unpredictable. Much of the railway was designed and built in the Victorian era, making it impossible to make the railway fully resilient, unless it is completely replaced with new assets. This is impractical and unaffordable.


  1. The level of understanding within Network Rail has improved dramatically over the last 5-10 years. It has mapped risks, identified priorities, and produced strategic plans. Network Rail has a good understanding of how to ensure railway assets are renewed to be more resilient, but there are still opportunities to improve by demonstrating implementation of its resilience plans at a route level, and by improving operational and maintenance practices through application of technology. The railway is a complex system including both infrastructure and train operators. It is vital that system operations better adapt in response to weather events.


  1. ORR is working with Network Rail to develop more robust output measures and indicators for the next funding period, which runs from 2024 to 2029, to show that progress is being made on the ground. We also expect to see closer working with other infrastructure managers to share good practice, develop joint solutions and identify opportunities to minimise risks.


  1. National Highways has plans for mitigating the risk and managing the impact of severe weather events. These plans are routinely reviewed in response to actual events and ongoing research. National Highways operate and maintain a historical asset which was designed before the effects of climate change and as such National Highways plans are largely a reaction to events rather than proactive improvements.


  1. One obstacle for assessing the SRN asset base is clear standards of resilience against which performance can be measured. Whilst capital investment such as enhancement schemes or renewals provide the opportunity to locally improve asset resilience to modern standards, the expectations of resilience of the whole SRN system are not clear.


  1. There are obstacles which make optimal decision-making regarding climate adaptation difficult that are common between road and rail:



10 February 2022