Haddiscoe accident report calls for more collaboration between organisations on railway flood resilience

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has called for Network Rail to work more collaboratively with the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish local authorities to ensure that railway-related flood risk is managed appropriately.

The recommendation comes as part of RAIB’s report into the embankment washout under a passenger train in Haddiscoe on 30 January 2022.

The event saw a train travelling between Norwich and Lowestoft run on to a washout section of track between Reedham and Haddiscoe stations. The driver had seen that the track ahead was flooded so brought the train to a safe stop, but quickly realised that the ballast beneath the train was washing away. As he attempted to reverse the train back towards Reedham, the section of ballast washed away entirely, leaving a large void. The train started to tip into the void and had to be evacuated. Nobody was hurt in the incident.

RAIB’s investigation found that there were unusually high levels of water on the day due to a combination of tidal surge and tidal locking. Localised low spots in the flood defences next to the track allowed this water to enter the railway. Network Rail was not aware of the water ingress and therefore did not prevent the train from entering this part of the track.

The investigation concluded that Network Rail’s flood risk management processes were not effective at warning that the track was serious risk of flooding.

In addition to this, the Environment Agency’s management of flood risk in the area did not account for – and was not required to account for – the impact of localised flooding on the railway.

RAIB has said that Network Rail was not effectively managing the risks to its assets and services associate with third party flood defences.

These conclusions have highlighted the fact that there is no joint strategy in place between Network Rail and the Environment Agency to prevent flooding of this kind.

Since the incident, Network Rail’s weather taskforce has been considering the implications of tidal flood risk in line with other weather threats.

Nevertheless, RAIB has recommended that Network Rail and the Environment Agency “agree a shared understanding of how railway-related flooding risk alongside the New Cut at Haddiscoe is managed”.

Its broader recommendations include one for Network Rail to “develop processes for the effective identification, recording, and management of sites at risk from coastal/tidal and fluvial flooding”.

Regarding interfacing with other organisations, RAIB encourages Network Rail to “ensure that flood warnings from external organisations are managed and disseminated in a timely manner to operational and maintenance staff, and that any required response is clearly defined in the integrated weather management plan”.

Further to that recommendation, RAIB has said the rail operator should work with the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish local authorities to “identify any railway-related risks arising from the overtopping and/or failure of tidal flood defences where this could adversely affect the safety of Network Rail infrastructure”.

As part of this work with the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish authorities, RAIB recommends that any relevant agreements, such as Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), are reviewed and, where necessary, improved.

Reacting to RAIB’s report and recommendations, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “We agree with the recommendations of the report and our weather taskforce is working on the implications of tidal flood risk along with other weather-related threats, to minimise the risk of this type of incident. Climate change is a huge challenge for the railway and we have proposed doubling our climate change resilience budget to £1.6bn over the next five years, along with improvements to our weather forecasting services.”

Network Rail and Natural Resources Wales have signed a new MoU this week to renew their partnership to drive environmental sustainability and create a more resilient railway. Both organisations have already helped each other on a number of coastal and river schemes to reduce flood risk, protect habitats, manage land, and better plan projects.

Upon signing the new MoU, Natural Resources Wales chief executive Clare Pillman said: “When organisations work together, we can do more. So this agreement means the environment and rail users all benefit.

“The State of Natural Resources Report 2020 emphasised that different organisations need to collaborate to improve the resilience of our environment, particularly as we reimagine the transport system, and this partnership puts this principle into practice.”

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) acting head of hydrology Janine Hensman said: “SEPA are Scotland’s national flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management authority.

“We work closely with the Scottish Government and organisations across Scotland to help people and places become resilient to flooding. This includes local authorities who, in Scotland, are responsible for developing and maintaining flood protection schemes.

“Part of our role is to provide data, advice and guidance to all our partners on managing flood risk, for example through our Flood Risk Management Plans, our Flood Hazard Maps and our National Flood Risk Assessment, which includes a specific consideration of infrastructure.

“We also share targeted flood warning alerts and warnings with Network Rail during flood events and are investigating how we can provide more targeted flooding information to all our partners.

“SEPA are happy to take part in more focused discussions on the management of risks to the railways protected by flood defences with local authorities, Network Rail and the Scottish Government.”

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