On a daily basis, EU railway transport meets demand for 1.1 billion passenger kilometres and over 1 billion tonne-kilometres of freight 1. In 2012, around 9 billion passenger trips were made by rail. Therefore, railway infrastructure plays a crucial role in ensuring transportation of people and goods and, thus, contributes to economic and social welfare. River floods, however, pose a great threat to the network’s reliability in some regions and continuously cause significant direct damage.
In 2006, for example, a flood event of the March River at the Austrian-Slovakian border caused extensive damage along a section of around 10 km, causing repair costs of more than €41.4 million and a complete shutdown of passenger and freight operations for several months. This event, among other, demonstrates the high vulnerability of railway infrastructure.
Models for estimating flood losses to transportation infrastructure, however, are rare, although infrastructure losses might contribute considerably to the overall flood losses, as the case of the March river shows.
To respond to the need for information on potential risk hot spots and on expected flood damage, ENHANCE partners from the University of Potsdam have developed an empirical modelling approach. It estimates direct structural damage to railway infrastructure and associated financial losses. The study uses the 2006 March River flood that occurred at the Austrian Northern Railway as a case study. The research was published in the November issue of the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.
The so-called RAIL model (RAilway Infrastructure Loss) allows a consideration of both structural damage types and direct economic losses. Via a combination of event data and simulated flood characteristics (i.e. water levels, flow velocities and combinations thereof), the researchers estimated the expected structural damage for a given flood impact at exposed track sections, a step frequently skipped in existing flood damage models.
The localisation of significant structural damage potentials and the identification of risk hot spots creates great added value for railway constructors and operators in terms of network and risk management. Such information allows, for example, the targeted planning and implementation of technical protection measures.
After calibrating the loss estimation using recorded repair costs of the Austrian Federal Railways incurred by the March River flood of 2006, the study applied the model to estimate the direct flood damage to the Northern Railway and respective financial losses in cases of a 30-, 100-, and 300- year flood event.
While the development of reliable flood damage models is heavily constrained by lack of detailed event and damage data, the findings of the study indicate that the presented approach is well under way.
1 European Commission (2012): EU Transport in figures 2012. Averages per day based on annual transport performance figures for EU27 in 2010.
The University of Potsdam will host a workshop Climate Impact and Loss Data for Europe in Berlin on 16-17 December. The workshop will bring together scientists from various disciplines as well as practitioners from the insurance, infrastructure and political institutions.
Note to readers:
10 participatory case studies on risk reduction are at the heart of the ENHANCE project. Based on these case studies the project aims at developing and improving partnerships and risk information; as well as risk management measures and policy recommendations. Discover the ENHANCE case study on building railway transport resilience to Alpine hazards.
Read more about the ENHANCE project: ENHANCE Booklet: partnerships are affordable and equitable policy instruments for disaster risk reduction