Co-creating railway flood resilience: applying the science of blue-green-grey infrastructure

The output of the project is a systematic approach to the identification of potential for flood resilience enhancement in relation to rail infrastructure.

Blue infrastructure describes the use of watersheds, floodplains and wetlands as best management practices (BMPs) for management of local flood risk, for example temporary water storage.

Green infrastructure refers to the use of sustainable drainage systems (SUDS), runoff attenuation features and other catchment source controls, that have multiple benefits including habitat provision and amenity value.

Grey infrastructure describes man-made infrastructure such as highways, rail networks and water treatment systems.

Project funder: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Lead organisation: CFCR, UWE Bristol

Project duration: six months (from 31 October 2014)

Project team/collaborators

Project aims

The project is focused on demonstrating an approach for identifying opportunities to increase transport network resilience through catchment source control and has two interdependent aims:

  • The co-development of a systematic and strongly research-informed approach to evaluating the scope for blue-green-grey infrastructure to increase local flood resilience in general, and in the context of rail infrastructure and railway and transport operations in particular.
  • Step-changed knowledge exchange between existing science and multi-agency end-users, facilitating improved communication and partnership working between Network Rail and LLFAs, in a science-stakeholder engagement model that has potential to be cascaded elsewhere. 

Project summary

Network Rail assets traverse the natural environment, creating a corridor of private and public land ownership, diverse, and perhaps conflicting, statutory responsibilities, and complex inter-relationships between built and natural infrastructures. Rail infrastructure is therefore both impacted by flooding and a factor in flooding. In terms of the Flood and Water Management Act (2010), LLFAs, along with the Environment Agency (EA), internal drainage boards, water companies and highway authorities, are designated as 'risk management authorities' and have a statutory duty to co-operate with each other, including the sharing of data and information.

Network Rail, however, is not so designated and has no statutory duty in this regard, despite owning and managing assets which have much in common with highways. In a recent workshop for regional local authorities (LAs) convened by the UWE Bristol Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience (CFCR), it was stated that better partnership working with Network Rail was a priority need across all seven LAs1 represented.

Improved partnership working is seen as a critical requirement for building resilience to climate change, and is an explicit objective of this project. This need is also recognised by Network Rail: in its statutory Climate Change Adaptation Report to Government (Network Rail 2011), one of the proposed recommendations for the 2014-2019 period and onwards was to 'consider developing partnerships with flood, local and highway authorities to share resources'. The level of partnership building achieved to date suggests that there are significant and real barriers to overcome.

This project will address this need by establishing a working partnership defined by principles of co-creation and co-learning, centred on two geographic case studies in the SW region. The project will build on three, different knowledge bases:

  • Flood risk science
  • Blue-green-grey infrastructure and catchment source control
  • Ecosystem services (ES) assessment and payment for ecosystem services (PES)

Project outcomes

A principal output of the project is a co-produced systematic approach to the identification of potential for flood resilience enhancement in relation to rail infrastructure using blue-green-grey infrastructure. This approach will comprise of:

  • A systematic process for multi-agency identification and prioritisation of flood risk ‘hotspots’ requiring intervention.
  • A system for determining whether source control measures can be used to achieve greater flood resilience, and if so what these measures should be.
  • A set of costed blue-green-grey infrastructure for securing greater rail resilience and reduced local flooding.
  • A set of assessed ES related benefits.
  • A proposition exploring potential mechanisms for funding works based on PES and ES approaches.
  • A case-study which shares and captures learning from the project.

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