In Austria alone, trains were forced to a standstill 1,900 times in 2023 due to weather conditions.
Climate change is increasingly becoming a major challenge for rail transport.
Storms, snowfall, floods and fires are putting rail networks to the test across Europe.
In Austria alone, Railjets and other ÖBB trains were forced to a standstill 1,900 times in 2023 due to weather conditions, according to Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung.
So how is the rail industry adapting to a warming planet?
How is climate change affecting the rail industry?
“We have never had as many train cancellations due to storms in recent years as we did last August,” ÖBB spokesperson Bernhard Rieder told Austrian press.
“The floods in Tyrol and Salzburg alone and massive mudslides after thunderstorms led to 716 unscheduled stops due to the weather.”
He added that increasing temperatures in the Alpine region are leading to a rise in embankment and forest fires, track distortions and a decline in protective forests due to heat stress.
“We are watching the disruptions caused by extreme weather events with concern,” he said.
In the UK, a government advisor warned that travel disruption would be worsened by climate change unless the country’s rail network received more funding.
Speaking in August, Sir John Armitt pointed to the heavy rainfall that hit train travel with flash floods and landslides.
Heatwaves were also responsible for widespread train cancellations, due to problems like buckled rails and fallen overhead power lines.
Railway tracks are engineered to withstand a certain range of temperatures but can become distorted in very hot conditions.
Heat can also cause overhead power lines to sag and catch on train equipment.
How is the rail industry adapting to climate change?
In Austria, overhead power lines are being retrofitted to prevent overheating. Additionally, rails are being made more heat-resistant by applying white paint.
Slopes at risk of slipping are monitored even more closely and weather observation is also being expanded.
In the UK, more has been spent on drainage, and technology is being introduced to remotely monitor rail temperature.
Following the death of three people in August 2020 when a train collided with a landslip in Aberdeenshire, Network Rail has developed new software to predict sudden, torrential rainfall.
The company’s Cardiff operations centre deploys heat sensors and cameras to keep track of rail conditions around the region.
Although this won’t tackle service disruptions, it means safety can be improved by putting speed restrictions in place and calling in maintenance teams.
Europe’s ‘tri-brid’ trains that could revolutionise rail transport
The rail industry is also turning its attention to the root of the problem and working to reduce its impact on global warming.
Italian company Hitachi Rail has developed a ground-breaking tri-brid train.
The Masaccio locomotive can be powered in three ways: via overhead electric lines, via a diesel hybrid engine or via battery.
The revolutionary battery can be charged when the train is running on electricity from the overhead lines. It can also harness the braking energy from the train stopping.
This planet-friendly battery can power the train, without the need for diesel, for short sections of line where there are gaps in the electrification.
It is also employed during the approach and departure from stations to the train doesn’t contribute to a town’s noise or air pollution.
The trains are tested in a specially built climate chamber that simulates temperatures from -50 to +40C to ensure they can withstand the weather extremes of the future.