Monday 5 December 2016

Climate Change and You: Flood on the tracks

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:00

Karin Dubsky. Photo: Pat Moore.
Karin Dubsky. Photo: Pat Moore.

Ireland's railways have come under increasing threat from climate change as the coast is eroded and water inundates tracks.

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In some areas, Irish Rail has had to take measures to prevent landslides.

Nick West, Irish Rail's infrastructure manager for Leinster, says there are all sorts of implications for the network as a result of climate change.

"There is a change in the way water is moving across the land.

"We are finding that there is water coming in on us in places where we never had it before."

In Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, Irish Rail has had to take measures to stop landslides as water saturates embankments.

"The water comes in off the road and the adjacent land in a quantity that we never had before.

"Landslides are a big risk to us. We have to try to control the water through channels."

Some of these dangers are exacerbated by new building developments or farmers interfering with the drainage.

Last winter, Irish Rail had to take emergency measures to protect its track along the Wicklow coastline, as part of the shoreline was washed away.

In the area known as the Murrough, a six-metre width of coastline was eroded in just three days. The sea came to within four metres of the track. On New Year's day, Irish Rail had to get in emergency supplies of rock armour from a quarry to avert the threat to the track.

The line between Limerick and Ennis had to close for five months from last December after flood waters rose to 1.4 metres above the track at Ballycar Lough in Clare.

In some areas, Irish Rail has​ also​ had to take measures to protect old railway bridges, some of which were built in the mid-19th century.

"They are great bridges that were built sturdily, but perhaps their foundations were not built to the same rigid standards we would build them today," says Nick West.​

Erosion, which is linked with climate change, is the most serious risk to the Irish coastline, according to a survey by the environmental group Coastwatch.

The rapidly vanishing shoreline was cited as a serious risk in 27pc of survey areas. Karin Dubsky (inset), Coastwatch Europe co-ordinator in Ireland, says a national policy rather than county-by-county approach to protecting the coastline is badly needed.

Coastwatch is currently planning its 2016 survey for Ireland, and is looking for volunteers to take part. For details visit Coastwatch.org

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