The Earthworks Management task force will investigate NR’s management of earthworks and drainage, particularly high-risk assets such as cuttings and embankments, and will be led by Lord Robert Mair, a geotechnical engineer and member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. It will investigate:

  • the effectiveness of NR’s current approach to the management of these assets and whether a more integrated, coordinated approach is required
  • whether NR has sufficient resources and skills to manage these assets, and whether certain teams or regions could be strengthened
  • the suitability of NR’s controls framework and its effectiveness in controlling risks
  • what NR could learn from other organisations responsible for managing earthwork risks, and
  • whether NR is aware of the latest technologies and whether they are currently deployed effectively.

The Weather Action task force will review NR’s ability to manage and understand the effects of heavy rainfall on the railway and will be led by Dame Julia Slingo, a meteorologist and former chief scientist at the UK Met Office. It will investigate:

  • how data collected by NR could be used to understand likely levels of rainfall at a location level, both at present and in 10 years, and how this information might be used to estimate potential infrastructure damage
  • how engineering projects can use data to take weather factors into account and better understand how land use changes and river management policies affect how quickly rain enters and leaves the system
  • the effectiveness of NR’s present forecasting and weather monitoring technology to identify where rainfall could pose a risk to the railway, and how it might be improved
  • how far NR has explored the potential of real-time weather monitoring technology, and
  • how NR might use available weather expertise to improve longer-term planning and procurement decisions such as earthworks engineering, providing guidance to track or rolling stock design specifications.

Investment by NR in its earthworks and drainage portfolio has risen in recent years from £550m in Control Period 4 (CP4) between 2009 and 2014, and £952m in CP5 from 2014 to 2019. A budget of £1.3bn is planned for CP6 between 2019 and 2024. However, NR says that despite this, its current safety management system can still be improved to mitigate further risks.

“The Stonehaven tragedy resulted in three people losing their lives - this is a stark reminder that we must never take running a safe railway for granted,” says Mr Andrew Haines, chief executive at NR. “With more and more extreme weather and tens of thousands of earthwork assets across Britain, our challenge is massive. While we are making record investments in these areas, we have asked world renowned experts, Dame Julia Slingo and Lord Mair, to help us address these issues as effectively as possible.”

NR has also announced an inspection of high-risk embankments across Britain, following a government request to review its resilience to and management of extreme weather.