EU Science Hub

Global warming to increase flood risk on European railways

For effective disaster risk management and adaptation planning, a good understanding of current and projected flood risk is required. Recent advances in quantifying flood risk at the regional and global scale have largely neglected critical infrastructure, or addressed this important sector with insufficient detail. Here, we present the first European-wide assessment of current and future flood risk to railway tracks for different global warming scenarios using an infrastructure-specific damage model. We find that the present risk, measured as expected annual damage, to railway networks in Europe is approx. €581 million per year, with the highest risk relative to the length of the network in North Macedonia, Croatia, Norway, Portugal, and Germany. Based on an ensemble of climate projections for RCP8.5, we show that current risk to railway networks is projected to increase by 255% under a 1.5 °C, by 281% under a 2 °C, and by 310% under a 3 °C warming scenario. The largest increases in risk under a 3 °C scenario are projected for Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, and Belgium. Our advances in the projection of flood risk to railway infrastructure are important given their criticality, and because losses to public infrastructure are usually not insured or even uninsurable in the private market. To cover the risk increase due to climate change, European member states would need to increase expenditure in transport by €1.22 billion annually under a 3 °C warming scenario without further adaptation. Limiting global warming to the 1.5 °C goal of the Paris Agreement would result in avoided losses of €317 million annually.