Europe’s Transport Systems Must Face Up to Floods

A new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) says that Europe’s transport system urgently needs to adapt to the threat of flooding and severe weather brought about by climate change.

Recently we published an article on the flood threats to airports around the world. Overflowing rivers, poor drainage, increased rainfall and sea level rises threaten some of the world’s busiest airports.

But rail, road and shipping all face disruption from floods and storms. According to the EEA report, there have been several high profile examples of transport infrastructure in Europe failing to deal with floods over the last few years.

European Transport System and Floods

In the June 2013 floods in Germany, flooding damaged the main railway bridge across the River Elbe in Germany, used by all trains to and from Berlin via Hannover, including high-speed services from Berlin to Frankfurt, Cologne and Dusseldorf.

During the winter floods in February 2014 in the UK, the coastal section of the south–west main line railway was destroyed in Dawlish, Devon, in the south west of England. The railway in the south-west of the UK was cut off from the rest of the network for two months.

The recent storm in UK, labelled a “weather bomb” by some media outlets, led to the suspension of many ferry services in Scotland and Northern Ireland as a result of waves over 10 metres high. The report says that rises in sea-levels is also an increasing threat to harbours and other transport infrastructure and services at the coast.

Aside from storms and floods, transport networks are likely to face increasing threats from rising temperatures. Unusually high temperatures and extended heatwaves can increase the problems of rail buckling, pavement deterioration and passenger discomfort.

Newbury railway station, England, during the 2007 floods. Photo: Kol Tregaskes
Newbury railway station, England, during the 2007 floods. Photo: Kol Tregaskes

Costs to the Economy

Transport is vital to the smooth running of the economy. When movement of people, goods or services is hindered, the indirect costs to the economy can be many times higher than the direct cost of damaged transport infrastructure. Despite these risks, adapting the transport system to climate change has received relatively little attention from policymakers to date.

Limited Progress

The report says that there has been limited progress in adapting Europe’s transport system to threats brought about by climate change.

Adapting transport infrastructure may be difficult because transport networks are highly complex, involving many different groups, from vehicle manufacturers to infrastructure managers to passengers. Another hurdle is the high cost of adapting hard transport infrastructure.


The EEA say that threats from severe weather must be taken into account when transport infrastructure is renewed.

One of the most cost-effective solutions is to consider adaptation measures when infrastructure is built or renewed. Moreover, those adapting can prevent ‘locking-in’ to unsustainable transport systems by taking a longer-term, systemic perspective, the EEA report says.

At the European level, there are funds to help the transport system adapt to climate change. Action has also started on a project to revise European standards for infrastructure in light of climate change projections.

The full report from the EEA can be found here.

Photo: EEA
Photo: EEA
Photo credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission
Photo credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission