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Watch the latest ICE Strategy Session: Asset management in the age of climate change

24 December 2020

In our latest ICE Strategy Session, panellists discussed the challenges facing infrastructure owners in adapting to changing climate. Watch the discussion again here.

Watch the latest ICE Strategy Session: Asset management in the age of climate change
Tunnel under roads

Infrastructure owners will have to adapt, collaborate and embrace technology more than ever to ensure their assets remain safe from the effects of climate change, urged panellists on the ICE’s latest Strategy Session: Asset management in the age of climate change.

While the efforts of many engineers are – quite understandably – focused on finding ways to reduce climate change, infrastructure owners still have to manage and maintain their existing assets amid changing weather patterns and extreme events.

ICE president Rachel Skinner introduced the event, saying: “How we slow and halt climate change is to do with decarbonisation – that’s the only way. But this is the other piece of the jigsaw: how we cope with the changes. Asset managers should and could prepare, given our reliance on these systems.”

Network Rail is one of the UK’s largest asset owners, and the organisation’s senior engineer Jenny Cooke explained the problem: “Weather has always been a challenge for roads and railways, but weather that was historically considered extreme is now business as usual and the extremes are much higher.”

She added: “Historical weather patterns are not representative of what we can expect over the next few years.”

Cooke said that Network Rail has an ambition to prepare rail infrastructure to minimise the impacts of climate change by 2050, but this is an enormous task. As an indication of the challenge, she explained that the organisation has 190,000 earthwork assets alone and 20,000 miles of track.

“There is no silver bullet to achieving long term weather resilience in a changing climate,” she said. “The answer is being adaptable.”

For asset owners like Network Rail, money is limited, and needs to be focused on the areas of highest risk. The panel discussed the importance of accurate data and information to help identify which assets are likely to be at most risk from changing climatic conditions.

Bill Hewlett, chair of the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS), urged engineers to use Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety (CROSS) to report weather and climate-related safety concerns. “The challenge is very real,” he said. “It’s with us now; we’ve seen more wind, more rain, more snow and more landslips.

“We must collaborate, and we must learn fast in this changing environment. This is where I see CROSS coming in,” he added.

Information collected through CROSS on structural failures has led to changes in the way structures are designed, and Hewlett hopes the same will be true of climate-related issues reported through this mechanism, leading to better knowledge of the issues that lead to failures.

Technology can also be used to build up this bank of knowledge, according to Skinner. “Technologies are coming through and rapidly developing that are bringing new ways of asset management,” she said. “These are things that we could only dream of a few years back.”

Sensat is one of the companies at the forefront of technological solutions that support industry knowledge by capturing and bringing together data for civil engineering projects. The company’s chief executive James Dean told the Strategy Session audience: “I think this is one of the most important topics the industry should be looking at. We as an industry are not short of data, but the key is bringing it together to create information.”

Sensat builds “digital copies of exactly what’s there and provides a platform for anyone to be able to use this data”, said Dean, highlighting the example of a recent digital recreation of the M25 that involved collecting survey information at 100 billion data points.

“This is mainly static data, but it could easily be real time data,” he said. “Trend data starts to allow us to predict and look forward.”

All the panellists agreed that collaboration was needed to collect and share information. “We need to deal with all transport infrastructure as being exposed to the same risks, and we need to be working together,” said Cooke. “At Network Rail we are doing lot more work to understand third party risks. If you get flooding, the water doesn’t care whose land it flows over.”

More information about asset management – including the challenges posed by climate change, can be found in Asset Management: Transforming asset dependent businesses, Second edition, published by ICE.

  • Margo Cole, technical writer and editor at ICE