This summer has undoubtedly been one that will go down in the history books. The Jubilee, the Olympics, the Paralympics – the eyes of the world has been on the UK.

The doubters have been silenced, the Union Jacks flown, and the country displayed at its very best – the UK in summer 2012 was the place to be. One thing however, has let us down… the weather. You could argue that it wouldn’t be right if it was blazing sunshine, and no Jubilee street party would have felt the same without the ever-present plastic mac. However, with record levels of rain recorded in some areas of the UK, and dreary drizzle blighting the rest, the soggy summer has had a disastrous effect on the rail network.

Not just tourists

While London and the South-East was flooded with tourists from around the world, during mid-summer the North saw flooding of a very different nature. High levels of rainfall throughout the summer months saw areas of the country hit with some horrific flooding which made a huge impact on transport and had engineers and emergency workers scrambling to try and maintain services.

At the end of June, normally a reliably dry period, unprecedented levels of rainfall saw main line services between England and Scotland completely cut off due to flooding and subsequent landslides, bringing a crucial service grinding to a complete halt. The major West Coast main line at Tebay in Cumbria was also closed because of a landslide during this time, cutting off all services in this area. Localised flooding also affected stations around Oxenholme in the Lake District.

The effect that incidents like these have on passengers is undeniable, especially when you take into account that surrounding road networks were also affected, meaning that road travel is also out of the question for many. In some areas, buses were able to replace train services although the state of the roads meant that this still added up to an hour to journeys.

Moving into August, with the festivities in London reaching fever pitch, the battle against the weather still raged further north. In late August, heavy rain caused a landslip between Stirling and Dunblane stations, causing major delays on the route. Further heavy flooding in the region led to lines being closed completely, and emergency engineering work had to be carried out in order to get the busy service back up and running.

As we move into the winter, it’s undeniable that there’s more rain to come – after all, we’re dealing with a climate that can go from sunny to stormy in the blink of an eye. This summer has proved that flooding and water damage is a very real threat to the UK’s rail infrastructure, and that we need to be prepared to deal with the worst case scenario.

With most tracks built before engineers had a full understanding of soil mechanics, the soil and rock based structures of most of the UK’s tracks are easily damaged by extreme weather conditions, and heavy rainfall such as that experienced earlier this year poses a very real danger to the security of much of the country’s tracks, and in turn the services that they provide.

Poor drainage

An engineering report published by Network Rail found that many asset failures were directly caused by drainage problems. Dangers such as mud pots (or wet bays depending on where you live), a problem that occurs when water collects in a pool under the tracks, can cause lasting damage such as the disruption of ballast, leading to not only potential delays in service, but also lengthy and expensive maintenance work. This problem can be alleviated by the simple addition of proper trackside drainage trenches, which allow the excess water to drain properly.

It may not be the most glamorous side of the rail industry, but trackside drainage is becoming one of the hottest topics in the industry. As well as the provision of proper trenches, adequate thought also has to be given to their maintenance to ensure that they are working to their full potential. One of the key elements in the battle to keep the drains flowing is vegetation management.

With much of the UK’s infrastructure running through tree-lined or “green” areas, the potential for leaves, branches and vegetation debris to become trapped in drainage trenches is a real issue, and one of the key causes of blocked drains. This problem can be cured with regular clearing of the drains, but it is also obvious that it should be tackled at source by implementing proper vegetation management, thus helping prevent the problem occurring in the first place. After all, nobody could have predicted the flooding in June and August. If a “clear out” hasn’t been scheduled before a bout of heavy rainfall, even the best drainage trenches will struggle to handle any rainfall if they are full of branches and leaves!

Dedicated machinery

The Quattro Group, one of the UK’s largest rail plant suppliers, has recognised the need for such action, and has dedicated an entire department to the maintenance of track- side drainage and associated issues. As well as providing a key service in the cleaning, flushing and maintenance of rail drains, the department also provides a wrap-around service which deals with the maintenance of track-side vegetation.

With modern, custom-designed machines such as Multicar jetters and powerful gully suckers, designed to flush and remove blockages in drains, as well as key attachments for core machines used to deal with track-side vegetation, the Quattro Group can not only clear the blockage – but also go some way to ensuring that it doesn’t happen in the first place.

While Mother Nature is seemingly doing all in her power to keep us on our toes, it is important that we prime ourselves for the very worst she can throw at us. With the best will in the world, nobody could have expected the examples of extreme weather we experienced this “summer” in the UK. Drainage remains a key consideration to the ongoing maintenance of the UK’s rail infrastructure.

This year has been a stark reminder of how easily flooding and water damage can wash away the service that we cherish.