The expected increase in the frequency and/or intensity of meteorological events such as heavy rains, heat waves, drought periods, etc., will have negative impacts on transport infrastructure.
But positive effects can also be expected. Reducing the number of days of snow or days without thawing could lead to an improvement in general traffic conditions and have a positive impact on the lifespan of infrastructure.
The main vulnerabilities of transport to the negative impacts of climate change relate not only to the infrastructure of the different modes of transport but also to mobility itself. Indeed, climate change may influence modal split.
Climate change could lead to a reduction in rail safety, increased maintenance and repair costs, and potential disruption to schedules.
The rail may be affected by high heat due to increased expansion or deformation of the rail of the tracks (rail buckling). More intense heat waves could cause overheating problems (ventilation, etc.). Particular attention should be paid to the comfort and health of passengers in trains, stations and platforms.
Heavy rainfall, or extreme events such as storms, can cause damage to infrastructure due to floods, landslides, tree falls, etc. This increases the risk of cuts and interruptions in traffic.
Unusual extreme weather events can also cause direct damage to more sensitive installations, such as catenaries.
In the event of high demand/voltages on the electricity network, there will be a risk of disruption; rail transport being a major consumer of electricity. Therefore, security of electricity supply is a major concern for infrastructure managers, particularly in abnormal weather conditions; for example, during peaks in electricity consumption caused by air conditioning during heat waves.
Airports are likely to be affected by high heat in different ways.
Longer hot periods would lead to an increase in soil cooling requirements, runway degradation, increased runway length (a decrease in air density reduces aircraft lift).
On the other hand, the expected decrease in the number of frost days would be beneficial.
Heavy precipitation could cause flooding and runoff affecting airport facilities.
Extreme weather events could disrupt navigation and/or damage equipment.
In addition, the closure of one or more airports (within or outside Europe) can have overall consequences, given the interconnections between airports, on all traffic, causing delays and cancellations.
High temperatures will contribute to the degradation of surface road surfaces.
Unpaved roads and bridges are particularly vulnerable to heavy rainfall. The risk of more frequent flooding in some areas will increase the need for maintenance and investment in drainage and protection.
Heavy precipitation will have an impact on road safety (reduced visibility, poorer ground adherence), while reduced frost and snow will have a beneficial effect.
The projected decrease in summer precipitation volume, increased evaporation due to the projected rise in temperatures during the same period, as well as the decrease in potential inputs from rivers, imply problems on the draught level and an increased risk of low water levels. Similarly, the increase in sedimentary mass possibly induced by intense residual summer rains would only amplify these low-flow phenomena. Their reinforcement could lead to an increase in dredging operations.
The rise in sea level will most likely affect navigability as a result of changes in sedimentation rates and the location of sandbanks on the Belgian seabed.
Extreme weather events can damage ships and disrupt navigation.
Port infrastructure will also be affected by higher temperatures, sea level rise, extreme events and increased precipitation.
Reducing freezing days will likely reduce the occurrence of icing fog and will also reduce ice accumulation problems on boats, decks, rigging and docks.
Global warming will lead to an increase in ice-free shipping and the shipping season, which will certainly lead to major changes in maritime traffic between Europe, Asia and North America.
“Summer” and “winter” plans drawn up by public transport managers (SNCB/NMBS and Infrabel, TEC, de Lijn, STIB) in order to anticipate and mitigate the disruption of services caused by extreme weather conditions.
Development and update of specific models for predicting the rail adhesion index, the freezing of catenaries and the icing of overhead lines to be able to respond to specific rail transport needs.
Mapping of the vulnerable parts of the Belgian railway system based on the meteorological data and climate forecasting (on-going).
Implementation of corrective measures: new design of the draining systems of the railway lines, preventive actions to reduce the number of trees falling on railway lines,…
At the level of maritime traffic, a project for the adaptation of the North Sea foresees the construction of sand islands along the Belgian coast, which can mainly contribute to the protection of the coast against waves, and which should enable maritime navigation.
European Environment Agency : Adaptation of transport to climate change in Europe (2014)
EU Commission document: staff working document on Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change (2013)
UIC (worldwide professional rail association): https://uic.org/adapting-to-climate-changes
OECD: policy paper 14 : climate resilient infrastructure – policy perspectives