Field of Action Transport

Traffic jamClick to enlarge
Extreme weather events affect transport and infrastructure.
Source: Christian Müller/

Impacts of Climate Change

Table of Contents



Increasing heavy and continuous rainfall can impact the traffic: floods, as a direct result of such weather phenomena, cause flooding of roads and railways. Traffic control systems such as traffic lights and signals are damaged and roads are washed out. Such washouts reduce the stability of railway embankments, track beds and roads.

Heavy rain and flooding also affect the soil stability and can lead to mass movement of land. Mudslides and landslides damage or destroy transport infrastructure and guidance systems. In addition, increasing soil moisture can threaten the stability of bridges and tunnels.

Last but not least, heavy rain can also affect the safety and punctuality on roads and rails. Sudden heavy rain reduces the range of vision of road users significantly.



Both frost and heat have an effect on transport infrastructure and traffic participants and can endanger the safety of different types of traffic. High temperatures, for example, lead to material and structural damage to the road surface and rails. Also the stability of bridges can be affected by heat (thermal expansion).

Due to the rising temperatures, the growing season of deciduous trees is extended. This means that that trees growing along rails and roads grow faster and lose more foliage in autumn. The result is sliding films on tracks and roads and longer braking distances.

Heat waves and simultaneous droughts, as they are expected to occur more frequently in the future, increase the risk of vegetation, slope and threshold fires along tracks and roads. Furthermore, heat affects concentration and responsiveness as well as the health of road users and passengers. The risk of accidents increases.

Heat waves can also limit the inland waterway transport. In recent years, low water in summer has repeatedly hindered or even interrupted the shipping in some rivers in Germany. Even marginal low water can have the effect that ships cannot be fully loaded. At high tide, the shipping has to be interrupted, too.

However, the number of traffic delays due to frost, snow and ice can decrease as a result of climate change since fewer frost days are expected. Nonetheless, the frequent switching between frost days and frost-free days wear out pavement material and rails.


Other extreme weather events

If more frequent and intense storms entail an increased lightning and thunderstorm activity, this can lead to failure of or damage to signals and other electronic traffic control systems. High-rising facilities such as overhead lines and traffic signs are naturally particularly sensitive to storms. Branches and other objects blown onto the roads and rails by strong winds can disrupt the traffic.

Sea level changes

Especially shipping is adversely affected by the sea level rise and more frequent storm surges since ports and maritime facilities can be damaged. Higher water levels can contribute to more frequent and more severe flooding of the ports. This leads to interruptions of operations and greater static load burdening the port facilities. Rising sea levels and storm surges can also affect land transport if railway tracks and roads are damaged or even have to be relocated.

If you are interested in obtaining information about possible adaptation measures in the field of action transport, please click here.



Adaptation to Climate Change

Technical measures

Technical climate change adaptation measures play an important role for the transport infrastructure. This means a great potential for the preparation of the infrastructure to climate change and the prevention of damages. Many adaptation measures can already be implemented with the currently existing knowledge and should be integrated into the maintenance planning.

Technical measures for dealing with high temperatures are, for example, the use of heat-resistant asphalt mixtures and continuously welded rails or an improved cooling of the electronic components of infrastructures. In contrast, investments in the protection against road icing will be less necessary in the long term because of the likely reduction of frost days.

In order to prevent damage from heavy rain events, especially the planning and dimension of drainage systems has to be adapted. This concerns drainage and pumping systems for tunnels, bridges and roads. In areas that are at risk of being affected by landslides, slope fortifications can protect tracks during heavy rain. Risks resulting from water on roads can be avoided by milling out ruts or adjusting the street configuration.

Adaptation measures to storms can include specific planning and building standards. The design of bridges, for example, can be adapted to improve the connection between the road surface and the foundation structure. To this end, building materials with increased stability are needed. In addition, protection forests and embankments built alongside roads and railways support the precautionary measures.

Rising sea levels can also threaten the coastal transport infrastructure. In that respect it is actually advisable to consider the relocation of routes and plan alternative routes.

Ecosystem measures

Ecosystem measures play a subordinate role when it comes to adapting the transport infrastructure to climate change. When dealing with increasing heavy wind events and storms, the adaptation of tree species and vegetation composition along routes can be beneficial. It is, for example, possible to plant other species in order to reduce the risk of falling trees. A greater vegetation control can help to prevent embankment fires. In addition, larger aisles without plants can help in both cases. This, however, entails conflicting interests because the vegetation on roads and rails generally also fulfils important shading functions, which contribute significantly to protecting the transport infrastructure and vehicles against overheating. Furthermore, healthy forests protect vehicles from squalls.

Legal, political and management measures

Legal, political and management measures support the adaptation of the transport sector to the impacts of climate change in three areas: the planning (new construction), infrastructure stock (preventive) and when dealing with weather damage (subsequently). Since both the private sector and public authorities are responsible for transport infrastructure, responsibilities and tasks must be distributed appropriately. This is the only way to avoid that transport infrastructure, which belongs to the critical infrastructures, is damaged permanently.

However, since the consequences of climate change for this sector are yet insufficiently explored, it is important to expand the knowledge base. This includes a customised monitoring of the infrastructure.

Individual transport modes face specific challenges. Especially the maritime traffic, for example, has to expand monitoring, forecasting and warning services and adapt the risk management and technical requirements for ships and port infrastructure because storm events and increased heavy seas become more likely due to climate change. In view of inland waterways, it is necessary to adapt the maintenance of the waterways to possible low water levels.

In addition, public authorities need to revise policies and guidelines. This concerns, among other things, guidelines for disaster management, emergency rescue systems, construction and planning decisions and other norms and standards. This requires improved communication and cooperation between the industry, associations and authorities.

Also organisational measures can contribute to the adaptation of the transport sector:

  •  Monitoring of damage
  • Increasing the frequency of maintenance and repair intervals
  • Replacing damaged transport infrastructure
  • Risk and concern analyses for the infrastructure stock
  • Risk mapping for extreme weather events
  • Preparation for failures

 Furthermore, improved communication can increase the problem awareness of all stakeholders and traffic participants and contribute to self-provision and acceptance of adaptation costs.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action transport, please click here.