April 18 2016

London Underground report highlights flooding risk at tube stations

A report carried out by London Underground reveals that 85 sites across the capital’s tube network are at high risk of flooding.

Consequently, London Underground has announced plans to launch a £3 million investigation into the tube’s infrastructure, making flood mitigation a key focus and potentially creating metro jobs to deliver repairs and protective measures on the city’s widely used transport mode. 

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Flood risk

The London Underground Comprehensive Review of Flood Risk, first published in February 2016 and made public in April, outlines the sites and locations on the tube network most at risk of flooding and related damage.

57 tube stations have been highlighted as being at high and increasing risk from heavy rainfall and water pipe bursts causing flooding on the Underground. The tube serves some 3.5 million passengers everyday across its 270 stations in London. Of the busiest locations, King’s Cross, Waterloo and London Bridge are pivotal stations that could be threatened by flood damage in the coming years.

Other high risk stations include Angel, Charing Cross, Euston, Finsbury Park, Notting Hill Gate and Piccadilly Circus – representing popular network points across the tube that will undoubtedly cause major journey disruption and potential danger to commuters if flooded.

Alongside the tube’s stations, sites including shafts and portals have been noted as being affected by the risk of flooding. Flooding concern is widespread across the city, as numerous further locations have also been recognised as being at significant risk in the report.

With nearly a third of all stations in the capital likely to be affected by floods, the report warns:

“London has been fortunate to escape the worst of recent storm events in the UK, but it is only a matter of time before heavy rainfall seriously affects London and the Underground network.”


Flood damage

The report places the causes of likely flooding on the Underground as being the result of potential flash flooding during heavy rainfall and from burst or damaged water mains. The latter affects the tube on average five times a year, and as recently as 2012 a ruptured water pipe cost the network £4 million as the Central line was shut down for 26 hours.

The risk of rainfall flooding is likely to increase as climate change continues to present challenges to infrastructure across many industries. The report states that London’s hard surfaces in unison with the clay below could create optimal conditions for increased surface level flooding encouraged by climate change. This, combined with an ever increasing population in the city placing more demand on the sewer system, means that flood risk is heightened.

Flooding on the Underground is likely to take its toll on the economy, with delays and closures resulting in major losses to the network, but, more importantly, it could to lead to safety issues putting passengers at risk on the London Underground.

Ian Uttley, a senior drainage engineer at London Underground, responded to the risks highlighted in the report saying:  

“You can’t get an asset more vulnerable to flooding than a network of underground tunnels.”

Protecting the tube from flood risk

London Underground has recommended that further analysis is done into the infrastructure’s risk against flooding, with plans to investigate where further precautions need to be introduced in the network.

London Underground’s Programme Director for Renewals, George McInulty, explains:

“Like other metros around the world, we examine the risk of flooding and other issues that might affect the smooth running of the Tube service and what we can do to mitigate these.  

“Some parts of the Underground network are prone to flooding and we are investigating what more we can do to minimise any potential disruption this causes to our customers.”

The investigation is likely to be carried out over the next three years and London Underground has requested £3 million to help identify the areas most at risk and begin to put flood mitigation measures in place.

Many are concerned, however, that this will not be enough to significantly reduce the risk of flooding and if major losses are to be prevented, more funding is inevitable. The plans will require a skilled workforce to execute further analysis and that’s before any work is carried out to safeguard the stations and sites most at risk.

The heart of the issue doesn’t just affect the tube network in London, but reflects a much wider concern around how infrastructure will stand up to increasingly demanding situations as a result of the changing climate. The Government should take heed from flooding events in recent years, ensuring that the National Flood Resilience Review delivers an accurate overview of this impact on transport infrastructure and can weather the storms we’re likely to see in the future.

Image Credit: Tom Page (

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