Railway Sustainability Design Guide

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The Railway Sustainability Design Guide has been put together by the Sustainable Land Use Programme with Aecom to provide a resource of materials to support the sustainable management of the railway estate. The guide is available on this link (https://planengageuk.alytics.com/networkrail-digital-sdg/home) but is also published as pdf documents on this page.


The Government review in to Network Rail’s vegetation management practices undertaking by John Varley in 2018 recommended that Network Rail needed an ambitious vision for its lineside estate, and that the estate needed to be managed as an asset.  The Department for Transport (DfT), as part of their response to an action from the Varley review, published

for Network Rail which introduced targets for biodiversity.

Protecting and enhancing biodiversity

DfT published targets of achieving no net loss of biodiversity by 2024 (end of Control Period 6 [2020-2024]) along with a longer term target to achieve biodiversity net gain by 2040.  This latter date was accelerated to 2035 and published within the Network Rail environmental sustainability strategy.

The Sustainable Land Use programme has worked with global ecology experts at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to create remote habitat mapping data for the rail network.  These data are being used to quantify the biodiversity of the habitats on our estate.  This information means that we are able to understand not only what is living and growing on our property, but importantly, puts it in to the landscape context and allows collaboration with adjacent land managers – to the benefit of people and nature.

Management plans

The knowledge of the habitats we have on and adjacent to the railway means that we can begin to plan how to maintain the estate.  We are constantly managing vegetation to create a safe operational railway for our passengers and front-line staff.  Knowing what is there means that we can time the works to the right time of year and always make sure we have the necessary checks and permissions in place before work starts.  These management plans are being developed and will cover the whole railway estate and assist managers in transforming habitats to ones that can be biodiverse and safe for trains to pass by.


The railway sustainability design guide is intended to support the standard documents that Network Rail has.  The standards detail what actions are necessary.  The purpose of the design guide is to give options as to how that work might be done.  It provides case studies, not just from the railway, but other linear and estate managers.  It is intended to show our railway managers and maintainers what the art of the possible might be.  To provide ideas for how activities could be done differently.  To show what the opportunities are for protecting, maintaining and enhancing the railway through sustainable land management.


The intention is that the topics available will expand.  Published here are the biodiversity volumes split out in to five broad habitat types. The Introduction and user guide shows the outline of the structure of the series of publications and planned future topics – be aware volume numbering is likely to change as more topics are released.  We than have an overarching Habitat design guide which describes the subsequent volumes, within which the detail is then found.

Costs and schedules

In order to help with future planning, a series of documents and spreadsheets have been provided.  These contain details of the costs of certain activities that will be undertaken when managing habitats.  Please be aware of the caveats associated with these figures – but they will give an indication of the variations between activities that may help in decision making.

The schedule spreadsheets have been created to help with the planning and timing of works.  These sheets also give the indication of the amount of effort that maybe needed for certain activities to assist with resource planning.


It is intended that once the online design guide is launched that it will be a ‘live’ document, especially with respect to case studies.  If errors or omissions are identified, or if there are case studies that you would like to be considered for inclusion, please contact biodiversity@networkrail.co.uk.

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