Climatic Change

, Volume 137, Issue 3–4, pp 609–623 | Cite as

Competing priorities: how actors and institutions influence adaptation of the German railway system

  • Maja Rotter
  • Esther HoffmannEmail author
  • Anna Pechan
  • Rebecca Stecker


Large-scale infrastructure networks are vulnerable to climate change. Their operation involves public and private actors under complex legislative and market regulations. We analyze climate adaptation of railway infrastructure, based on an in-depth case study of the German railway system. The case includes a unique set of qualitative interviews with key players of operating and regulative organizations, as well as a document study. Our analysis crucially extends previous technology-oriented research on the railway sector by applying core insights and categories from the actor-centered institutionalism. We trace observed obstacles for a climate resilient railway system and adaptation decisions back to deeper causes, in particular political priorities and values. Moreover, diverging perceptions and the competition among different actors hamper adaptation. On the other hand, single actors who display a great willingness to act are able to make use of unclear responsibilities to integrate adaptation concerns into existing institutions. Our research suggests that changes in technical standards and in economic regulation support adaptation of infrastructure systems.


Climate Change Adaptation Extreme Weather Event Railway System Actor Constellation Institutional Void 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) in the Socio-Ecological Research initiative (SÖF) under Grant No. 01UU0910 (Project Chameleon, We are especially grateful to Nils Marscheider, Felix Reutter, Jacob Beutler and Johanna Schmidt for their valuable contributions in preparing interview data, relevant documents and literature streams. We thank Klaus Eisenack, Katrien Termeer and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback. Finally, we are indebted to our interview partners for their openness and cooperation.

Supplementary material

10584_2016_1702_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Appendix 1 (DOCX 16 kb)
10584_2016_1702_MOESM2_ESM.docx (34 kb)
Appendix 2 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maja Rotter
    • 1
  • Esther Hoffmann
    • 2
    Email author
  • Anna Pechan
    • 3
  • Rebecca Stecker
    • 4
  1. 1.PotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)BerlinGermany
  3. 3.Carl von Ossietzky University of OldenburgOldenburgGermany
  4. 4.Department “Climate Protection, Climate Change”Hessian Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection, Agriculture and Consumer ProtectionWiesbadenGermany

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