Local Success, Global Failure: Challenges Facing the Recovery Operations of Critical Infrastructure Breakdowns

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Many of society’s critical infrastructures, such as power supply, telecommunications, and transportation, have become increasingly interconnected. While this gives rise to increased efficiency, tighter connections also invites increased vulnerability and the risks of cascading failures. Moreover, at the same time as many of these vital systems have become increasingly dependent on one another, they have also faced a substantial institutional fragmentation. These trends are clearly visible in the Swedish railway system. As a result of substantial deregulations of the Swedish railway market during the last decades, responsibility for different activities has become dispersed among a variety of stakeholders. What used to be a state-owned sector has become an institutionally fragmented arena. While previous research has shown that many critical infrastructures, despite significant institutional fragmentation , operate at a remarkable high reliability, this paper highlights the negative effects of increased institutional fragmentation once these types of critical infrastructures do break down. More specifically, the paper shows that the strive towards increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness within each organisation involved in the recovery operations following infrastructure breakdowns in the Swedish railway system also creates an overall more complex and time-consuming recovery of the functioning of the system. Interdependencies between the different tasks carried out by the multiplicity of organisations involved in the recovery operations create challenges of restoring the functioning of the system, since this is not a primary goal of any of the individual actors. In this sense, each organisation achieves local success in terms of increased efficiency, but also contributes to global failure in the terms of problems of sustaining and quickly restoring railway operations. The empirical basis for this paper is collected from an analysis of two rather frequently occurring types of accidents and disturbances in the Swedish railway system; breakdown of traction power lines and unauthorised persons on railway premises. In both types of events, a number of stakeholders are involved in the response and recovery operations. Data collection has been conducted by semi-structured interviews with a total of 8 persons representing the Transport Administration, three of the main passenger train operators, one rescue service, one maintenance contractor, and the regional public transport provider.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSafety and Reliability of Complex Engineered Systems - Proceedings of the 25th European Safety and Reliability Conference, ESREL 2015
ISBN (Print)978-113802879-1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventEuropean Safety and Reliability Conference 2015 (ESREL) - Zürich, Schweiz
Duration: 2015 Sep 72015 Sep 10


ConferenceEuropean Safety and Reliability Conference 2015 (ESREL)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Engineering and Technologies


  • Critical Infrastructures
  • Recovery
  • Risk Governance


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