Rail lines in the sun

Innovative hi-tech weather stations to monitor heatwave

An innovative new network of hi-tech weather stations are going live for the first time during the recent surge of hot weather in the UK. These are being deployed to aid in the reduction of rail delays on the West Coast main line, and rail routes in the West Midlands and North West.

60 solar-powered weather stations were installed last year, set to monitor the extreme weather conditions across the network in real-time. This then allows the staff operating the railway to keep the consistent movement of trains to maximise line capacity, instead of imposing region-wide speed limits.

The North West and Central region are currently seeing the implementation of these new weather systems to predict upcoming risks of railway damage. They will be closely monitoring the temperature forecasts on the 17th June, with certain areas expecting heights of above 30°C, which could then lead to track temperatures reaching more than 50°C.

Rail lines tend to be made from a hot rolled steel which can absorb heat incredibly easy, often hovering around 20 degrees above the surrounding air temperature. The danger involved with these heat jumps is that when steel becomes too hot it expands, causing the lines to bend, flex and potentially buckle in serious situations.

Network Rail will use the innovative technology to allow quick response times for the issues relating to a potential heatwave, which will lead to the imposition of reactionary speed limits in the condensed areas affected.

The extreme heat does not just have potential disastrous effects on the rail lines, but also the network of 25,000 volt overhead electric cables. These are susceptible to the extreme heat as the inner steel wires have the potential to overheat, thus expanding and sagging. When this happens, the danger is that they will hang too low, getting caught on passing trains causing them to come down.

Passengers have been advised to check online to see if there are any upcoming delays, relating to this surging heat.

Denise Wetton, Network Rail's Central route director, said:

“Keeping passengers moving is always our top priority. But we want people to be prepared. If the soaring temperatures do lead to us having to put in place slower speeds for safety reasons, please bear with us our engineers work to fix the problem. It may mean some journeys take longer.

“For those who must travel by rail, we’d remind people to carry some water with them, so they don’t get too parched, and always check before travelling so they know exactly what to expect.”

Lucy Wootton, head of the Grand Railway Collaboration, said:

“With high temperatures forecast on Friday, we are encouraging passengers to plan ahead, check their journeys and carry water to help keep cool. The latest travel information is always available from National Rail Enquiries or from individual train operators.”

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