Weather stations

Safety precautions in place for upcoming heatwave

The Met Office has issued an amber weather warning due to the expected extreme heat beginning on Sunday the 17th July, which is set to carry on through the following days with temperatures reaching up to 36°C in Birmingham on Monday and Tuesday. In preparation of these soaring weather conditions a new hi-tech drone and rapid response vehicle are ready to reduce railway delays in the Midlands.

Ahead of this coming weekend, Network Rails extreme weather actions teams (EWATs) have been preparing to utilise all of their means to ensure passengers and freight haulage can maintain stability and safety in their operations. Whilst measures are being put in place to reduce delays as much as possible, there will be circumstances in which they are unavoidable. Due to this, passengers are being given an early warning to regularly check National Rail Enquiries before they set off on their journey.

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 can stay hydrated, and always check before travelling so they know exactly what to expect.”

The extreme heat can cause massive damages to the rail lines themselves, especially when the tracks are exposed to direct sunlight where they can reach temperatures of over 50°C. The steel rails absorb heat easily and can sit at 20°C above their surrounding air temperature. These conditions can cause the steel to expand leading to rails bending, flexing and in serious cases, buckling.

Measures to avoid these potentially hazardous conditions are taken through sections of the rail being white to reflect the sun's rays and stop the steel from getting too hot. Accompanying this, trains will often run at slower speeds than normal to put less strain on the rails.

Rail tracks are not the only infrastructural risk during episodes of extreme heat, as the network of 25,000 volt overhead electric cables which power trains can be susceptible. The temperature spikes can cause the steel wires to overheat and then hang too low - getting caught on passing trains knocking out their electricity supply.

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

“With high temperatures forecast at the start of next week, 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.”

Network Rail have been preparing for potential weather-related disturbances, establishing a system of 60 solar-powered weather stations last year, to monitor extreme conditions in real-time so railway staff can keep more trains moving instead of imposing region-wide speed limits.

Right now, across Network Rail’s North West and Central region they’re being used to predict where the railway teams should be deployed. By using the new technology, Network Rail engineers are ready to respond to any issues caused by the heatwave and impose speed limits in local areas if they are needed.

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