New hi-tech weather stations closely monitoring heatwave on the railway: Weather station composite with infrared image of track temperature

Thursday 16 Jun 2022

New hi-tech weather stations closely monitoring heatwave on the railway

Region & Route:
North West & Central

A network of new hi-tech weather stations are in action for this first time during hot weather to reduce rail delays on the West Coast main line, and rail routes in the West Midlands and North West.

Last year a system of 60 solar-powered weather stations were installed* 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 could be at risk of damage with temperatures forecast to be above 30°C in places tomorrow (Friday 17 June).

The hot weather, particularly direct sunlight, can cause track temperatures to reach more than 50°C.

Steel rails absorb heat easily and tend to hover around 20 degrees above the surrounding air temperature.

When steel becomes very hot it expands and rails can bend, flex and, in serious cases, buckle.

By using the new technology, Network Rail teams are ready to respond to any issues caused by the heatwave and impose speed limits in local areas if they are needed.

The network of 25,000 volt overhead electric cables which power cables is also susceptible to the hot weather.

It can cause the steel wires to overheat and expand causing them to sag.

They can then hang too low and get caught on passing trains causing them to come down.

Railway staff are ready for this challenge on the West Coast main line south of Crewe, in the West Midlands and on the Chiltern line.

Passengers are advised to check before they travel at www.nationalrail.co.uk in case trains do need to run more slowly over the next few days.

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.”

For more information on how Network Rail deals with the hot weather visit www.networkrail.co.uk/how-we-prevent-tracks-from-getting-too-hot/.

Notes to Editors

*The £1.3m weather station investment gives staff access to real-time data so response teams can be sent to the right place at the right time to fix the railway rapidly.

The scientific surveillance stations measure:

  • Wind speed & direction
  • Wind gust & direction
  • Air temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Dew point
  • Rain fall totals** (precipitation rate & accumulation)

In the longer term the data gathered will help Network Rail weather experts to predict which parts of the network are more vulnerable to bad weather before it even hits.

Since 2015 in Network Rail’s North West and Central region, extreme weather has caused half a million minutes of train delays – or more than 400 days.

**The Grand Railway Collaboration represents train operators serve the West Midlands.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Journalists
Network Rail press office - North West & Central Region
07740 782954
NWCmediarelations@networkrail.co.uk

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