Network Rail to use hi-tech weather stations to monitor heat on railway

Network Rail are using the hi-tech weather stations during hot weather to reduce rail delays and the risk of damage.

Close up shot of the weather stations.

Credit: Network Rail - The hi-tech weather stations that are being used.

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 (an more in depth exploration of the issues caused by hot weather can be found in the video below). In 2021, 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. In 2022, 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.

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.

Credit: Network Rail – Example of infrared track monitoring wide

“Keeping passengers moving is always our top priority but we want people to be prepared,” Denise Wetton, Central Route Director for Network Rail, said. “If the soaring temperatures do lead to us having to put in place slower speeds for safety reasons, our engineers will work to fix the problem.”

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