Tracks threaten to buckle in meltdown

LEAVES on the line, the wrong kind of snow, slippery tracks – and now it's sizzling temperatures.Rail bosses today added another factor to their long list of reasons for delays on the region's railways, as the sunshine was blamed for the latest track problems.

By Richard Cornwell

LEAVES on the line, the wrong kind of snow, slippery tracks – and now it's sizzling temperatures.

Rail bosses today added another factor to their long list of reasons for delays on the region's railways, as the sunshine was blamed for the latest track problems.

But while it was more fuel for the comedians' jokes, passengers were not finding the situation so funny as rail bosses imposed speed restrictions on some of the country's busiest commuter lines.


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As heat levels across the country soared towards the highest on record, train operators were ordered to observe a 60mph speed limit because of the potential for derailments.

Network Rail said the precautionary speed limit on a number of routes – including the line from London to Suffolk – followed concerns over track safety and the risk of sections "buckling" amid scorching temperatures.

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Anglia Railways spokesman Jonathan Denby said the company was expecting the restrictions to be in place until tomorrow .

Network Rail is imposing the restriction for three hours – from 2.30pm-5.30pm – at the peak of the day's temperatures.

"Obviously, the rail temperature is far higher than the air temperature so, because of the potential risk of track buckling, the speed restrictions are imposed," said Mr Denby.

"What that means for passengers is that trains may have slightly extended journey times of up to ten minutes – it is not a major impact.

"It does not cause cancellations, or any re-writing of the time table – it's just a sensible precaution."

The 60mph limit was slapped on Anglia Railways trains between London and Norwich, and on First Great Eastern services between London and Colchester.

Steve Hounsham, a spokesman for Transport 2000, said: "Obviously, safety comes first, but many people will be asking why our rail network can't cope with what is, after all, a relatively mild climate."

Peter Henderson, Network Rail projects and engineering director, apologised for any delays, but added: "Our first priority is always to run a safe railway.

"With air temperatures expected at over 30 degrees in some areas, we feel it is necessary and sensible to impose these speed restrictions.

"With temperatures dropping in the early evening, restrictions are lifted. This obviously varies from location to location, but tends to happen between 6pm and 8pm."

WEBLINKS: Rail chiefs' excuses for delays – www.btinternet.com/brentours/UN14.htm

www.networkrail.co.uk

www.angliarailways.co.uk Brian Messenger, 60, of Ipswich was travelling to the Great British Beer Festival in London today. He said: "I have heard that there were delays but that it wouldn't be until after midday when it has heated up a bit. I don't expect to be affected as I'm not travelling during the warmest parts of the day."

EXASPERATED commuters today voiced anger as they arrived at Ipswich Railway Station.

Brian Messenger, 60, of Ipswich was travelling to the Great British Beer Festival today. He said: "I have heard that there were delays but that it wouldn't be until after midday when it has heated up a bit. I don't expect to be affected, as I'm not travelling during the warmest parts of the day."

Andrew Simmonds, 37, said: "I think the weather is a bit of a lame excuse for trains being late really. In warmer countries such as Italy and Spain they don't have these problems.

"I don't expect to be delayed today but I have heard that there will be speed restrictions in place. There were no problems yesterday and it was very hot."

Mr Cashmore, of Ipswich, who declined to give his first name, said: "The tracks reach high temperatures anyway from the friction with the trains moving along them, so why should we be delayed just because the weather is warmer?

"Last week there were delays at airports and before that traffic jams on the roads. It's a complete farce really."

PANEL

Q. Why do trains have to slow down in hot weather?

A. Hot weather causes steel railway lines to expand, which puts greater stress on the tracks and can cause them to buckle. High speeds accentuate this risk.

Q. Why are we not prepared for this?

A. The tracks have been welded together to withstand reasonable heat. When temperatures get to above 80F (26.5C), any partially faulty areas of railway are liable to buckle in the heat.

Q. Why were restrictions imposed across the whole country, and not just in certain areas?

A. Some experts argue that since the privatisation of the railways, there are less co-ordinated geographical records of the nation's rail lines. Without a firm knowledge of where the areas most at risk are, rail operators are obliged to impose blanket restrictions.

Q. Why do these problems always seem to affect Britain more than other European countries?

A. Rail tracks have to be stressed to withstand temperatures within a certain range. Countries like Italy, Spain and France are more accustomed to extreme hot weather than cold, so their rail lines are adjusted accordingly.

Q. Why does cold weather often lead to speed restrictions as well?

A. Tracks can easily freeze up in cold weather causing a risk to passenger safety.

Q. Why are snow and ice so hazardous?

A. Snow and ice can create a layer of insulation around overhead cables and electric tracks, causing considerable difficulty to electric trains.

Q. What other seasonal problems must rail operators contend with?

A. Leaves falling on the tracks in autumn can cause trains to slip from the rails. Trains are frequently delayed as the leaves are cleared.

Q. Has a train ever derailed due to hot weather?

A. Only last month, a freight train came off the tracks between Nuneaton in Warwickshire and Stafford. Hot weather was identified as a likely cause, and speed restrictions were imposed on the line.

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