How might the heatwave affect Greater Anglia trains?

Friday, 15 July 2022
Behind the Scenes

Thanks to Network Rail’s extensive upgrade of overhead wires on our network and the continued roll out of our fleet of new trains which all have air con on board, we are in a better position to cope with hot weather than in previous years.

However, the predicted heatwave could still have an impact on train services if anticipated extreme high temperatures do arrive.

Here’s an explanation of how very hot weather can affect different parts of the railway and how we try to minimise delays and cancellations to services.

Tracks and signalling

Metal rails expand and contract in different temperatures. Network Rail engineers make sure that our rails can carry trains in summer temperatures to around 27 degrees - the UK mean summer rail temperature. The rail can withstand some degree of change in temperature either side of this.

However, when the air temperature is 30 degrees, the temperature on the rails can actually be up to 20 degrees higher, exceeding the maximum temperature our rails are designed to cope with.

The problem is that when steel rails get hot, they expand, and this can cause a type of signalling problem called a track circuit failure and in extreme cases can cause a buckled rail.

If a rail buckles, then the train service will not be able to run at all until the buckled rail is replaced with a new one.

When Network Rail assesses that the temperature of the rails is going to exceed what it is designed to cope with speed restrictions are put in place to help prevent buckled rails.

White rails at Colchester North station

However, one solution that is helping to keep the track cool is to paint it white.

Network Rail paints rails white at critical points on the network so they absorb less heat, which reduces expansion.

Typically, a rail painted white is 5°C to 10°C cooler than one left unpainted.

Speed restrictions

Every year we work alongside Network Rail to ensure we are prepared for high temperatures and the challenges it always brings, but sometimes the only option to ensure that we can still operate safely, and keep trains running is to slow the trains down.

A train going over a hot rail at a slower speed exerts less pressure on the rail and will help to prevent it buckling.

If trains have to run more slowly, it means there will be fewer trains as a result, but this is better than causing a bigger problem and then being unable to run any trains at all.

We are sorry for the impact this has on your journey if it happens.

Overhead wires

Overhead wires give power to the trains by conducting electricity through the pantograph on top of the train.

During hot spells they can expand and sag in the heat.

This can cause the train’s pantograph to become entangled in the wires which could even pull them down, resulting in delays and cancellations while the complex repairs are carried out.

Recently, Network Rail has replaced much of the ageing overhead wires with a new auto-tensioned system, similar to those used in hot European countries, like Italy, which can cope with all the temperature changes - and we are already seeing the benefits of this.

Modern overhead lines, such as those in place on the lines between Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Clacton, Harwich, Braintree, Cambridge and London Liverpool Street, and those installed on the Southend Victoria line, do not sag in high temperatures, avoiding the need for precautionary speed restrictions.

Since the overhead line replacement on the Great Eastern Main Line and the Southend Victoria line, Network Rail has removed the need for overhead wire heat-related speed restrictions between Liverpool Street and Chelmsford and Liverpool Street and Southend.

Trains

Our fleet maintenance teams will be doing everything they can to ensure that the air con on our trains is in working order.

Thanks to the introduction of our new trains, more of our routes will benefit from trains that have really good air conditioning systems this summer.

In total, there are 1,100 air conditioning units on board our new trains, which are now running on every part of our network. We only have a very small number of trains left on our network without air conditioning.

We’ve also switched off the heating on all our trains. On some of our older trains, you may feel warm air blowing through the vents at times on hot days if the train has only just started up – much like how your car blows through hot air from outside until the air con kicks in.

However, if you do board a train that feels uncomfortably warm please report it on twitter to @greateranglia or contact our customer relations department on 0345 6007245 (option 8) or [email protected] and let us know which service you are travelling on and the carriage number if you know it which is usually displayed above the internal carriage door.

If the problem is caused by a fault, we can then arrange for repairs to be carried out, sometimes by using a mobile engineer who can board the train to try and fix the problem whilst it is in service, or by scheduling it to visit a depot overnight.

Stay hydrated

Remember to keep hydrated while travelling. Take a reusable water bottle with you and make use of our free water refill fountains at some stations.

We have free water fountains at 13 stations on our network – Billericay, Bishop’s Stortford, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ely, Ipswich, Norwich, Shenfield, South Woodham Ferrers, Tottenham Hale, Wickford and Witham. There is also a water fountain at London Liverpool Street.

We will be doing everything we can to get passengers from a to b reliably and in comfort.

Please check before you travel

Where possible, we will try to make you aware in advance of any predicted timetable changes due to hot weather.

Please check how trains are running before you travel at www.greateranglia.co.uk or the Greater Anglia app.