International railways to be studied in bid to heat-proof UK network

Network Rail

NETWORK Rail has launched a new taskforce led by independent experts to investigate and make recommendations on how the UK’s railway can develop its approach to resilience during hot weather.

It comes following this week’s unprecedented heatwave, with the review to consider four key areas, each of which will be led by an independent expert in their field. Three of the areas will be focussed on gathering insights from other countries and making comparisons with international rail networks that are more used to dealing with extreme heat and fluctuations in temperature.

Sir Douglas Oakervee is to draw on his 60-years of experience in engineering to investigate measures which could allow the railway infrastructure to continue to functioning safely and reliably amidst hot weather. Network Rail said his work will ‘particularly focus’ on the performance of track and overhead line equipment, with them being the two most common causes of delays and disruption.

Simon Lane, former MD and CEO of railways in Melbourne and New South Wales respectively, will explore operational standards, policies, and practices which Network Rail said could allow services to continue to operate safely and without limiting speed restrictions in extreme heat.

The rail organisation added that Mr Lane has ‘particular knowledge’ of running railways in a climate where there is a ‘wide variation’ between the highest and coldest temperatures. In 2009, he led a review for the government of Victoria following a period of extreme weather in 2009.

The final two positions will be led by Anthony Smith, of Transport Focus, who will examine how Network Rail communicates with passengers in the lead up to extreme weather conditions, and Dame Julia Slingo FRS, former chief scientist at the Met Office, who will study the likelihood of more frequent extreme hot weather events. It is hoped her findings can be used to mitigate the impact of heat on rail infrastructure.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said, “The weather we’ve experienced this week has put a huge amount of pressure on our infrastructure, our staff and our passengers, and with extreme weather events becoming more frequent as our climate continues to change, we’ve got to pull out all the stops to make our railway as resilient as possible.

“That’s why I’ve decided to commission this taskforce, spearheaded by leading global experts, whose considerable experience in their fields both in the UK and across the world will arm us with the guidance we need to make our railway resilient in the face of climate change for generations to come.”