Britain boiled on Monday the 18th and Tuesday the 19th of July as temperatures soared. The country was hit by a heatwave that broke the UK’s record for its hottest day, as temperatures in parts of the UK reached 40.3ᴼC. We were, however, not ready for these temperatures as many areas of the UK came to a standstill and the pressure on our emergency services skyrocketed.
One of the biggest sectors to be hit the worst by the heatwave was the transport sector, especially the railways. Overhead cables were damaged, train lines buckled, and fires ignited up and down the tracks.
Rail services were seriously disrupted on Monday with lower speed restrictions and cancellations being put into place. By the end of Tuesday, passengers faced mainland closures with many stations, such as London Euston, telling passengers to stay away from the station and they issued a ‘Do not Travel’ warning.
Trains at both London Euston and King’s Cross stations were cancelled due to fires breaking out in Northwest London, and by late Tuesday afternoon all services were suspended. One of the reasons for the suspensions was a lineside fire that broke out in Harrow, that occurred due to a 25,000 volt electricity cable coming down.
Services were also affected by overhead electrical lines becoming severely damaged, and the damage that occurred on the Birmingham New Street station lines caused trains to become affected and cancelled. There were also major rail disruptions on train services in Rugby and Carlisle due to lines being damaged and coming down.
Several trains that had begun their journey and then had to stop due to the heat, had to call out evacuation teams to rescue passengers trapped on the trains.
By Wednesday the 20th of July, there were a number of trains that began to run after extensive repairs occurred during the night, although there were fewer trains, and some services were still not running.
When the weather is extremely hot, the temperature of the railway tracks can become around 20ᴼC hotter than the air around them. The average temperature of the tracks on Tuesday was around 60ᴼC, with a record of 62ᴼC in Suffolk.
The Met Office has issued a warning that these temperatures will become a regular occurrence by 2050. The Network Rail has issued a statement claiming that they will begin to plan to launch a new independent taskforce that will look into ways to improve their railways and make them more resilient to extreme hot weather conditions. One of their main investigations will be into how railways stay cool in country’s that regularly average at these high temperatures, to understand how they limit disruptions and damage to their railway lines and cables.
The country’s railways were not the only part of the transport sector that was affected as roads began to melt and buckle under the heat causing delays, road closures and increased traffic.
Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport secretary has issued a warning that it could take over a decade to get our train lines and roads resilient enough to handle this kind of heat. As they would need to go through a “long process of replacing it and upgrading it to withstand temperatures, either very hot or sometimes much colder than we’ve been used to, and these are the impacts of global warming”.
The heatwave also meant that our emergency services had to work harder than ever to keep people safe as the temperatures rose.
On Tuesday, London’s Fire brigade was called 2,600 times as homes were engulfed in flames in many areas within London, with over 110 fire engines called out to control the flames.
Wennington was one of the worst places in London affected by grassfires, the people living in this area have had to find accommodation as their homes were burned. The council are currently supporting the victims of the fires to help them to find somewhere to stay, due to the devastation the fires have caused to their homes.
The NHS was also hit by an increase in patients to A&E who needed treatment for heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Their web pages outlining both of these conditions received around 90,600 views.
Many of those that were booked in for operations, found that they were cancelled as hospitals struggled to cope with admittances, and rooms prepped for surgery were too hot for operations to be carried out safely.
Over the two days, 138 extra ambulances were deployed to accommodate the increase in admissions. On Monday alone the NHS received 6,600 calls to hospitals up and down the country, which is roughly 1,500 more calls than an average day.
This heatwave has shown that the effects of climate change will have a major effect on the UK, not only through the changes in weather patterns and the soaring of temperatures, but through the fact that our transport sector, infrastructure and emergency services cannot cope with these changes. As these temperatures continue to become a part of our summers, we must find ways to fight climate change to stop these temperatures from getting any higher.