My Summer – Network Rail National Weather Specialist, Peter McCreery

Peter McCreery is a National Weather Specialist as part of the National Weather Team for Network Rail, the national rail network’s infrastructure maintainer.

The National Weather Team set the processes and policies for seasonal management applied in Network Rail’s five regions, to limit the impact of summer on both passenger journeys and the transit of freight.

Summer Weather Challenges

The impact of heat is an obvious summer challenge. Infrastructure made of steel will expand due to solar radiation, reaching temperatures far in excess of the air temperature, which can lead to the rail buckling. The impact of heat doesn’t end there though. Our points, signal wires, insulated rail joints (the small piece of metal which sits between two pieces of rail), our overhead electrical power lines and our lineside equipment rooms and location cabinets are all vulnerable to heat. We even have some metal swing bridges that we might not be able to get back in place in high temperatures! Alongside heat come fires, in and around the lineside, which can damage our infrastructure or obscure the signals that a driver needs to see to take their train safely onwards.

Heat is far from our sole challenge. In recent years, convective rainfall events have led to landslips around the rail network with huge amounts of soil, rocks and other debris strewn across the railway, which can and have led to trains coming off the rails.

How do you prepare for these challenges?

Our preparation for summer begins almost as soon as the previous summer ends. We review and take lessons learnt from the summer we’ve just experienced to create and embed processes which limit the impact of similar events in future years. We provide a challenge to both our regions and train operators through what we refer to as a seasonal stage gate process. This is a series of tasks which will help ensure safe operations during the summer months, and provide assurance to Network Rail and industry bodies like Rail Delivery Group that the entire rail system is getting  the correct preparation for summer. We work with our Regions to create Summer Working Arrangements, which follow the same format but take into account local idiosyncrasies.

We also work on forecasting tools. This summer, we have in place a convective alerting tool* which will warn us of incoming rainstorms, allowing us to take safety actions such as implementing a speed restriction over an at-risk portion of the rail network to ensure that trains can pass by safely.

Using the Forecast

Every day, our National Operating Centre (NOC) holds a conference call with each of our Route Operations Controls (ROC). The purpose of this call is to understand the weather risks presented in the forecast over the next five days, and to provide assurance that they’re undertaking the extreme weather response process when required to do so. When two or more of the ROCs declare that they will be invoking the extreme weather response process, we will look at holding a national conference to provide a strategic overview of the challenges, ensuring that plans are aligning. We’ll also work with our media teams to provide information to the travelling public about preparing for the weather, such as by carrying water, and our major stations now have free water fountains to make that easier than ever. In the most severe of cases, we’ll recommend avoiding travel if at all possible.

*MetDesk is the current weather provider of Network Rail