Rail travellers 'misled' on hot weather speed limits

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Rail chiefs were accused yesterday of misleading passengers about the need for widespread and highly disruptive speed restrictions because of soaring temperatures.

As Network Rail continued to impose a 60mph limit on key routes on the main network, Eurostar trains were being tested at 186mph on 40 miles of track in Kent.

The infrastructure company claimed on Monday that services all over the Continent suffered similar problems when temperatures reached critical levels and there was no way round the problem.

But a spokesman for Eurostar, which recently broke the UK rail speed record with a run of 208mph, said trains on the new link would not be subject to such restrictions when they went into public service in September. He said Eurostar trains from Paris and Brussels ran at 186 mph in France and Belgium and were only hit by speed restrictions when they reached the old track used in England. Eurostar said the new Channel Tunnel rail link was engineered to a higher specification.

Peter Rayner, a rail consultant, said that occasionally TGV express services in France were the subject of local speed restrictions because of the heat. "The difference is that they do not impose a limit all the way from Disneyland and Marseilles. There may be limited restrictions in some places south of Avignon."

Much of the west coast main line in Britain continued to be the subject of a 60mph limit yesterday causing delays of up to an hour. Some services between London and Birmingham were cancelled. Virgin West and CrossCountry trains were the worst hit but the Great North Eastern Railways and Silverlink timetables were also curtailed. First Great Western cancelled 17 services.

Mr Rayner said there would be no need for blanket speed limits if enough ballast was used and if the track was properly maintained.

Under British Rail, directly-employed engineers were responsible for specific areas of track and would know the exact condition of the rails. "In some localities they would say there was a need for a speed restriction in other cases they would argue against it," Mr Rayner said.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: "People will have difficulty in believing Network Rail's explanation when trains are running at 186 mph through Kent. It seems incredible that a few degrees more on the temperature gauge can bring chaos to our railways."

Caroline Jones, a spokeswoman for the Rail Passengers Council, said Network Rail could not be criticised for the speed restrictions.

"What we want is the train companies and Network Rail working together to inform passengers of any service disruption."

Network Rail said it would reassess the situation after today when the temperature is forecast to rise further, but unless it dropped below 30C (86F), it was unlikely the 60mph limit, operating between noon and 7pm, would be removed.

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