The UK experienced its highest-ever summer time temperature of 39.1C on Tuesday, according to the Met Office, as a heatwave gripped the country and caused widespread travel disruption.
The provisional recording at Charlwood, in Surrey, eclipsed the previous all-time high of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in 2019. Forecasters have warned that temperatures are expected to exceed 40C later in the day.
The record was set after transport secretary Grant Shapps warned that it could take “decades” to make Britain’s transport system more resilient to extreme heatwaves.
The railways across England ran significantly reduced services on Tuesday, with cancellations on lines running north of London as extreme heat overwhelmed infrastructure designed for a maximum temperature of 35C.
The Met Office also said the country had probably experienced its warmest-ever night on Monday, with temperatures as high as 25C in some areas, which beat the previous record set in 1990 of 23.9C.
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said the record temperature was “a harbinger of things to come” and that going weak on net-zero commitments now would be storing up worse pain for the future.
National Rail urged customers to travel only if “absolutely necessary” on Tuesday and warned of delays and last-minute timetable changes.
Transport for London, which runs the capital’s underground network, said journeys were down 30 percent on a week ago as commuters heeded advice to stay at home.
All services running north to York on the East Coast Mainline from London’s King’s Cross station were cancelled. The station concourse, which handles 220,000 passengers a day normally, was deserted, with departure boards showing long rows of canceled services.
Steel railway tracks absorb heat and are prone to buckling and sagging, increasing the risk of derailments. On Monday, some tracks reached 62C, according to Network Rail.
Luton airport ground to a halt on Monday night, with all flights canceled due to a heat-related defect on its runway.
Shapps told Sky News that infrastructure took decades to build, citing the example of millions of miles of roads where tarmac would need replacing. Councils have this week put gritters on standby to spread sand on melting highways.
He said the head of Network Rail had advised him three years ago about overhead lines on railways, which also tend to sag in the heat.
“He talked me through the new upgraded specifications which are going on to the railway lines, where they can stand much higher levels of temperature and we’re going to see this a lot more regularly,” added Shapps.
“We’ve seen the hottest days ever recorded have come in the last 10 to 15 years. So we’re going to see this more. It’s a huge infrastructure to replace.”
The government’s emergency situations group, Cobra, will not meet on Tuesday but the issue will be discussed at cabinet.
Shapps also defended prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to miss three recent emergency Cobra meetings on the heatwave, despite finding time to take a ride in an RAF Typhoon fighter jet.
“There is a war going on in Europe. Why on earth would he not go and meet with the RAF?” he said.