Flooding due to extreme weather at Bowling Station, Scotland, on 7 October 2023

Flooding disrupts rail services between Scotland and England

Flooding at Bowling Station, Scotland, on 7 October 2023 Network Rail

The weekend of 7-8 October witnessed extreme rain and flooding wreaking havoc on rail services in the northern half of Britain, effectively isolating Scotland from England. Both the East Coast and West Coast main lines were forced to shut down as relentless rainfall led to widespread flooding and significant infrastructure damage. In some parts of Scotland, a month’s worth of rain fell in just twenty-four hours.

Britain experienced the full force of a weather north-south divide over the weekend. While the south (most of England and Wales) basked in near-record October temperatures, the north (largely Scotland) was hit by almost unprecedented torrential rains accompanied by strong winds, resulting in extensive flooding, rendering sections of the railway network impassable. The closures severely disrupted passenger travel plans and had a pronounced impact on rail freight services.

Substantial disruptions due to flooding

The East Coast main line, the artery connecting London and North East England with Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, Scotland, experienced extensive flooding in several key locations, including Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. This forced all four principal passenger operators on the route to suspend services, and freight operators and customers grappling with logistical challenges.

The alternative routing via the Newcastle to Carlisle (Tyne Valley) route and on to the West Coast main line was a victim of the metrological situation too. The extreme weather front spanned the north of the British Isles, knocking out the West Coast main line, linking London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. That route also faced substantial disruptions due to flooding in Scotland, spanning from Carlisle to Glasgow. The treacherous weather conditions prompted rail authorities to place temporary closure orders on these critical routes.

Danger to life weather warning

Astonishing pictures were posted across social media, showing submerged tracks and stations, reminiscent of the worst floods in living memory. An amber weather warning remained in place for heavy rain across parts of Scotland for the entire weekend. Despite this, ground conditions improved slightly on Sunday, permitting some routes to reopen with restrictions in place. Some routes will continue to be suspended and speed restrictions will continue be in place beyond the weekend.

Rail freight services were hit by the weekend’s extreme weather. Closures on the Highland Main Line, between Perth and Inverness, and the diversionary route via Aberdeen, ruled out traffic to the North of Scotland. The Highland resort of Aviemore (roughly midway on the line) was under a severe flood alert all weekend. “The Met Office has issued an amber [danger to life] weather warning for heavy rain, which could see over a month’s worth [fall in one day] on areas of the Highlands and central Scotland, as well as Glasgow, Perth, and Stirling”, said David Simpson, ScotRail Service Delivery Director. “We know the impact that the withdrawal of some train services will have on customers but it’s a necessary step to ensure the safety of our staff and customers due to the severe rainfall.

Network Rail teams are working around the clock to assess and repair the damage caused by the adverse weather conditions. The focus is on restoring services as swiftly as possible, ensuring safe and reliable rail travel for both passengers and freight.

This article first appeared on sister publication RailFreight.com

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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