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Record high temperatures cause infrastructure damage in Britain

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The deadly heat wave in Europe gave the U.K. its hottest day ever yesterday. It touched off dozens of fires, and the London Fire Brigade saw its busiest day since World War II. The heat also caused dangerous damage to infrastructure, transportation especially. Here's Willem Marx from London.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: British weather is best known for its gray skies and gentle rain. But the last couple of days saw soaring temperatures smash previous heat records. In southern England, runways buckled; roads melted; and rail tracks bent out of shape. The U.K. transport minister, Grant Shapps, told Sky News Tuesday the country's century-old facilities simply cannot cope.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRANT SHAPPS: We've never seen temperatures like this, like, literally ever. This - probably be the hottest day in history. And a lot of our infrastructure is just not built for these types of temperatures.

MARX: Just north of London, Luton Airport closed its runway Monday, thanks to a defect diverting or canceling flights. The company that runs the U.K.'s train tracks, called Network Rail, said some rails had hit 144 degrees Fahrenheit. The steel used is only stress tested to 80 degrees, until now the average British summer temperature.

High temperatures mean high risk as rails expand, according to Paul Appleton, the top safety inspector on Britain's biggest railway lines.

PAUL APPLETON: If you end up with extreme heat, you can end up with what's called a track buckle. So you literally get what looks like a wave appear into it. And that can cause the train to derail and jump the tracks. It might just go along in a straight line and stay upright, but it might come flying off and end up down an embankment, and then you end up with a serious accident.

MARX: So train services were slashed or slowed significantly to ensure safety. The government says climate resilience upgrades to roads, railways and power lines are progressing. But officials admit those may not finish for decades, and climate patterns are arriving much faster, meaning trains here may run more slowly, far more often.

For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIDDEN ORCHESTRA'S "EAST LONDON STREET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx