Heatwave triggers travel chaos as Luton Airport runway melts and trains cancelled

18 July 2022, 14:18 | Updated: 18 July 2022, 19:45

Travel chaos erupted across Britain
Travel chaos erupted across Britain. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

Travel chaos broke out on Monday as soaring temperatures crippled Britain's infrastructure.

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By 7pm on Monday, the highest temperature was 38.1C in Santon Downham, Suffolk, making it the hottest day of the year and the third hottest day on record, after 38.7C in Cambridge in 2019 and 38.5C in Faversham, Kent, in August 2003.

The Met Office has issued its first ever red alert for extreme weather for Monday and Tuesday, with London expected to reach temperatures upwards of 40C.

Fires broke out across the country, with eight fire engines from the London Fire Brigade tackling a two-acre grass fire on Woolwich Common.

Fires were also reported at Lickey Hills, a country park south of Birmingham, where smoke could be seen for miles, Bexley Heath in London, as well as a separate one near Chesterfield.

Luton Airport was forced to shutter its runway after a "surface defect" was found amid the high heat, with flights diverted to Stansted Airport instead.

Meanwhile, a tanker burst into flames on the M26, with the fire spreading to the grass verges forcing the motorway to shutter between Junctions 4 and 5.

The AA also issued a stark warning, saying roads could melt and tyres may burst.

Rail travel was also severely disrupted as train lines were affected by heat.

National Rail said: "Hot weather can affect the rails, overhead power lines and the ground which the track sits on. As a result, Network Rail may impose temporary speed restrictions to reduce the risk of damage to the railway and keep services running."

Scroll down for a list of schools that were closed on Tuesday

So far eight people have been confirmed to have died during the heatwave, including a 16-year-old boy who was found dead after getting into difficulty at Bray Lake near Maidenhead in Berkshire.

Thames Valley Police found a body just after 1.30pm after being called out just under two hours earlier. Superintendent Michael Greenwood described it as an "absolute tragedy".

It has led to emergency services urging people to be cautious when cooling off.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said emergency services were in demand.

"We're seeing an increase in calls and the extra resource we have put in place is to manage that," he said after a Cobra meeting.

"But there's also a time lag in the data because the highest point of the expected heatwave is actually going to be tomorrow afternoon. So that's the point of maximum concern, but we're seeing an increase in calls."

Children across Britain have the opportunity to stay at home amid fears for their health in schools that were never meant to deal with such sweltering heat.

At least 53 schools in Buckinghamshire have closed and reverted to remote learning. Braidwood School in Birmingham has announced it will remain closed until Wednesday because of the heat.

Meanwhile, Dr Challonher’s High School in Buckinghamshire told parents on Friday that they were closing for health and safety reasons.

And headteachers at Hartford Manor Primary in Cheshire, told the BBC they would scrap uniform policy on Monday and Tuesday to help keep children cool.

Swimmers enjoy London Fields Lido as UK temperatures soar

One college in Bromley, London, told parents they have "taken the unprecedented decision to close the school and ask students and staff to work remotely".

A raft of warnings about the weather have been issued by officials
A raft of warnings about the weather have been issued by officials. Picture: Getty

A number of events have also been called off because of the heat.

Leicester City Council confirmed a museum railway event had been cancelled, as well as a beach and funfair event. Athletics facilities were closed and council meetings called off.

Tropical World at Roundhay Park in Leeds, a butterfly house, zoo and exotic plant collection, closed to the public so that staff could look after the animals in the heat.

Chester Zoo, the popular wildlife destination in the North West, has also shut for two days because of the heat.

And the London cable car service has been suspended "due to extreme weather conditions".

Disruption broke out in one of the military's main airports, with RAF Brize Norton's runway out of action after it melted.

The Met Office issued its first ever red alert for extreme weather for Monday and Tuesday
The Met Office issued its first ever red alert for extreme weather for Monday and Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

More than a dozen train companies are urging Brits not to travel as the red extreme heat warning comes into force, while schools up and down the country have taken the decision to close.

Network Rail will close the East Coast Main Line between noon and 8pm on Tuesday for all locations between London King's Cross and York and Leeds, with passengers warned not to travel.

Read more: Brits urged to 'look out for family and friends' as life-threatening 40C red alert looms

Read more: Heatwave: School closures announced on Monday and Tuesday as Met Office issues 'red alert'

Heatwave school closures:


St Christopher's School

Thomas Middlecott Academy


Bluecoat Wollaton Academy

Bluecoat Aspley Academy

Bluecoat Beechdale Academy

Bluecoat Primary Academy

Bluecoat Trent Academy

Bluecoat Sixth Form

Nottingham Emmanuel School

Long Eaton School

Lees Brook Community School

Alvaston Moor Academy


Grenoside Community Primary School

South Yorkshire

The Forest Academy Oakhill Primary Academy


Winston Churchill School

West Yorkshire

Co-Op Academy Southfield

Met Office chief executive Penny Endersby warned of “absolutely unprecedented” conditions, with a national emergency having also been declared by the UK Health Security Agency ahead of the heatwave.

The hottest temperature currently recorded in the UK is 38.7C, at Cambridge Botanic Gardens on July 25, 2019. Before that, it was 38.5C, in Faversham, Kent in 2003.

Water companies warned urgent action is needed to conserve supplies in parts of the UK.

Kit Malthouse, who chaired a Cobra meeting on the heatwave, told LBC on Monday morning: "We are urging people to be sensible… and keep as cool as they possibly can, and keep a look out for young children and elderly vulnerable people.

"We are asking people to be aware there’s likely to be disruption on the transport network.

"Given there is likely to be significant disruption… if they are able to and it works for them they should think about working from home."

Minister says work from home if you can due to the heatwave

He said Europe's rail network was better equipped to deal with the extreme heat.

"We’ve never had it here in this country and we just need to see how the system operates.

"Their systems are built to deal with that kind of temperature. There are tolerances built into equipment when it's put in place.

"The system may well cope."

Minister Kit Malthouse says UK rail network not designed for 40C heat

He said the UK's "fast trains put heavy pressure on the rails" and suggested trains in places like Italy might not run quite so fast on the tracks.

A total of 21 rail operators - ranging from Transport for Wales and Gatwick Express to the Transpennine Express and Southern - said they will be running a slower service on Monday and Tuesday after National Rail implemented speed restrictions across its network. Cancellations are also in place.

Those who have to travel are being encouraged to check their journeys on the National Rail website before setting off and taking water with them to stay hydrated.

More than a dozen train companies are urging Brits not to travel
More than a dozen train companies are urging Brits not to travel. Picture: Alamy

Sam MacDougall, operations director for Network Rail said: "Closing the line to traffic is always a last resort but it is the right thing to do to keep people safe on Tuesday given the unprecedented heatwave forecast.

"The forecast temperatures are well above those which our infrastructure is designed for, and safety must come first."

Similar advice has been issued for those travelling on the Tube, with commuters reminded to stay hydrated.

Transport for London tweeted: "Only travel if essential due to very high temperatures being forecast."

Probably no 'off the shelf plan' for extreme heat

Camilla Tominey calls for a 'sense of perspective' on the heatwave.

In preparation for the soaring temperatures, two emergency Cobra meetings were held over the weekend - the PM being notably absent.

Brits were later urged to take three steps to ensure they can stay safe in the challenging conditions: Drink plenty of water, seek shade and cover up.

Nick Ferrari confronts Minister on Boris missing Cobra

Additional contingency support for ambulance services, such as more call handlers and extra working hours, have also been put in place for Monday and Tuesday.

It comes after the chairman of the NHS Confederation said hospitals were going to be "really, really pushed" over the next few days.

Britons are being urged to stay inside during the hottest points of the day, between 11am and 4pm, and wear sun cream, a hat, stay in the shade and keep hydrated with water.

Emergency services have also urged people to be cautious when cooling off after the body of a boy was recovered in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, in the early hours of Sunday morning.