RAIL BOSSES are warning that Storm Ciara will lead to severe disruption across the network and passengers should not travel unless they have to.
Winds of up to 80mph and heavy rain are being forecast from early on Sunday, February 9, through to late evening.
Every line in the Network Rail Southern Region will be restricted to 50mph from 11am through to at least 7pm, with the potential for disruption to the Monday morning rush hour.
Affected operators include South Western Railway, which runs services from Wokingham borough stations to London Waterloo. Also affected will be Great Western Railway.
Network Rail says that the speed restrictions are necessary in case trees fall and other debris lands on the railway network.
Those passengers who do have to travel are being advised to check before they travel at www.nationalrail.co.uk and with their train operators to see how their journeys could be affected.
Some train operators may allow tickets booked for Sunday to be used on Saturday or Monday. Passengers are advised to check with their operators.
Jake Kelly, Network Rail’s strategic operations and passenger director for the North West & Central region, said: “It is rare for us to advise passengers to only travel if necessary, but with the latest forecasts showing how severe Storm Ciara will be, we must prioritise the safety of passengers and railway staff.
“Our teams have been planning for the likelihood that debris will be blown onto tracks and overhead electric wires. We have extra people on the ground at various locations across the region to deal with any disruption. I understand 50mph speed limits on Sunday may be frustrating for some people, but they are a necessary safety precaution when such wild weather is expected.
“I thank passengers in advance for their patience and urge people to check before travelling at www.nationalrail.co.uk or with their train operator.
Business owners and householders neighbouring the railway are also being reminded to secure anything in their gardens and yards which could be blown onto the tracks.
It comes after a trampoline was blown onto the West Coast main line last month bringing disruption to passengers.
Mr Kelly added: “In strong winds trampolines become airborne very easily. Our advice is: Please tether these kinds of items. That way you won’t lose them and train passengers’ journeys won’t be disrupted.
“We’re appealing to people living and working by the railway to ensure other items, such as gazebos, marquees, empty builders’ sacks, tents and the like are fixed in place, so they don’t end up on the tracks during high winds.”
“Only travel by train this Sunday if absolutely necessary.”
Emergency weather action teams are on standby across the country to respond to any disruption caused by the adverse weather.
Southern Region managing director John Halsall said: “We’re going to be working as hard as we can to keep trains running throughout the day, with staff on standby across our region to tackle fallen trees and other debris, but these wind speeds really are extraordinary and we have to keep people safe. There will be disruption and I urge people to please check before they travel.”
Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of South Western Railway, said: “Storm Ciara could cause disruption to our services on Sunday, with wind speeds of up to 70mph expected. So as a precaution, and for the safety of our passengers, Network Rail have put in place speed restrictions across our network.
“We’re working hard with Network Rail, and other operators, to minimise the impact to passengers and ensure lines are safe from fallen trees and other debris.
“Depending on the impact of the storm, disruption may continue into early Monday morning. We advise passengers to check https://www.southwesternrailway.com/disruption before they travel for the latest service information.”
Scott Brightwell, Train Services Director for Southeastern said: “There’s a possibility that, if the high winds do carry on into Monday, it may affect the start-up of services in the morning, and so we’d advise all of our passengers to please check before they travel on the Southeastern website, On Track app or Twitter feed at @Se_Railway, or National Rail Enquiries.”