Preparing for summer heat
When temperatures spike, rail infrastructure can suffer. Embankment fires are more frequent, track begins to buckle, catenaries can be pulled down, and air conditioning and electronic systems can malfunction. But with the right planning, we can avoid many of these risks. Is SNCF ready for summer? And how do we take care of our passengers when extreme heat strikes? Get all the answers in the video below [in French].
Les pannes, l’été, c’est une fatalité ?
bottles of water were distributed to passengers in summer 2021
All TGV & INTERCITÉS trains, 96% of TERs and 65% of Transilien trains are air conditioned
Your safety and comfort are our priority
Extreme heat can affect your comfort and even your health, so we keep you informed and take special steps to make travel easier when it’s very hot.
If the temperature rises above 35°C, Météo France sends SNCF a weather alert, and we relay it to you across a variety of media. We also encourage passengers to take special care of themselves and others while travelling with us.
- Stay hydrated: drink plenty of water throughout your travels. Depending on how long your journey is, plan to bring one or more bottles of water with you. If there’s an incident on your line, we may deploy our Distib’eau plan. This calls for distributing non-alcoholic beverages from the café-bar to the passengers who need them most, especially if your train is without air conditioning for over an hour.
- Stay informed: SNCF station employees and your train manager can recommend the best course of action.
- Stay alert: be aware of the people around you in the station and aboard your train, especially children, seniors and others at high risk. If anyone feels unwell, please alert your train manager or the nearest SNCF station employee.
Provisional stock for Summer 2022
500,000 half-litre bottles of water have already been dispatched to 150 stations
We’ve distributed 100,000 boxed meals to 100 stations, and 65,000 snack packs to 50 more
When a weather alert is in effect, we give priority stations the technical, human and logistics resources they need to service a train in 10 minutes. This includes supplying bottled water, setting up welcome areas for passengers, putting information volunteers on advance alert, and activating our local civil defence partners. We currently have 28 priority stations.
Hot topic: How extreme temperatures affect trains and railway infrastructure
We monitor our rail system closely year-round, but in summer we work even harder. Night and day, SNCF employees watch over our tracks to identify areas where hot weather could cause problems.
Aboard our trains, it’s natural for the electrical and electronic components to heat up. But when extreme summer temperatures make them even hotter, they can malfunction or break down—especially if the air conditioning system can’t cope.
Extreme heat and sudden, sharp temperature swings can also be hard on railway infrastructures such as track, catenaries and signalling systems.
Hot weather also increases the risk of embankment fires, especially in periods of drought.
Railway tracks are 95% steel. High temperatures make them lengthen and expand, and if the change becomes too pronounced, trains have to slow down.
View the video below [in French] to learn more about how extreme heat affects track—and what we’re doing to keep you safe when you travel with us.
Impact des fortes chaleurs sur la voie
Since 2021, SNCF Réseau has predicted track temperatures with Metigate. This software platform projects conditions at nearly 180 sites across the French rail network, for the current day and the next 3 days as well. Metigate looks beyond the air temperature forecast, incorporating multiple weather variables—cloud cover, sunshine, humidity, and more—to provide track temperature predictions that are far more accurate.
Power supply cables
To work properly, catenaries—the overhead cables that supply power to our trains—must remain straight and horizontal. Systems of pulleys and counterweights usually keep them taut, but when temperatures spike, the counterweights drop and the cables can lengthen and droop.
View the video below [in French] to learn more about how extreme heat affects catenaries—and what we’re doing to get you safely to your destination.
Pourquoi ralentit-on les trains lorsqu'il fait très chaud ?
Heatwaves can cause the electrical and electronic components in our signalling systems to fail, so we’ve installed air conditioning in the units that house the most sensitive equipment.
The areas around our tracks are also more likely to catch fire when temperatures are high, especially during droughts.
is the highest temperature our electronics can take
Maintaining our rolling stock and infrastructure
At SNCF, we’re constantly thinking ahead to prevent heat-related incidents. We also participate in France’s nationwide heatwave plan (Plan Canicule), which has gone into effect every summer since 2003. Special measures include:
- carrying out targeted pre-summer maintenance (Autres Travaux Systématiques avant Saison chaude, or ATS) on all trainsets between April and June. This includes checks of all air conditioning systems.
- organizing “heat patrols” by SNCF employees to monitor infrastructure conditions, including track temperature and catenary tension systems. The timing and frequency of these patrols are based in part on data from Météo France, the French national weather service.
- inspecting areas around tracks and removing brush to limit the risk of fire in hot, dry weather.
Depending on the reports from our patrols, we may take the precautionary step of reducing train speeds.
Telephone support for AC systems and TGVs
Since 2008, our Charentes Périgord Technicentre has operated a technical support hotline staffed by some 60 air conditioning specialists, including a 6-member emergency-response team. Thanks to their expertise, most AC problems aboard our trains can now be solved by phone.
There’s also a rolling-stock hotline for passenger service employees aboard our TGVs. The 22 operators on this rapid-response team are available 06.00-22.30, 7 days a week, to help on-board staff diagnose technical problems.
For more information on heatwaves and their impacts, call Canicule Info Service at 0 800 066 666 (no charge within France). From outside France, dial +33 8 00 06 66 66.