1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

How does the heat wave affect travel?

Rob Mudge
July 25, 2019

Getting from A to B in these baking hot conditions is a challenge for commuters and holiday travelers alike. So which mode of transport is best suited to cope with the heat wave?

A car passing a damaged piece of a motorway in Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stähle


While commuters and holiday travelers lucky enough to board a train with a functioning air conditioning system (not a given even in a supposedly high-tech country such as Germany) may have found some respite, their sunny demeanor could quickly turn cloudy once they discover that they are stranded on the trains because they can't actually move.

The high temperatures can cause points failures and signal disturbances, while in some places the tracks have buckled under the heat. This phenomenon is known as sun kink. A spokeswoman for Germany's rail company Deutsche Bahn said on Wednesday that "our technology has reached its limits in these extreme temperatures."

Indeed, a number of trains were canceled or delayed in western Germany this week. And in France and the UK, authorities appealed to commuters to avoid rail travel if possible. 

Train tracks painted white to protect them from the heat
Austrian rail authorities have painted tracks white in an attempt to stop them bucklingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/ÖBB


Germans are car-crazy. But even owning the flashiest, fastest car won't help if there's a gaping hole in the surface of the motorway. Extreme heat can cause tarmac to melt and concrete surfaces to buckle and rip. Here in Germany that's been referred to as "blow-ups." Essentially the concrete slabs don't have enough room to expand in the heat. They then push against each other, causing them to crack apart. Concrete motorways are most at risk if there is already previous damage, especially on older sections of motorways and roads.

Read moreCan Germany's supposedly crumbling infrastructure hold up against extreme heat?

Salt gritter dispensing saltwater to protect the surface
Rather than leaving their salt gritters to gather dust, the Dutch have decided that what works in winter works in summer tooImage: picture-alliance/dpa/ANP/K. Van de Veen

Is there a way to prevent those scenarios? Yes. In this regard, the Dutch are one step ahead. Arnhem's city council decided that what works in winter can also work in summer. They dispatched their salt gritter lorries after determining that salt not only provides traction in freezing conditions, but can also be used to stop asphalt from melting. The council says the salt helps by attracting moisture from the air and cooling the surface. It also removes excess moisture from the asphalt, making it less sticky.


Spare a thought for the Tour de France riders who are tackling three days of climbing in the Alps in these temperatures. But at least they're getting paid. Unless you're making the same amount of money, avoid cycling (walking, running) to work or anywhere for that matter in this heat.


Taking a boat up and down the Rhine River sounds eminently agreeable not least because of the slight breeze. However, river authorities are warning that water levels are sinking. In places, the Rhine is barely navigable. Low water levels already crippling the Danube in Bavaria have prompted officials to bar hotel ships from using a 60-kilometer (39-mile) stretch upstream from the town of Vilshofen.

German farmers hit by summer of drought


If you're not bothered about your carbon footprint or facing the wrath of environmental activists, you would probably think that flying is your best bet to get from A to B. Planes are designed and equipped to cope with both low and high temperature extremes. However, there is one caveat: If temperatures exceed 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit), planes can be grounded as some aircraft manufacturers can't guarantee the necessary engine propulsion. The warmer it gets, the less density there is in the air, which in turn results in less upwind for the wings.

Before you reschedule or cancel your flight, we're not quite there yet here in Western Europe. The scenario described above occurred in the US state of Arizona. But there are concerns it could become a regular feature, especially in the Arab region, where global warming is expected to lead to more frequent and extreme heat waves.

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Soldiers ride a Ukrainian tank near Bakhmut, an eastern city in Ukraine where fierce battles against Russian forces have been ongoing since the full-scale war began in February 2022
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage