Travel Updates


Snow and Ice

How snow and ice can cause delays - and what the industry is doing to reduce them

Snow and ice can cause serious problems for the railway.

Particularly at risk are areas where trains move more slowly, such as the approach to stations and points. Snow can get compacted into solid ice which clogs up points and prevents them from working, and ice can coat the electrified rail, preventing trains from drawing the power they need to run.

Wind can cause snow to drift: if drifts reach 30cm, trains cannot run safely unless they’re fitted with snowploughs. Heavy snow can cause branches to break off trees which can damage overhead wires and block the track.

Sheets of ice can damage passing trains when they become dislodged and the steel rails can even freeze together if they become too cold. The system is designed to 'fail safe', so any problem turns signals in the area to red and trains cannot pass through.

Winter conditions can affect trains too, with ice build up causing problems including jamming doors.

How the industry is minimising disruption caused by snow and ice

  • Snow and Ice Treatment Trains fitted with snow ploughs, hot-air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and heated de-icer quickly de-ice tracks
  • Train Operators run empty trains through the night to help keep tracks clear of snow, and passenger trains can be fitted with snow ploughs which can clear snow
  • Developing special winter timetables with Train Operators
  • Major routes that are at the most at risk have been fitted with fences that prevent snow blowing on to the tracks
  • Thousands of staff patrol the tracks day and night clearing snow and ice from junctions and tunnels
  • Anti-icing fluid and heating strips are used on live conductor rails to prevent ice building up which prevents trains from drawing power; the addition of heating strips has reduced ice-related incidents by up to 80%
  • Heaters and NASA grade insulation are attached to points to prevent ice forming
  • Remote temperature monitoring and a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging cameras identify points heaters that are not working effectively
  • Trees overhanging the track are cut back to prevent them becoming heavy with snow, but with over 20,000 miles of track that is a continuous challenge
  • Making sure spare parts are readily available for anything on the railway that’s sensitive to snow and ice
  • Being kept informed by specialist forecasters of any severe weather risks, to alert staff to the response they need to take.
  • Installing protection from the flood water created by melting snow
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Last updated:   11 January 2017