Keeping trains moving in snow and ice

We work hard to predict and plan for any potential problems caused by snow and ice on the rail network, and have a number of ways to address them quickly

With snow and ice forecast in parts of Britain later this week, here’s a look at how we help to keep the railway running when temperatures dip below freezing.

How can snow and ice impact the railway?

  • Snow compacted by passing trains into solid ice – particularly in areas where trains move slowly – prevents points working.
  • Ice coating the electrified rail (in areas with an electrified third rail) stops power reaching trains.
  • Rails freezing together means signals stay red and trains stop.
  • Heavy snow can make branches break off trees, damaging overhead wires and blocking the track.
  • Wind can cause snow drifts of 30cm or more – in this case, trains would need to be fitted with snow ploughs to run safely.

View our film and find out more about how we help prevent train delays caused by snow and ice

two employees walking in snow

How we prepare

Typical preparation for winter weather includes making sure the track is clear, with no overhanging snow-covered vegetation, no icicles at tunnel entrances, and spare parts delivered where needed for assets sensitive to snow and ice. Fences on major routes prevent snow blowing onto the tracks.

Our Team Orange patrol the tracks day and night to clear snow and ice from junctions and tunnels, while a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging identifies points heaters that aren’t working effectively.

Heaters are attached to points to prevent ice forming, and there are protective covers on 4,000 points and 2,500 points motors to keep out snow.

Response

Our weather experts discuss with route teams the actions to take. This might include:

  • introducing temporary speed restrictions
  • sending staff to monitor the at-risk asset
  • sending patrols to remove ice from overhead lines.
  • line closures in extreme cases – blocked due to a landslip, or while heavy snow is being cleared.

Our seasonal treatment dedicated fleet of machines, from snow ploughs to specially developed Snow and Ice Treatment Trains, are ready at depots across Britain and can be deployed where needed when ice and snow are forecast.

Our approach to weather resilience

Footprints in snow on railway

Above image and central image: © Paul Sheriff