Winter weather – snow and ice

It’s just a bit of snow and ice, isn’t it?

In fact, it takes a dedicated team and special fleet to keep you moving throughout the winter.

We don’t typically get lots of extremely cold weather in most parts of Britain. But when we do, it can pose serious challenges to transport infrastructure, like roads and the railway. We’re doing all we can to reduce delays and keep you moving safely.

Responding to the challenges of winter weather on the railway

Before one winter’s over, we’re thinking about the next. We plan ahead for snow, ice, floods and wind (as well as sudden changes between them) to keep your journeys on time and safe.

  • In very cold weather, snow and ice can build up on the tracks blocking points, the equipment that allows trains to move between tracks.
  • Ice can coat the electrified third rail and overhead power cables, preventing trains from drawing the power they need to run and leaving them stranded.
  • Icicles on tunnels, bridges and other structures can also damage trains and overhead power cables.
  • In very snowy weather where snow lies deeper than 30cm, trains can’t run safely unless they have been fitted with snow ploughs.
Icicles formed on the top of a tunnel, with ice and snow on the train tracks

How we plan ahead to minimise disruption

We work all year round so that we can run a safe and reliable service in winter.

Before winter

We do everything we can to minimise delays by preparing effectively. This includes:

  • Cutting back overhanging trees that could be affected by high winds or snow.
  • Pre-preparing contingency timetables with train companies.
  • Using detailed expert weather forecasts to create localised action plans. These forecasts don’t just cover the weather but tell us how conditions will impact the specific railway infrastructure. Our network of hundreds of monitoring stations then provides us with realtime weather data, enabling us to respond to conditions as they develop.

During winter

To help keep passengers moving we operate a special winter fleet, complete with snowploughs, hot air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and anti-freeze to clear snow and ice from the tracks.

We use technology, such as visual and thermal imaging from our helicopter and drones, to help us identify issues before they become a problem and respond as fast as possible.

When snow is forecast we work with train operators to fit snow plough attachments to the front of passenger trains. Our winter timetables also allow empty passenger trains, known as ghost trains, to be run overnight to keep the tracks clear of snow and ice.

Thousands of our people also work around the clock in all weathers, monitoring, maintaining and repairing the tracks so that we can run a safe and reliable service for passengers.

Independent plough moving snow off the tracks
Independent plough

Find out more about our seasonal track treatment and weather support fleet

How we respond to adverse and extreme weather

Our priorities for how we run the railway change depending on the severity of the weather.

Check your train is running on time

We can’t change the weather, but it can change your plans. Check your train is running on time by visiting National Rail or your train company’s website.

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