Winter weather can present some real challenges for the railway – here’s how we respond

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.

Snow and ice, in particular, can cause significant issues. So we do everything we can to prevent delays by preparing effectively to get you around safely this winter.

  • 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.

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.

Independent plough
Independent plough

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.

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.

During adverse weather we do our best to run a full, normal service, but punctuality may be affected. Weather is classed as ‘adverse’ if any of the below are true:

  • 2cm of snow (in london)
  • 60mph winds
  • temperatures below -3°C

In extreme weather conditions, we prioritise getting people home safely over running the normal timetable. We also prioritise vital rail freight to ensure the supply of essential goods across the country and fuel to power stations.

Weather is classed as ‘extreme’ if any of the below are true:

  • 15cm of snow (in london)
  • 70mph winds
  • temperatures below -7°C

After high winds this might mean we start services later in the morning so that our teams can make sure that lines are clear of branches and debris and are safe.

When extreme weather is forecast we also sometimes put contingency timetables in place that help us to run fewer but more reliable services.

Download our winter weather fact sheet

Winter weather fact sheet
516 KB