Snow plough, via Network Rail

Harsh winter weather spells disruption to passenger travel

‘Tis the season for winter warmers, festive fun, and a Christmas cheer, however accompanying these seasonal favourites comes the bane of rail travel – heavy snow and iced tracks – leading to safety concerns and preventative measures being taken to ensure everyone can get home to their families this Christmas.

Rail passengers are being advised to check before they travel due to heavy snowfall in London, the South East and East Anglia. Travel disruptions are expected from today whilst Network Rail team’s do their best to clear the railway from snow and ice, ensuring that train operators are able to safely run their services throughout the cold period.

Specialist staff are currently armed with the requisite kits that will defrost vital frozen points across the network such as the signals, whilst trains armed with snow ploughs are utilised to clear the tracks where necessary.

There are many methods to remove the barriers of iced and snowy lines, with some being:

  • Weather forecasts: Our weather service provider, MetDesk, provides Network Rail with a specialist forecast on the specific conditions which could affect the tracks and the probability of ice forming on third rails
  • Points heaters: Gas and electric heaters prevent points freezing. They are automatically activated when rail temperatures fall below a certain level. During extreme conditions, thousands of staff work night and day to check hundreds of points at key junctions to prevent them freezing.
  • Snow fences: In certain key locations prone to drifts, snow fences are installed to prevent snow drifting onto the tracks.
  • Snow/ice clearing: A variety of equipment is available to clear snow when it reaches a depth of six inches or more, including miniature snow ploughs which fit on the front of trains for smaller volumes of snow. Specialist drift ploughs are used to clear drifts of greater depths.
  • Anti-icing spray: A fleet of specialist anti-icing trains spray heated anti-freeze onto the third rail. Train operators will also run empty passenger trains, or 'ghost trains,' throughout the night to help prevent ice building up.
  • Emergency timetables: Contingency plans for severe disruption are agreed in advance with train operators and can be activated and communicated to passengers when disruption is likely.
  • Icicle patrols: Network Rail staff patrol tunnels and under-bridges when the mercury plummets to ensure icicles do not cause obstruction to trains or to overhead power lines.

Snow and ice can create blockades, limiting the ability for trains to use certain routes as well as ice forming on the overhead power lines which can affect the access to power supplies for trains. Falling snow can also reduce the drivers’ visibility of lineside signs and signals, forcing trains speeds to reduce to ensure safety throughout the journey.

With the widespread snowfall overnight, passengers will likely see delayed or cancelled services across key routes and are being advised to plan their journeys ahead so that they are not unnecessarily waiting in cold stations.

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