Rail’s plan to keep you moving this winter


Rail’s plan to keep you moving this winter

View all news

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

Just like road and air travel, wintry weather can pose challenges for the railway – and potential dangers to your journeys.

Its effects range from speed restrictions on exposed routes, to the suspension of train services due to avalanches.We work all year round so that we can run a safe and reliable service in winter

Network Rail have taken lots of measures to make the railway more resilient for winter.

  • Put more than 100km of special heating strips on critical sections of the electrified third rail which powers trains in the south of England. This prevents ice forming and minimises the risk of stranded trains. This has reduced ice-related disruptive incidents by almost 80%.
  • Added protective covers to 4,000 points and 2,500 points motors to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from trains.
  • Fitted many points with heating strips to melt snow and ice.

Meet our winter fleet

They also run a special winter fleet – complete with snow ploughs, hot air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and anti-freeze. This fleet clears snow and ice from the tracks.

How else do Network Rail and the rail industry prepare for winter?

  • 10 snow and ice treatment trains (SITTs) fitted with snow ploughs, hot air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and jets for heated anti-freeze and compressed air to quickly de-ice tracks
  • 13 pairs of snow ploughs that fit to locomotives to clear deep snow from the tracks and a number of small snow ploughs.
  • Thousands of our people patrol the tracks day and night clearing snow and ice from junctions and tunnels.
  • Our remote temperature monitoring and a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging cameras identify points heaters that are not working effectively.
  • Train companies run empty trains through the night to help keep tracks clear, and passenger trains can be fitted with snow ploughs which can clear up to eight inches of snow – if it’s deeper, we send in our fleet of dedicated snow ploughs.
  • We use ballast – the stones beneath the track – treated with anti-icing fluid for our winter engineering work, as this stops it freezing together in the delivery wagons and helps us to continue working in all temperatures.

We use detailed forecasts from weather experts MetDesk to formulate local action plans during adverse weather to minimise disruption to your journeys. The forecasts cover not just the weather but how the conditions will impact on specific railway infrastructure such as the tracks, conductor rails and overhead power lines. A network of hundreds of monitoring stations also provides real-time weather data, enabling us to respond to conditions as they develop in real time.

Our winter preparedness regime begins in September each year. Special trains and equipment are fully checked and any repairs carried out, while contingency plans are reviewed and agreed with train operators to keep passengers moving during adverse weather.