A ten-point plan has been unveiled by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) detailing how the industry will tackle the weather. This has been developed through working with the train operators and Network Rail.
The work is designed to improve the railway’s resilience to snow, ice and flooding. It includes fitting some trains with snow ploughs, hot-air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and jets for heated anti-freeze and compressed air to quickly de-ice tracks, plus heated skirts for trains running in colder parts of the country. There will be thorough checks of train components designed to prevent problems caused by extreme winter conditions, including coupling heaters, door seal grease, fuel tank heaters and horn heaters.
For the track, ‘ghost trains’ will run through the night in key areas when temperatures fall to keep tracks clear while freight ‘proving runs’ will run in the mornings to ensure routes are clear. NR has expanded its winter fleet to 14 snow ploughs, ten snow and ice treatment trains, 25 locomotives fitted with mini snow ploughs (ten more than last year) and 24 multi-purpose vehicles with de-icing capability.
Anti-icing fluid and heating strips will be used on live conductor rails to stop ice building up. This has, in key location, reduced ice-related incidents up to 80%. Flood defence systems are on standby, including inflatable barriers which protect tracks and vital equipment from flood water.
For points, heaters and NASA grade insulation have been attached to critical points to prevent ice forming, while protective covers have been added to 4,000 points and 2,500 points motors, to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from trains while remote temperature monitoring is in place and a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging cameras to identify points heaters that are not working effectively is on standby.
At stations and depots there must be enough salt, shovels and de-icer supplies, while there will also be specialist equipment such as hot air blowers and steam jets at depots.
For staff, the RDG has plans staff to be based at strategic places on routes in times of severe disruption to provide information and advice to rail users; and to ensure that full depot staffing is maintained even where some staff are unable to get to work, thousands of staff will patrol the network round the clock in times of extreme weather, clearing snow and ice from junctions and tunnels and when flood warnings are received from the Environment Agency, staff and equipment will be sent to ‘at risk’ areas so preventative and mitigation measures can be put in place.
Proving information to passenger is also key, RDG says, and this will include better real time information at stations delivered through a multi-million pound project being developed across stations, websites and apps. It is planned to inform passengers earlier when there are potential changes to services, and it also wants better use of social media by train operators. Delays must be explained better and there must also be better information regarding delay compensation.
Michael Roberts, Director General of the RDG which represents operators and Network Rail, said: “The industry has learnt valuable lessons from recent winters about where we need to concentrate our efforts to improve how we respond to extreme conditions. When severe weather hits, we will focus on ensuring that the railway can continue to run as many services as is safely possible, and that passengers get up-to-date and consistent information.