Network Rail ready for cold snap in the north west: Snow ploughs at Carlisle depot

Thursday 14 Jan 2016

Network Rail ready for cold snap in the north west

Region & Route:
| North West & Central

As temperature are expected to reach -8 degrees Celsius in parts of Cumbria and Lancashire this weekend Network Rail’s orange army is read to deal with frozen points and other weather-related issues across the area.

Along the route Network Rail has six snow ploughs and eight special trains to de-ice the rails. Some of these specially adapted trains which help keep frost off the third rail in Merseyside have been running daily since the start of December. But as well as the big machines the orange army is on standby to get to manually defrost frozen points and signals.

Terry Strickland, area director, said: “We have a fleet of trains to move any snow and deal with rail issues along key sections of the route and extra staff ready to keep the railway moving during the predicted freezing weather.

“Careful planning over the past months means we have measures in place to keep trains and passengers moving during cold spells.”

Passengers are advised to check before they travel.


Notes to editors:

The railway is no different from other modes of transport in being affected by winter weather, including snow and ice.

Cold weather can impact on rail services in a number of ways:

  • Cold weather can cause points and mechanical signals to freeze
  • Snow and ice can block points, limiting the ability for trains to use certain routes
  • overhead power lines can also be disrupted if ice forms on the wires
  • Falling snow and sleet can reduce sighting distances for lineside signs and signals, meaning trains have to travel more slowly

Network Rail uses a range of tools to help combat severe winter weather, including:

Weather forecasts: Our weather service provider, MetDesk, provides Network Rail with a specialist forecast which predicts the weather and the specific conditions which could affect the tracks and the probability of ice forming on the third rail.

Point heaters: Gas and electric point heaters prevent points from freezing and 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 equipment from freezing.

Snow fences: In certain key locations that regularly suffer the effects of snow, snow fences can be 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, larger snow ploughs which fit to individual locomotives and can clear up to six feet of snow and independent drift ploughs which are used for greater depths.

Anti-icing spray: A fleet of specialist anti-icing trains spray heated anti-freeze onto the third rail and snow ploughs will also operate across the affected areas. The train operators will also run empty passenger trains, or 'ghost trains' throughout the night to try and prevent snow and ice building up. Some train operators will also have anti-icing equipment attached to their trains to cover an even larger area.

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 during periods of sub-zero temperatures to ensure that icicles do not cause obstruction to trains or to overhead line equipment.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - North West & Central Region
07740 782954

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

Follow us on Twitter: @networkrail
Visit our online newsroom: