train standing on a snowy track
Credit: Unsplash / Ben Collins

Very cold weather often comes with other weather hazards such as ice and snow which is why their combined effect is a risk to our railways.

Electrified railways may be vulnerable since cold can affect power supply, so ice forming on overhead lines, or third rails can bring trains to a standstill. However, switches may also be at risk from cold weather. Small heaters are usually fitted to switch assets that keep them clear of ice and snow but if they stop working for any reason, a switch may not operate and signalling systems could stop a train. This may result in some trains being unable to reach their destination as they can’t switch tracks to get where they need to.

Our ability to handle cold weather is dependent on a network operators’ preparation and maintenance of assets. Network Rail have lots of examples of how they do this before winter, during winter and during an adverse or extreme weather event.

Although our climate is changing and we are already experiencing more extreme heat events, we need to remember that cold snaps like this can still occur between them! So, continuing to undertake winter maintenance activities is beneficial.

And as we depend on other sectors’ services to support railway operations (e.g. power and ICT), it is also very important to work with these stakeholders to ensure weather response is joined up, so issues are resolved as quickly and as efficiently as possible.