How we prepare for snow and ice

Published on: Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Last updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2019

  • Your journey

Image credit: Simon Busser

Will snow and ice disrupt my journey?

Just as traffic on roads has to run slower in snowy and icy conditions, so does the railway, which can lead to cancellations to prevent trains becoming displaced or congestion occurring.

We will be doing everything we can to keep services running. Our performance teams have drawn up contingency plans for how we will continue to operate in snowy conditions and emergency timetables have been prepared for use in case of very severe weather.

If snow is forecast, please check before to travel to check how services are running.

How we prepare for snow and ice

Our performance teams plan for all types of weather. Regular conferences between all our depot, fleet and customer service teams and Network Rail ensure that the correct actions are being taken across the business to prepare the train fleet for maximum reliability. These include:

  • Fitting train warning horns with ‘snow socks’ which prevent snow getting into the horns - as without a horn trains cannot go above 20 mph for safety reasons, resulting in delays;
  • Having extra staff armed with special backpacks who will spray de-icer onto train doors (which can become jammed with snow and ice) as they come into the station;
  • Running trains fitted with snow ploughs before the start of service so that the tracks are clear;
  • Fitting a special gauze to the traction motors on our Class 317 and 321 commuter trains to protect them from melt water and snow which can get drawn into the train’s electrics and cause a breakdown;
  • Covering couplers (which join carriages together) to prevent them from freezing.
  • We call in additional staff help to keep customers safe and services running as well as possible.
  • They will do things like clearing platforms of snow and ice, putting down salt and grit to prevent people slipping and de-icing train doors and are also available to help customers and give them information about their journeys.

Network Rail has also made preparations for keeping the tracks operational where possible by deploying teams to check that point heaters (which defrost the track’s points) are in working order, organising ‘icicle patrols’ and special teams of ‘Snow Men and Women’ who are located at critical junctions ready to clear the points of snow by hand if needed.

If required, they will also organise snow ploughs and use special trains known as ‘Ice Maidens’ which operate before the start of the train service to clear some lines and make them passable for passenger trains.

If bad weather is forecast, Network Rail and Greater Anglia communicate via ‘Emergency Weather Action Teams’ conference calls to decide what action to take and whether any amendments are required to train services.

Why is snow a problem for the railway?

  • Most of our services can continue to run normally during light snowfall. However, our some of our older electric trains(Class 321 and 317 trains) that operate services in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire will have speed restrictions placed upon them during snowfall. The slower speeds help to prevent damage to their electric traction motors so that they don’t have to be taken out of service for repairs. However, it does mean that there will be changes to the timetable because of trains running more slowly than usual.
  • Rural routes can be particularly affected as it’s difficult to keep them clear of snow. On busier routes, the volume of traffic prevents the snow from settling too deep, like on roads, but on rural routes the traffic isn’t frequent enough, allowing snow to settle and build up.
  • When a train has to slow down as it approaches a station or set of points (which allow trains to change between tracks), this can cause snow to compact on the rails and turn into solid ice. This can clog up the points and stop them from working.
  • Steel rails can freeze together if they become too cold. When this happens, signals stay red and trains can’t move.
  • If snow drifts deeper than 30cm, or about a foot, trains can’t run safely unless they’re fitted with snow ploughs.
  • Very cold and wintry conditions can also affect the trains themselves, with ice build-up jamming doors, for example.

Helping you on your journey

We aim to give you three days’ notice about snow and other extreme weather events and will continue to provide updated information daily via the website, via the app, on Twitter @greateranglia and at stations.

Any amended timetables are confirmed by 1600 the day before the forecasted weather is due to arrive so please make sure you check before you travel.

We are very sorry if disruption occurs while you are travelling. On train and station staff and our Customer Actions Teams in their bright pink vests will be on hand to keep you updated with information and get you on your way as quickly as possible.

We make plans like this to avoid customers being stranded on a train in snow and ice.