Rail industry publishes winter weather plans
The rail industry has published a 10 point plan setting out how it is more prepared than ever for the onset of adverse winter weather.
The plan published by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) explains what the industry is doing to make track and trains more resilient to wintry conditions and ensure passengers are better informed during disruption.
Heavy snow and ice or flooding will always have an effect on services on some parts of the network. Whenever conditions mean it is not safe for operators to run normal timetables – for example when ice prevents points working or flood water rises above tracks – speed restrictions are put in place and services cancelled where necessary. But the industry’s key focus will be keeping as many trains running as is safely possible.
Operators and Network Rail have been working closely together to learn lessons from previous years when extreme conditions have caused disruption to services, and have been investing millions of pounds to ensure the railway is as prepared as possible.
Measures to improve the railway’s resilience to snow, ice and flooding include:
- Fitting of 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;
- Thorough checks of standard train features designed to prevent problems caused by extreme winter conditions, including coupler heaters, door seal grease, fuel tank heaters and horn heaters;
- Empty ‘ghost trains’ will run through the night in key areas as temperatures fall, to help keep tracks clear; freight ‘proving trains’ will run in the mornings following adverse conditions to ensure routes are clear;
- Network Rail has an expanded winter fleet that now includes 14 snow ploughs, 10 snow and ice treatment trains, two snow blowers, 25 locomotives fitted with mini snow ploughs (10 more than last year) and 24 multi-purpose vehicles (14 more than last year) with de-icing capability;
- Anti-icing fluid and heating strips are used on live conductor rails to stop ice building up which would prevent trains from drawing power; the addition of heating strips in key locations has reduced ice-related incidents by up to 80%;
- Flood defence systems are on standby, including inflatable barriers which protect tracks and vital equipment from flood water;
3. Signals and points
- Heaters and NASA grade insulation have been attached to critical points to prevent ice forming;
- 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;
- 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;
4. Stations and depots
- Ensuring depots and stations have enough salt, shovels and de-icer supplies;
- Preparing specialist equipment such as hot air blowers and steam jets at depots;
- Plans are in place for 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;
- 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.
Measures to improve passenger information during disruption include:
6. Better real time information at stations
- A multimillion pound project is underway to enable consistent information to be displayed across stations as well as on websites and apps provided by operators, National Rail Enquiries (NRE) and other rail retailers. This will help ensure that passengers can get the same answer to a journey query whether they use apps, websites or station information screens. Around a third of the country’s stations have now been connected to the same single real time information feed.
7. Letting passengers know as early as possible about any changes
- The industry has improved its processes so that revised timetable information can be fed into customer information systems more quickly, so that the new timetable is in place the evening before and passengers are better able to plan their journeys for the following day.
8. Better use of social media
- Operators, Network Rail and NRE are increasingly using social media to keep passengers informed, including answering passengers’ real-time/live queries; publicising updated travel plans and travel information; and sharing images of what has caused a delay and showing progress in efforts to get people moving again. This autumn, NRE sent over 33,000 tweets, 17% more than last autumn.
9. Explaining delays better
- The industry has developed explanations of common causes of delays, which are now publicised at stations, on websites and social media, especially at times of disruption, to help customers understand why their journey might be disrupted.
10. Better information on delay compensation
- Train companies are doing more to remind delayed passengers how to claim compensation including: more train announcements; posters at stations with barcodes smartphone users can scan to go directly to compensation forms; publicising details on platform screens; staff handing out claim forms on delayed trains; tweeting links to claim forms; making information more prominent on websites during disruption; and sending email reminders to passengers.
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.
“We hope that the measures we have put in place to improve equipment, technology and processes will mean passengers feel fully informed about the potential impact of weather on their journey. We want people to feel confident that the industry is doing all it can to get people where they need to go, and we will continue to learn from future weather events how we can get better still.”
Notes to editors
1. Regular causes of delay are explained at www.nationalrail.co.uk/delaysexplained.
2. Network Rail and operators have been working closely together for some time to improve passenger information during disruption. Measures outlined in the 10 point plan are in addition to a number of initiatives already implemented or planned including:
- Increasing the use of technology to help passengers; many operators have provided mobile phones and/or tablets to frontline staff so that they have access to up-to-date information for passengers.
- NRE has relaxed licensing conditions for third party developers wanting to use its real time train information. Hundreds more developers now have access to the information, and it is hoped this will increase the visibility of real-time information to customers.
- Being flexible and allowing passengers who decide not to travel on the day of their booked train because of severe disruption to travel on an alternative day.
- Giving greater prominence on rail company websites to urgent travel information and to make them stand out so they are easier for people to spot.
- Issuing more reminders to passengers of where to check information e.g. apps, websites, Twitter, Facebook.
3. National Rail Enquiries sent 33,139 tweets to customers between August and November 2014, up from 28,341 over the same period in 2013.
4. More than £15m has been spent on improving train fleet resilience in the last few years, while Network Rail has invested more than £52m on the ‘third rail’ network in London and the South East. Snow and ice causes problems for this type of rail in particular, because trains draw power from a conductor rail which runs along the ground and can be disrupted by layers of ice forming on top of the conductor rail.