Passengers being kept on track this winter by a fleet of snow and ice treatment trains

Network Rail has prepared for potentially treacherous icy conditions this winter with its acquisition of 12 treatment trains which will travel the equivalent of six times around the world to minimise disruption on the network.

Travelling as far as 161,296 miles, the trains are being used to scrape ice off the conductor rail using metal brushes and spraying thousands of litres of anti-icing fluid to prevent the formation of ice.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) will also be running ‘ghost trains’ overnight on southwestern rail lines to help keep tracks clear, plus its new fleet of Thameslink trains which feature a special snow mode to help braking.

These are measures taken by the rail organisation to ensure it is better prepared for adverse weather conditions after the Beast from the East caught some areas of the UK out in March last year.

John Halsall, Network Rail’s managing director in the south east, said: “Our snow and ice treatment trains are ready to travel around 160,000 miles laying anti-icing gel to stop ice forming on the third rail, while we’ve also improved our extreme weather forecasting so we can stay one step ahead of Mother Nature.”

As well as freezing the conductor rail, snow and ice can also freeze or jam points so trains cannot switch tracks safely, while couplers which join trains together can freeze, which causes problems joining or separating carriages.

Measures taken by Network Rail: 

  • Fitted points which are most likely to freeze with heaters and NASA-grade insulation to prevent ice forming and them sticking in place.
  • Installed conductor rail heating in areas prone to freezing.
  • Trialling a more effective anti-icer fluid on the Sheerness line, which contains more of the active ingredient that stops ice forming.
  • Adjusted its extreme weather forecasting processes to better predict ice build-up on the conductor rail.
  • Set up to receive detailed forecasts from weather experts MetDesk to help formulate local action plans during adverse weather

Network Rail’s annual winter campaign is all part of efforts to reduce the impact on services and challenge the misconception that ice on the tracks is a rail industry excuse.

Halsall has attempted to underline the size of the task that the organisation faces at this time of the year. “When the mercury plummets, even the lightest shower of rain or dusting of snow can freeze on the rails, preventing trains from drawing power or being able to move with any speed,” he added. “And in the worst cases, it stops them from being able to move at all.”

If you would like to contact Ryan Tute about this, or any other story, please email