3Squared – Harnessing Technology to Prepare for Winter

3Squared – Harnessing Technology to Prepare for Winter
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Harnessing Technology to Prepare for Winter

This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine Issue 5 2021.

Year-on-year as winter approaches, the rail industry braces itself for months of timetable disruptions and impact across the network.

It has long been an annual occurrence that seasonal changes such as leaves on the line and ice on the platform disrupt daily rail life; however as technological advancements are made, so too are opportunities that the industry can take advantage of and tackle these age-old issues head on.

Winter Changes across the Network

The seasonal changes that winter brings can wreak havoc across the country. As defined by Network Rail, each weather change can have a significant knock-on effect across the UK, including:

  • Wind: With millions of trees lining the rail, high winds can cause branches and trees to fall onto the track, damaging the overhead wires that power electric trains and blocking the railway. High winds also mean that objects from further away can be blown onto the tracks.
  • Rain: In very wet conditions, trains must brake and accelerate more slowly to keep everyone safe, adding time to journeys. Prolonged, heavy rain can also cause flooding and landslips, which mean trains can’t run until lines are cleared and repaired.
  • Snow and Ice: In very cold weather, snow and ice can build up on the tracks and block points, the equipment that allows trains to move between tracks. Ice can coat the electrified third rail and overhead power cables, preventing trains from drawing the power they need to run and leave them stranded. Icicles on tunnels, bridges and other structures can also damage trains and overhead power cables. When snow lies deeper than 30cm, trains can’t run safely unless they have been fitted with snow ploughs.

Low Rail Adhesion

The leaf-fall months present major issues for the rail network. In basic terms, ‘low railhead adhesion’ is caused by leaves which have fallen from lineside trees. It is so serious an issue that Network Rail has a dedicated division, the National Delivery Service, which is tasked with overseeing the contracting out of trains which can help improve overall conditions, specifically in known ‘black spots’ for poor adhesion.

Download the full PDF here.

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