By David Simpson, ScotRail, Operations Director
We’re lucky in Scotland that we don’t suffer from the same regularly brutal winters that occur in many countries like Canada, the Russian Federation or the USA.
However, that doesn’t mean we get off lightly when it comes to snow and freezing temperatures. And, that’s when Scotland’s Railway, a partnership between rail networks including ScotRail, Transport Scotland and Network Rail, leaps into action.
Points can freeze up preventing services from accessing junctions or platforms. Up to three tons of snow can accumulate on the underside of carriages. In the past trains have been damaged by snow and ice falling from the undercarriage and bouncing back up. They need to be removed from service for safety checks when this happens.
Scotland’s Railway’s advance weather warnings trigger response teams across the country. We monitor conditions overnight to make sure it’s safe to run trains the next morning. Meteorologists will map weather events as they approach, allowing us to deploy chainsaw teams and engineers to where they’re most likely to be needed. And if weather forecasts mean we need to run fewer trains, we’ll do our best to let you know by 4pm the day before to help you plan ahead.
A specialist £1m winter train has been designed to melt the snow and ice that can build up on key sections of track during the prolonged cold spells seen during a Scottish winter. The train is fitted with specialist heat-lances and hot air blowers that can be used to quickly defrost points and other vital infrastructure and it can also be used as a mobile depot transporting engineers around the rail network when roads are closed.
A fleet of 10 Scottish-based snow ploughs are also in full operation throughout the winter supported by the railway’s helicopter unit which uses thermal imaging to identify spots where severe weather could take hold.
Teams of engineers will also work around-the-clock through any severe weather to maintain key pieces of infrastructure and help prevent them from freezing up, while additional staff will be available to clear platforms and car parks for customers.
In depots our engineers use specialist equipment to defrost our trains ready for the services ahead and in stations too we’re working hard, gritting platforms and car parks to make sure you can complete your journey. And on our trains, we’ve improved heating and insulation to keep passengers warmer on chilly winter days.
We also work hard to keep passengers up-to-date and, if severe weather is expected, contingency timetables will be created and customers informed. ScotRail’s website and social media channels will have full details of any changes to the train service.
Our focus is always on our customers. We understand they have to get to their final destinations and so when disruption happens, we have agreements with other transport providers to let you use your train ticket (traditional paper version or Smartcard) to travel on certain buses, trams and the Glasgow Subway. We’ll let you know which transport is available by making station announcements, posting alerts on social media and live updates on our website and app.
People know from their own lives the impact winter weather can have, and that applies even more so to the railway.
That’s why we have invested in specialist equipment, so that when bad weather strikes we can keep our customers moving. Our staff will be working flat out, night and day, to get customers where they need to be, while ensuring that the safety of our customers and staff remains our number one priority.
We’ve never been better prepared for winter in terms of weather monitoring, our specialist snow clearing train, snow ploughs, jet washers, space heaters and helicopter unit.
But, you know what? Impressive as all of that is, I would give anything not to have a white Christmas and to get to the end of March without another ‘Beast From The East’ or ‘Storm Caroline.’