Freezing temperatures, ice and snow can affect your journeys. Find out more.
Winter weather such as snow and ice can cause disruption to all forms of transport, including road, rail and air services.
This presents a raft of new problems when it comes to running a railway. From door and coupler malfunctions to points failures and snow drifts, the challenges to running a busy and effective train service in winter are varied and significant - but we are doing everything we can to combat it.
No transport service can operate 100% in all weather conditions, but we understand that any disruption is frustrating for you. Here we answer some of the most frequent questions you ask about the impact of the weather on our services – and outline what we are doing to keep trains running and provide you with fast and accurate information regarding your train service.
We operate one of the most complex commuter rail networks in the UK. We run nearly 1,700 trains a day, covering more than 600 miles of track and serving nearly 180 stations covering South West London, Surrey, Hampshire and parts of Wiltshire, Berkshire, Devon and Somerset. The track infrastructure we use – as well as the signalling, points and third rail power supply - are owned, operated and maintained by our partners at Network Rail. Together, we run a dedicated 24 hour, 7 day a week operational control centre where we work to keep trains on our network running as smoothly as possible, as well as dealing with any disruption that occurs and keeping you up to date with the latest information on our services.
Most of our trains – as well as trains operated by other operators south of the River Thames including Southern, Southeastern and Thameslink/Great Northern – are powered by electricity from a track-level third rail DC electrical system. This relatively low-cost system was introduced in the 1920s and 1930s and is different to the system used by trains that draw power from overhead lines. During normal weather conditions, this system works extremely well and we are able to deliver extremely high levels of punctuality to our customers. In addition, we use a small number of diesel trains largely on the London to Salisbury and Exeter route which are powered by fuel and run without any requirement for electrical power.
Our trains draw power from the top of the third rail, which is located close to the ground. This is unlike more modern third rail systems, such as the Docklands Light Railway, where the third rail is raised and power is drawn from underneath. As a result, snow and ice can form on the third rail during freezing temperatures. This effectively creates a barrier between the rail and the train, interfering with the ability of electric trains to draw power. In these cases, the train can stop and become stuck. The problem is more serious if freezing ground temperatures are combined with snow, sleet or rain.
Heavy snow and icy conditions can also affect the ability of some of our employees to get to their place of work or to locations where there are problems. It can also make underfoot conditions at stations dangerous.
The basic design of the electrification system used in South London, Kent and Sussex as well as our area means that it will never work perfectly during icy conditions. Replacing this system would require massive investment and long term planning due to the large area covered by this system. These investment decisions would need to be taken by the Department for Transport in conjunction with the South West Trains and Network Rail.
South West Trains and our partners at Network Rail employ a range of methods to prevent ice and snow settling, and where it does settle to clear it as quickly as possible. These include:
In these situations, we may also run a contingency timetable, where trains run more slowly and less frequently to ensure an increased, safer distance between trains to maximise safety. This also helps us to keep our train crews in local areas to minimise any potential chance of disruption.
We take your safety and the safety of our staff very seriously and we would never operate a train service unless it was safe to do so. Our focus is to ensure our trains and our stations can be used by our customers safely and with confidence and to do everything we can to minimise the impact of severe weather on our customers.
We would rather avoid severe disruption, but when it happens we know that what you want most is certainty about when and how you are going to reach your destination. Even after all of the precautions taken by South West Trains and Network Rail, very heavy snow will inevitably make it extremely difficult to operate our normal timetable reliably.
We have a contingency timetable prepared and ready for use should snow or ice disrupt our normal timetable. Our snow timetable has a number of features designed to help us deliver a reliable service in challenging conditions:
Your safety is our top priority and a huge effort goes into keeping the busiest areas of our network, such as platforms, stations and footbridges, as clear of snow and ice as possible. We have a large stockpile of ice treatment chemicals at stations and at suppliers. We have also updated all of our station snow and ice-clearance arrangements, buying new equipment where our internal review suggested gaps. Finally, we also have station adoption snow and ice clearance scheme where stations are adopted by back-office staff that live locally.
The temperature on trains may be much warmer than outside, especially during busier peak times. Please follow these tips to be more comfortable on trains during the cold weather.
During periods of severe weather, we suggest that you: