Winter Safety – Preparing Your Rail Served Facility

Inclement weather will likely challenge all rail customers at some point. With winter weather fast approaching, your rail-served facilities should take measures to prepare for freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, and ice that winter storms will bring. A winter preparedness plan including snow and ice removal will be required throughout the winter season, and is crucial to ensure safe and timely rail service.

In preparation for winter, rail-served customers will want to perform an inspection of their grounds early on. Clean all switches, derails, frogs, and flangeways before freezing. Leaves and debris can hold moisture which can freeze and prevent the switches from operating. Ensure that the switch handle is clear from debris and potential snow buildup. Check structures near the tracks for any drain or gutter blockage and clear if necessary. Walk the rails and check for proper drainage here as well. Railroad ties should be visible, not submerged under dirt, mud, or water. Ensure that equipment can be operated through the flangeway. A minimum depth of 1.5 inches is required clearance under flangeways.

Any measures to prevent ice build-up and slip hazards are important. Be certain that there are plenty of snow removal and deicing supplies at your facility, and that they are in working order. Designate areas for snow piles removed from tracks and walkways; snow should be removed 12 feet or more away from tracks. You will also want to ensure that your team has appropriate winter personal protective gear. Also ensure that the facilities have proper lighting. As we know, there is much less daylight in the winter months, and your team as well as the rail crews need sufficient visibility. Finally, you may want to talk to your railroad sales rep if you have any questions or concerns about these preparation plans. Review your sidetrack agreement with your rep, which may have some additional requirements. Many, if not all, railroads have a winter safety checklist that you can use to ensure proper preparation.

Throughout the winter, be aware of your weather forecasts. After any form of (or amount of) precipitation, steps will need to be taken to inspect the grounds again. This is also recommended prior to all scheduled switches. Inspect walkways, removing snow and ice as needed. Do the same along the rails, ensuring that any derails and switches are clear and operable using brooms, shovels, and if necessary, heaters. In addition to inspecting the tracks and walkways, it is important that the rail equipment on site is examined. Check to make sure railcars are clear of snow and ice, and that all components of the railcars are operable for the switching crews and for loading and unloading of product. Keep in close contact with railroad sales reps and crew members when adverse weather is expected and let them know of any storm contingency plans at your facilities.

BNSF Snow Blow Railroad Tracks
Railroads take their own preventative measures and have standards for snow and removal following winter weather. Rail traffic typically rises during the winter, as roadways become less reliable for trucks. This fact in addition to severe weather tends to cause congestion in rail yards. This being the case, it is in each railroad’s best interest to keep all rails clear as much as possible. In some cases, switch heaters or hot air blowers are used to keep rail switches cleared in an effort to prevent bottlenecks. Another method is to use glycerin based anti-freezing agents on the rails. Railroads often have a train go through on “off” hours using engines fitted with special equipment like plows, snow wings, snow blowers, and heated cabs. In addition to their own winter measures in classification yards and along corridors, the railroad crews rely on your team to ensure your facility is cared for properly. Again, your facility’s winter preparedness plan is crucial to ensuring timely switches, and the safety of your team as well as the railroad crews.

Preparing for and following winter storms, railroads often draft announcements regarding the potential impacts of the storm, steps they are taking, and resources used to prepare for these storms. After the storms, they will typically advise the impacts and any potential shipment delays in the affected areas. RSI Logistics monitors the weather across North America and obtains these announcements as they are released. We keep our clients informed by then compiling and distributing these announcements to you. With RSI Logistics’ shipment monitoring services, our coordinators can identify potentially jeopardized shipments, work with the rail carriers to understand the delays, and facilitate movement of the affected railcars when it is safe to do so.

To learn more, CSXT has a good video with winter preparation tips: