Winter Safety – Preparing Your Rail Served Facility

If you give credence to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, above-normal precipitation is predicted throughout the country this winter. Either way, rail served facilities in cold climates need to be ready for winter storms. The responsibility for snow removal should be defined in the private siding agreement with your serving carrier. In general, rail customers are responsible for snow removal up to the main track switch.

Rail-served customers will want to perform an inspection of their grounds early on.  Check structures near the tracks for any drain or gutter blockage.  Also walk the rails to check for proper drainage.  Any measures to prevent ice build-up are important.  Also make certain that there are enough snow and ice removal supplies on site, and that all equipment is in good working condition. Lastly, designate areas for snow piles that are a minimum of 12 feet away from tracks.

Through the winter months, the grounds will need to be inspected after any amount of precipitation.  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 crews and for loading and unloading.

Railroads take their own preventative measures and have standards for snow and removal following winter weather.BNSF Snow Blow Railroad TracksRail 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. Thankfully, they have powerful tools for clearing rails!

In some cases, switch heaters or hot air blowers are used to keep rail switches cleared in an effort to prevent bottlenecks. Another way to keep rail lines clear is to have a train go through on “off” hours. Some railroads go as far as retro fitting de-commissioned engines with new equipment like plows, snow wings, snow blowers, and heated cabs. Another method is to use glycerin based anti-freezing agents on the rails.

In summary, here is a checklist of the most common areas of concern:

  • Keep all switches free of snow and ensure drainage.
  • Keep track flange ways clear of ice.
  • Clear snow accumulation caused by vehicles crossing over tracks.
  • Prevent snow and ice from sliding off adjacent building roofs and on to tracks.
  • During severe storm conditions, call your railroad customer service to advise that your facility has been cleared of snow.

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

CSX Winter Safety Vid450