POWER showers, polytunnels and space heaters are just some of the weapons being readied to fight winter and keep Scotland’s trains running this year.
ScotRail has revealed details of its £2 million plans to better prepare for severe weather following last year’s disruptions caused by conditions regarded as the worst for a century.
The company has no exact figures for last year, but it is believed almost 40 per cent of scheduled services were affected at the height of the storms.
The train firm launched a roadshow in Inverness, the first of 38 it will hold across Scotland to raise awareness of winter preparedness and to encourage passengers to use new alerts to plan their journeys.
ScotRail is the first UK train company to use the power shower system, regarded as best practice in Finland, to remove compacted snow and ice from the undersides of trains more quickly.
Last winter, 70 trains were damaged by frozen blocks of packed snow and ice falling from the undercarriages and then bouncing back up. These trains had to be withdrawn from service until safety checks and repairs were carried out.
Maintenance depots in Inverness, Perth and Glasgow will now have the equipment, which uses hot water from a network of sprinklers to melt the ice and allow maintenance and safety checks to be completed more quickly.
A new design of polytunnels, each 75 metres long, will also be used to de-ice trains faster.
Last winter, ScotRail trialled wrapping trains in polythene to speed up de-icing. Up to three tonnes of snow and ice could gather under trains during a day’s work.
Defrosting could take six hours before safety checks could be made on the undercarriage pipes, lines and other vital equipment. The new design means a three-carriage diesel unit can be de-iced in less than two hours.
In addition more high pressure water lances will be used to remove lighter layers of snow and ice, while 130 space heaters will increase the temperature in depots and will blow hot air on to the bogies.
ScotRail also said there will be significant improvements to the way people can obtain live travel information before their journeys and at stations, on platforms, and on trains.
Staff will encourage rail passengers to sign up for travel alerts via texts while at times of disruption ScotRail’s Twitter service will stay open later to help.
Other improvements include a “traffic lights” system on the ScotRail website to see which routes are running normally.
ScotRail stressed that prolonged sub-zero temperatures and snow will affect train services but that the actions taken will help get back to normal running as quickly as possible.
Steve Montgomery, ScotRail’s managing director, said: “Our investment and actions demonstrate a real commitment to our customers and the lessons of last winter. It’s all about keeping customers informed and minimising disruption.”
A return of the conditions of last year has not been predicted as yet with the Met Office providing only 30-day forecasts.
However, it has helped the Scottish and UK governments launch Get Ready for Winter campaigns giving advice to prepare for possible weather impacts.
Last week, Scottish Water also launched a Winter Campaign and a range of measures to prepare its service for any prolonged cold spell.
Transport minister Keith Brown welcomed the ScotRail developments. “Thinking ahead and being prepared for winter at home, on transport networks and within local communities is something everyone can do easily,” he said.
But Ken Sutherland, spokesman for the passenger group RailFuture Scotland, said although the measures are welcome, ScotRail has to think longer term. “They have to design and build rolling stock that is fit for purpose..”