HomeRail NewsThe ice man cometh

The ice man cometh

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Winter is coming, and with it one of the major problems that the railways face – ICE. Whenever the temperature drops towards freezing, or below it, the ice becomes a major factor. It can affect almost every aspect of railway operations.

Slippery under foot

The most obvious are station car parks and approaches. Cold weather after rail, or a heavy dew, or a light snowfall that is then compacted by cars and pedestrians, and car parks can become a sheet of ice. It is time to get the salt and sand buckets out.

It covers the platforms too, so that passengers slip and slide on their way to the trains. The solution is the same, though there are some rather more specialised and effective granules that can be used these days rather than simple salt.

If there is ice on the ground, there is ice on the rails. Its presence means that trains can’t accelerate from a station, but also means that they can’t stop once they do get going. Sand is again the traditional answer, this time from sandboxes and applicators on each train rather than a man with a bucket in the car park.

But what if the ice is on the third rail? It can stop electricity reaching the train’s pickup shoe and without that no-one is going anywhere. Sand won’t fix this problem – the shoe needs to slide on the rail so it is not a question of increasing friction, but of removing the ice.

In particularly problematic areas, rail heaters can be fitted which both prevent ice from forming and melt it if it does. But it is not practical to do that to the whole third-rail network. What is needed is an economical and effective way of melting the ice that can be easily applied.

Early de-icing

Kilfrost has been making de-icing fluids since the 1930s. Their first application was in de-icing football pitches, but in 1937 they found favour with the Royal Air Force for de-icing aeroplanes. Demand grew during World War II and the company moved from Whitley Bay to Haltwhistle, Anti Ice.Northumberland.

After the war, aviation expanded and Kilfrost products were also used by the British Antarctic Expedition to keep its vehicles running.

By the winter of 1962, Kifrost de-icer was being used to free up frozen points on the railways. The company has been involved in the rail industry ever since.

Kilfrost Rail is used as a de-icer on third rail applications as well as points. Rail Plus also acts as an anti-icer. Its thicker formulation adheres to the rail and prevents icing down to temperatures as low as -39°C. Sprayed onto the rails by a special train, the formulation is biodegradable and does not attack or corrode the rails themselves.

Overhead equipment can suffer the same way. Ice on the contact wire causes sparking and damage to both the wire and to pantographs, so it is important to keep that ice-free as well.

Flying ice

Trains also suffer from ice. Movable parts, particularly bogies and in the undertrain area, are prone to seizing when ice is about. In 2011, Kilfrost entered into collaboration with specialist Swedish company Nordic Ground Support Equipment and developed the TDIce range of products. These are heated de-icers and anti-icers which, as the name suggest, are sprayed onto affected and critical areas using Nordic’s equipment.

Freezing is, of course, an international problem. ProRail is the infrastructure maintainer in the Netherlands where the same winter challenges are faced, including that of including ice blocks falling from trains causing S&C and signalling malfunctions and damage to the trains themselves. These flying lumps of ice can, of course, also pose a safety threat to passengers at stations and track workers lineside.

As a result, Lloyds Register Rail Europe, a company offering expert advice to help companies to manage systems and risks, was contracted by NedTrain and ProRail to find and implement solutions for winter related issues for the rail network.

Boaz Bos, senior project manager at Lloyds Register Rail Europe, commented: “We decided to use Kilfrost TDIce Plus due to the company’s reputation and the references we received from other users. Kilfrost has greater experience of de/anti-icing solutions than any other provider in the rail industry and this meant we were confident in the company’s ability to treat and prevent ice forming on our trains.”

NedTrain first installed a pilot Nordic anti-icing system incorporating Kilfrost’s fluid for trial purposes during winter 2011/12. This was successful so a further five systems were installed across the Dutch rail network in winter 2012/13, when the responsibility for managing these systems was handed to ProRail.

The anti-icing properties of the TDIce Plus helps prevent the build up of ice in the first place, it is not just a method of ice removal.

It is starting to find application with other train operators as Christine Mazencieux-Pear, sales manager at Kilfrost’s Winter Division, commented: “The concept of using anti-icing systems to prevent the build up of ice and snow is gathering pace as increasing numbers of operators are investing in such installations. As well as being easy to spray, Kilfrost TDIce Plus is non-hazardous and fully biodegradable. As a result, it is well aligned to ProRail’s sustainable ethos.”

LMsnowCreditJonathanWebb [online]
Photo: Jonathan Webb.
It is not just the trains and the infrastructure that can freeze, materials sitting in storage yards can as well. When a track renewals team brings a train-load of new ballast to site, opens the hopper doors to dump it all onto the track, and the ballast just sits there in one frozen lump weighing many tons, there is not much that can be done.

What can be done is that the ballast can be given a coating of anti-freeze before it is loaded. An environmental assessment needs to be undertaken first in case the work site is scientifically sensitive, in which case the procedure cannot be used. However, so long as there are no such concerns, a good coating of anti-icing mixture can keep the ballast flowing.

A new Kilfrost product, AGT, will be trialled this winter on just this application. Carl Jones, business improvement specialist at Network Rail NDS (National Delivery Service) explained: “The product will be applied at Network Rail’s eight nationwide Virtual Quarries, or VQs, using bespoke tractors and bowsers equipped with gantries and specialist spraying equipment. This reduces both the amount of chemical required and the chances of any product affecting the surrounding area. The treatment areas are monitored and independently tested to ensure that the chemical is not presenting any risks to the environment.”

All this, of course, goes on out of sight of the passenger, sliding his way across the car park. And that sand and salt makes a dreadful mess inside the station concourse. Why not use Kilfrost Power Pellets instead?


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