Cold Weather Passenger Trains

People across the world depend on trains every day of the year. Even during blizzards or when the thermometer drops below -40 degrees Celsius, good transportation is needed to bring people together and connect economies. In fact, under extreme circumstances, when roads and runways are impassable, passenger trains can be the only viable form of transportation. Having a modern, winter-ready railroad network can make all the difference when harsh winters leave thousand of travelers stranded. Today, countries across the world are employing innovative technologies to keep their railway networks running smoothly in all weather conditions.

When it comes to cold-weather innovations in passenger trains, China leads the way. The recently constructed high-speed line, capable of running at 217 mph, traverses some of the most uninhabitable climes on the planet. The corridor, running between Harbin and Dalian in northeastern China, sees temperatures ranging from 40 to -40 degrees Celsius. To meet this challenge China commissioned 22 reports and thousands of tests to guarantee the safety of the “ice-train” – the only-high-speed train of its kind. Some of the distinct features of this line are special snow and ice removing facilities to keep the power supply and signaling systems safe. Furthermore, China has introduced specially designed train sets for this corridor capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures. The CRH5A trains are based on Alstom’s Italian Pendolino trains, which can handle temperatures below -40 degrees Celsius.

In Europe, the Pendolino trains are key to making extreme cold weather travel possible. From the Alps to the edge of the Arctic Circle, these trains have revolutionized winter travel. Today Finland runs numerous high-speed lines, capable of reaching 140 mph using these trains. Routes stretch from Helsinki to Oulu in the far north and St. Petersburg in Russia. In Sweden, other high-speed trainsets can withstand temperatures of -35 degrees Celsius on the Stockholm-Ostersund route. Conventional Swedish trains operate in even more extreme temperatures deep in the Arctic Circle, on routes such as between Narvik, Norway and Kiruna, Sweden. Throughout Scandinavia, specially designed rolling stock connect communities that would otherwise be stranded for much of the year.

To connect Moscow with St. Petersburg, Siemens modified its Velaro train design to prepare for the harsh Russian winter. The new “Sapsan” trains include extra safety functions and were built with special-grade, cold-resistant steel and plastic. They also employ new technology that keeps passengers comfortable even in the worst winter conditions. By updating their existing technology to meet cold weather demands, Siemen successfully brought high-speed trains to Russia.

To function in the winter, trains must overcome numerous difficulties. Snow often collects under the train, freezes, and then turns into blocks of ice that can weigh over one ton per carriage. Ice can destroy rail-car components and endanger the safety of riders. This is especially acute in Scandinavia where humidity and high-snowfalls exacerbate this problem.

To combat icing, railway operators have come up with numerous solutions. In Sweden, for example, moving parts are coated in rubber and plexiglass, which prevents ice-formation. In Japan, the high-speed Shinkansen trains spray water onto snowy tracks to prevent the snow from blowing up into the undercarriage and re-freezing. In all areas with extreme winter conditions, de-icing, like in the airline industry, is essential. Today, in Norway and Sweden operators are experimenting with a new method that will reduce time of the currently long de-icing process, which impairs railroad operations.

Cold weather countries also employ other methods to make their trains functional year-round. After a heavy snowfall in Finland and Norway, conventional diesel locomotives clear the tracks before EMU’s can run. In Japan, there is an elaborate system of fences and snow sheds to keep the high-speed Shinkansen trains safe from avalanches and snow drifts. Sweden uses helicopters to monitor snow conditions to prevent deadly avalanches.

Despite temperatures of nearly -40 degrees Celsius, huge snowfalls, and high winds, passenger trains manage to carry people to their destination throughout the world. From East Asia to Russia to Scandinavia, winter-specific rail technology enables conventional and high-speed trains alike to provide a necessary service.