Winter Weather Preparedness Tips for Rail Shippers

How to keep operations running safely and smoothly during the winter months.


Follow these tips to be prepared for and recover from winter weather.

For many rail shippers, the winter months bring snow, ice, and frigid temperatures to their facilities. Unfortunately, these conditions can have a serious impact on rail safety, potentially causing derailments and injuries. And that’s not all. When safety hazards due to winter weather are present at a facility, the railroad may not be able to provide service. The good news is shippers with rail-served facilities can take steps to prepare for winter weather and prevent these circumstances. If you have tracks at your facility, follow these best practices to keep employees safe and shipments moving.

Before Winter Weather Arrives

  • Inspect gutters, drains and walkways. Check gutters and drains to make sure they aren’t blocked or leaking, which may result in the formation of icicles that could fall and cause injury or obstruct track. Inspect walkways and clear any debris or clutter to ensure snow can be safely removed once it falls.
  • Check crossings, track and structures. Check for proper drainage around switches and rails. Clean all switches, derails, frogs and flangeways.
  • Prepare your equipment. Check to see that all gates and locks are functioning properly before snow hides potential hazards. Ensure all snow and ice removal equipment is in good working order and you have plenty of de-icing supplies on hand.
  • Review your snow removal plan. Before a storm arrives, be sure everyone knows the proper steps to take following the storm. This includes having a job briefing with your local railroad crew to share your action plan. Review the impacts of previous winters to determine any new processes and resources needed to be properly prepared.

After a Snow Storm

  • Clear walkways. Remove snow and ice around your facility to ensure the safety of railroad and company employees.
  • Clear switches, track and structures. Ensure switches and derails are operable, clear of snow and ice, and are not frozen. Switches are most susceptible to snow and ice build-up, which can cause delays and even derailments. Track switch heaters, crib heaters and hot air blowers can help keep switches clear and operational. Ensure rods are clear and operable.
  • Check and clear crossings and flangeways, especially in places where cars, equipment and foot traffic may compact snow and ice. Flangeways at road crossings should have clean grooves to reduce the potential for train wheels to derail.
  • Regularly inspect track. Metal contracts in cold weather and expands in heat, which means temperature fluctuations can cause small cracks that can eventually lead to broken rail. This is especially true for welded joints, which are particularly vulnerable. Inspect track frequently throughout the winter and repair defects immediately to prevent broken rail that can lead to derailments.
  • Inspect equipment and remove snow. Check all gates and locks to ensure rail crews can operate properly. Remove snow from gates, walkways and tracks.
  • Provide adequate clearance. Make sure snow piles are placed at least 12 feet away from tracks and crossings. Do not pile snow where it restricts visibility. Ensure rail cars on site are clear of built up ice and snow.

Preparedness Pays Off

As much as we’d like to control Mother Nature, we all know that’s not possible. What we can control, however, is how we prepare and recover. Following these best practices can prevent derailments at your facility, expedite local service recovery times and keep both your employees and railroad employees safe.

Additional Resources

Union Pacific Railroad offers its customers the following additional resources to aid in maintaining safe operations throughout the winter.

  • Best Practices for Winter Operations at Customer Facilities, which includes more detailed information and illustrative photos related to:
    • Snow removal on tracks, flangeways and switches
    • Mitigating compacting issues at road and truck crossings
    • Proper cleaning of industry switches
    • Preventative maintenance to reduce derailment risks
  • Customer Care and Support for assistance specific to your shipments: 800-272-8777
  • Response Management Communications Center (RMCC) emergency hotline to report emergencies: 888-877-7267
  • Non-emergency hotline to report non-emergency situations involving Union Pacific, like a temporary shutdown of operations: 800-848-8715

To learn more about how railroads prepare for and respond to winter weather, check out the AAR’s Winter Weather Fact Sheet.

Questions? Contact us.

Related Articles


Latest Stories

Share This!