There are some countries in the world, in the far North and East, where winter lasts for eight months of the year. In Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, temperatures can remain well below zero continuously for many weeks.

Whilst the UK experiences the fringes of the prevalent winter trends in Europe, it is nonetheless a challenge to keep rail infrastructure from freezing. Snow flurries can start in November and occur as late as April, with overnight frosts extending even longer.

So, with the advent of the 24/7 railway, steps need to be taken by infrastructure managers to make sure that switches and points don’t freeze up.

That’s not a great problem. Points heaters, which are long thin electrical elements designed for installation on switch blades to keep them warm at night, have been around for some time. However, switching them on for long periods consumes vast amounts of energy using valuable resources, adding to CO2 emissions. As energy costs rise, it’s a great shame that this expensive heat is radiated out into the cold air.

What is needed is some good yet simple insulation which will help ensure that heat is retained in the points where it’s needed, leading to reduced energy bills and improving the effectiveness of frost and ice prevention.

Keeping heat in and costs down

Step forward Tracktherm®, a heat retainer developed by the A Proctor Group specifically to be installed directly over existing points heating systems designed and tested by Network Rail and proven to work.

With the addition of Tracktherm, which is easily clipped into place over the heater to reduce heat loss, energy from the heater is more effectively directed into the rail. This reduces the warmup time of the heater by more than 50% , reducing the energy used by 25 – 30%. Raising rail temperature from -5oC to +3oC can take less than one hour rather than two hours using the same heater but without the Tracktherm heat retainer.

These improvements could mean that lower-rated energy systems could be used to obtain significant benefits on today’s technology. In the case of the railways in countries where winter temperatures are much lower, improvements could perhaps be achieved which will result in significantly less energy being required to operate the whole system and, as systems can use more than 200W/m, this would be worth exploring.

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