Travel Updates


Points Failure

How problems with points can cause delays - and what the industry is doing to prevent them happening

Points are sections of track that move, acting as junctions and allowing trains to move from one line to another. On some of the busiest lines, over a hundred trains will pass over a set of points every day.

Points can fail for a variety of reasons: for example they may become clogged with debris or ice, the drive mechanism may fail or in hot weather they may expand too much. When points do fail, the system goes into 'fail safe' mode: the last signal before the set of points affected will automatically turn red so that no trains can pass.

What the industry is doing to increase the reliability of points

  • A large proportion of points are remotely monitored, giving the chance to intervene before a failure occurs
  • Electric heaters and NASA grade insulation are fitted to points to prevent ice forming and jamming the mechanism
  • Added protective covers to 4,000 points and 2,500 point motors to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from passing trains
  • Painting the rails white at critical points so they absorb less heat, reducing expansion; typically a painted rail is 5 to 10 degrees centigrade cooler than an unpainted rail
  • Use a helicopter with thermal imaging cameras to identify points heaters that aren’t working effectively
  • Thousands of staff patrol the tracks day and night clearing snow and ice from junctions
  • If points do fail it is often possible to secure the points in one position, so trains can pass over them and the line is kept open
  • If the problem is more serious, trains are re-routed to minimise disruption where possible
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Last updated:   16 January 2017