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Clearing ice in tunnels

In winter, ice regularly forms in the railway tunnels. This ice has to be removed to allow trains to run safely. The Rhaetian Railway’s track maintenance staff do this with pickaxes and telescopic poles.

Domenica Herzog, Corporate Communications trainee, 10. January 2022

Water freezes in the tunnels in all kinds of places. Long pointed icicles hang from the ceiling. Large blocks of ice form on the walls, while the ground is covered in it. To ensure that trains can pass safely, the track maintenance staff have to regularly remove the build-up of this ice.

To make their work easier, they drive slowly through the tunnel on a kind of tractor. Standing on the vehicle, they remove the ice from the roof and walls using pickaxes and telescopic poles. Salt is spread on the ground to melt the ice.

Health and safety are paramount

The ice flying around could easily injure someone, while the ground is uneven and slippery, so personal protective equipment is very important for this high-risk work. Goggles, a helmet, thick gloves, non-slip boots and heavy-duty workwear are an absolute must. The telescopic poles are specially approved for safe working near the overhead catenary.

Non-stop work

Ice keeps forming during the winter months, so the tunnels are regularly inspected by the track maintenance team and kept clear. The ice must be kept well away from passing trains. In other words, the “minimum clearance outline” must be free of obstacles. Icicles that are too long or ice on the tunnel wall that protrudes too far could lead to short circuits and damage to the trains.

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