snow on British Rail, railway snow pictures
Snowy days in the 1970's

Bad weather at the beginning of the year made inroads into the availability of the St Pancras - Bedford dmu fleet. Many ran with short formations, whilst a number of Type 2's were used, both to haul the dmu's themselves or scratch sets of mainline coaching stock. More serious problems affected services south of the Thames when snow and freezing rain arrived on January 6th. Severe icing affected the Portsmouth direct line between Pirbright and Winchester, whilst on the Brighton line between Balcombe and Haywards Heath freezing rain falling at 6.00am coated the rails with ice an inch thick. For most of the morning the services were in chaos over this line, the use of diesels being the only certain method of assisting the emus and with the reduction in freight services, the diesels were few. The closure of the Lewes - Uckfield line had also deprived the operating authorities of an alternate route. Interestingly a similar problem had struck this very location on New Year's Eve causing the same operating difficulties. Over on the South Eastern Division things were only a little easier. The de-icing trains were operating but were generally ineffective due to the rapid temperature fluctuations. No trains ran between Tonbridge & Orpington or through Maidstone East during the morning creating numerous difficulties. On 8th blizzard conditions were encountered during the evening rush hour. The next morning the derailment of emu 5033 at Plumstead closed the North Kent line most of the day. The snows of the 6th also impacted services in Scotland.

A major blizzard occurred on February 12th over southern England, in the London area snow was still on the ground on February 15th.

March 4th brought a major snowfall to the southern half of the country causing major disruption of the electric services between Euston and Birmingham. It is reported that the heavy snowfall affected the standing electric locomotives, the weight of the snow causing the pantographs to lose contact with the overhead, and affecting the proper working of the raising mechanism. Once the seriousness of the delays was recognised services were diverted to St Pancras and Paddington, which despite their heavy snowfall (16in reported in many places) seemed to handle the traffic very well. The Walsall area suffered very badly with the morning service devastated, dmu's filling in for the failed local electrics. The Bescot and Saltley snow ploughs were put to work powered by 1822 & 1725 respectively whilst steam lance equipped 1841 spent all day freeing pointwork. The SR also was hit hard, especially in the morning. Blizzard conditions in East Kent made the evening commute a little out of the ordinary. Perhaps the most serious delay was at Walmer when a Dover bound service become stuck for almost three hours.

On the lines out of Liverpool Street heavy disruption took place. The longer distance trains to Southend seemingly ran well, but most others were chaotic or were substituted by an emergency timetable. All was not helped by derailments at Cheshunt and later Angel Road, the latter blocking both lines, depriving Hertford East of its direct service to London. From Kings Cross the Scottish services were running upto two hours late.

The Pennines were hit particularly hard by heavy snows on April 12th.

A white Christmas was had by much of the south east.

Moderate snowfall occurred in the Lake District/Pennines on Dec 27/28th.

Blizzards struck the Grampians on January 17/18th blocking the Highland main line, delays to an overnight Inverness - Glasgow/Edinburgh service caused a five hour late arrival. Continued snowfalls over the following days caused minor delays, the parallel A9 road remained blocked for four days, partly due to abandoned vehicles.

An unidentified Class 45 heads south from Derby through Peartree on a snowy day sometime during 1972.
Photograph collection of webmaster

There was snow and frost mid February, the Pennines having snow on 10th and more widespread on 15th.

The first two weeks of January were particularly stormy, though most of the precipitation appears to have been rain.

During early February ferocious storms brought heavy rain and high winds to the South West & southern England, with coastal areas experiencing high tides made worse by the gale force winds. Along the seawall at Dawlish the high tides flooded much of the railway with Dawlish station suffering considerable damage, much of the down platform broke up and was tossed on the tracks. Similarly at Penzance (Monday 12th) parts of the station were under water, with the exceptional high tide having dumped much debris across the tracks. Trains services were halted at St Erth until Penzance station was made usable.

An early snowfall occurred in the south east on October 7th, with more following on the 30th.

On March 18th the SR experienced a late winter snowfall with icing which created operating difficulties on the LSWR lines west of Farnborough.

The Potteries on March 27th/28th were noted under several inches of snow.

A heavy snowfall on Maunday Thursday (late March) combined with a maintenance work-to-rule did not help matters, with Birmingham receiving six inches of the white stuff. Continued and prolonged snow during the first two weeks of April did not help matters, the maintenance strike eventually coming to an end on April 14th. Much of Scotland north of Edinburgh & Glasgow received heavy snowfall on April 8th with the eastern side suffering the most disruption. Snowploughs were used to clear blockages at Brora, Druimuachdar summit and between Huntly & Keith. Some locations received as much as 20 inches of snow.

An unusually late and brief snowfall over the Midlands & Pennines on June 2nd stopped a cricket match at Buxton. Snow was also reported in London and over East Anglia,

Moderate snow fell over the Highlands in early December.

January is reported as being a stormy & windy month, possibly most of the precipitation fell as rain, though the Highlands received a moderate amount of snow from January 31st to February 4th.

Stoneycombe, January 31st 1976 - 46015 accelerates through the snow with a lengthy train of wagons.
Photograph courtesy Steve Marshall
The last week of December saw light snowfall, at least recorded in the Midlands on 28th/29th.


On January 15th 1977 a journey was made over the Settle & Carlisle using one of the very cheap 'Round Robin' fares from Derby. The above view is taken as we passed through Keighley with 45001, the small amount of snow here would soon turn into a much whiter landscape. The three views below show the journey progressing and includes views of Ribblehead, looking back down Dentdale and approaching Kirkby Stephen.

The day after the above trip was made the snow was still on the ground in the Leeds area, and features here as 47520 heads January 16th's 10.30am Leeds - Kings Cross through Beeston. The train will be running at about 40mph here on the stiff climb to Ardsley. The remains of the station are visible in the foreground, whilst the goods yard occupied the empty ground to the left of the train. This area is now occupied by houses.
Photograph courtesy Peter Ryan.
Another view from January 16th 1977 finds 45001 pulling away from Neville Hill with a set of stock bound for Leeds City. Since this was the locomotive which worked our train to Carlisle the day before, possibly it is diagrammed for the same service this day.
Photograph courtesy Peter Ryan.
Its a fine sunny January 23rd 1977 as 46030 accelerates through the suburbs of Leeds. The snow is starting to thin out, but it still adds something to the view.
Photograph courtesy Peter Ryan.

The snow (featured in the above views) lingered in places until at least January 27th.

On October 31st strong winds caused damage to equipment in south London, including a signal gantry blown onto the tracks near Sanderstead.

Between November 10th & 15th strong winds accompanied by heavy rain with some snow & sleet affected much of the country. Four washouts occurred on the Furness line, two occurred on the Cambrian and areas of Southport & Warrington were impacted by floods. During this period WCML electric services were limited to 60mph. On November 11th the 22.37 Liverpool Central - Ormskirk service sustained damage at Walton Junction after striking a tree brought down by the winds.

Widespread heavy fog on December 19th caused diversions and cancellations of many airline flights. London bound flights included diversions to Prestwick and Manchester. This resulted in the provision of at least seven specials to get the airline passengers to London.

January proved to be a snowy month, particularly in the north, Glasgow received seven inches of snow on 3rd, whilst the Liverpool area sustained strong gales, this was the date for the opening of the Garston extension of the Merseyrail system, which operated with minimal weather related interruptions. Further snow fell on 11/12th in the north, whilst another storm followed on 18th. However it was the blizzard that began on the afternoon of January 28th, continuing into the 29th that really brought severe and life threatening problems to the Highlands of Scotland. The Inverness - Aberdeen line was the only one in the area to remain open. The down ‘Clansman’ had reached Aviemore before being reversed and rerouted via Perth, Dundee & Aberdeen. Crossing the 17.40 Edinburgh - Inverness at Kingussie the Inverness passengers transferred to the ‘Clansman’, the 17.40 gingerly going forward as a local to Carr Bridge. A brave attempt to go further led to the train and its two Class 26’s becoming stuck, literally within view of Carr Bridge station. A rescue attempt by two locomotives also failed, the passengers off the 17.40 spending the night at Carr Bridge station. On the nearby A9 twenty motorists abandoned their vehicles for the safety of a cottage at Slochd. An engineers train also became stuck between Dalwhinnie & Dalnaspidal. On the Aultguish - Ullapool road a British Airways helicopter rescued twenty passengers from a stranded bus, whilst in Glencoe ninety motorists found haven in closed hotel.

Carrbridge Station, date unknown, but quite possibly taken during the heavy snows of January/February 1978.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris

North of Inverness conditions were worse. The 17.15 Inverness - Wick/Thurso derailed the last five coaches after hitting a drift at Forsinard. This train had started out with 26037, to which was added 26039 at Helmsdale, this locomotive having worked down from Georgemas Junction in an effort to keep the line clear and to assist the northbound service The pair of Class 26’s and the undamaged leading coach were detached and proceeded forward only to become completely stuck in the snow at Altnabreac. Passengers on the train included a man with a broken leg and another recovering from kidney surgery. Judicious use of the fuel supply on the engines kept the carriage heated until the next morning, when the driver, Stewart Munro and second man James Forbes struggled through nine foot drifts back to Forsinard to raise the alarm. By late morning 26031, stabled at Georgemas off the previous day’s freight from Inverness made an attempt to head south. It quickly returned to pick up a van, some volunteer staff and supplies for the stranded passengers. On this second attempt they reached to within two miles of the trapped train, allowing a young railway employee to reach the stranded passengers bringing hot soup. Once the exact location was known the seventy stranded passengers were eventually airlifted in six shuttles using an RAF helicopter from Lossiemouth and two commercial helicopters. They were operating in near white out conditions with the winds still gusting to 65mph.

Photograph from collection of Steve Morris.

The above photograph shows the challenging conditions caused by the snow near Altnabreac. For those unfamiliar with the line Altnabreac lies midway between Forsinard & Scotscalder, this section of line has no immediate road access making it probably the most difficult section to reach between Inverness and Georgemas Junction. Remarkably this view shows the locomotives and permanent way gang sent to clear the line at Altnabreac and rerail the five coaches. This view shows the aftermath of the locomotives and snowplough having charged the snow in the cutting. Although not obvious in the photograph the locomotive on the left is a Class 25, these were very rare on the Far North line.

Update January 2010 - John Cunningham writes that his friend and neighbour from those days in Gillock, Ray Rand, may well be one of the workers in this photograph. He was a lineman based at Hallkirk, a big fella, about 6'3" with long blond hair, and I remember the pictures he showed me of him standing above the roof of the engine with his shovel.

Update December 2008 - Nevis Hulme recognised himself as the gentleman wearing the yellow waterproofs in the center of the picture. The notes below from Nevis detail recollections of the events of clearing the line! In front of Nevis in the photograph is fellow gang member Steven Brunton, I think. I remember going to the front of the engines to see what it was like and vaguely recall someone taking a photograph.

Nevis was working in the Dingwall permanent-way gang when, on the January 30th, we had word that we were to travel north (‘on a p-way’, i.e. permanent-way train) the following day to unblock the line and that we would be staying overnight. From Tuesday, January 31st to Thursday, February 2nd, I was with the gang at the blockage in the North. As we travelled north, I remember our Inspector, Douglas Landers, asking if he could sit by the window where I was. I was reading and not interested in the scenery unlike the Inspector. He had a background in tampers in the Bristol area to which he was drawn back after not too long in the Highlands. We stayed the two nights at the Braes Hotel in Brora along with the Tain, Rogart (?) and Dingwall gangs.

The work was around the 131½ milepost north of Inverness, at the rock cutting which was filled with snow. I was one of the group sent on a mission on the Thursday to appraise the state of the track to the north. 1½ miles beyond were four coaches with one coach beyond separated from the rest. The resistance of the carriages being dragged when derailed led to the buckeye coupling breaking. I cannot recall how many of the bogies of the carriages were actually on the rails. To the south of these the track was ripped to shreds, but I cannot recall and didn’t note, for what distance from the carriages. We heard, at the time, that shortly before the derailment, the Guard had passed down the train to check that those passengers for Wick or Thurso were in the correct portion of the train. One passenger had passed over the connection between the two carriages when the train split between the first and second carriages. I don’t recall where the engine was but think that it had been detached earlier. I have a recollection that we could see Altnabreac Station from the derailed carriages.

From his notes written at the time Nevis lists a number of issues that affected the handling of the whole incident. The order that they were written is telling of his priorities.

Prior to the derailment, we heard that the Helmsdale signalman had called for the ploughs but that this request had not been acted upon. (Possibly the snowploughs were in use elsewhere, perhaps on the Highland mainline?)

On site, an unserviced [I don’t remember in what way], unsuitable mess van was provided with no competent cook and there was poor or no organisation of meals and breaks. We were fed an unbalanced diet. Norrie and Stephan, two of our gang, took over from two of the four cooks on the mess van and day-time food improved on the Thursday. It was a pity that they hadn’t been available earlier!

We were stationed at Brora, some 1½ hours from the job. The operation of servicing the engines was done in the morning at Helmsdale wasting the limited daylight hours. The ploughs were taken back to Brora every night and this meant extra shunting to join our train. There may have been operational reasons for these actions but they didn’t make sense at the time. We were never on the job before 11.00 because of the servicing and travel required.

The ploughs were unsuitable for wet snow and the engines were not working in unison because of an auto cut-out on one. [I recall being told that as soon as one of the locos hit the snow, the engine cut out so losing power. This did not seem to apply to both locos but I’m sure that someone can clarify this technical issue.] The experience that the ploughs couldn’t break through and only became stuck, learned on Tuesday, was not acted on following day. The same error was made: the plough rammed the drift and became stuck; the men dug for a while then stood clear; the engines tried to pull out but this failed so we dug again and so on. It became clear how much digging was required but we were not left to do this. The result of this was wheel burns on the rails in the cutting which would require more replacement. Snow trenching of the drift, to aid cracking when the plough hit, was not tried. [Old hands must have made this comment.]

Workers make a start cutting into the huge snowbank. This maybe at at one end of the cutting. Digging trenches into the snow will assist the snowplough in making the most headway with each run at the drift. Nevis mentioned that trenching was not done at Altnabreac, possibly this view may be from a different time/location.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris

Once the trenching had been done for a section of line the plough would do its job and hopefully leave a passage through the snowdrift as in this view. The locomotives were just under 13' high which gives a clue as to just how deep the snow had drifted here. At this point a Class 25 & 26 are in use.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris

At some point in the operation the rail mounted snowploughs were removed from the operation and a Hymac digger was brought in using one Class 26 and a flat bed wagon to work on the snow clearance. The three views below feature this part of the operation.

A view from rail level. There is little clearance on either side of the locomotive through the hard packed snow.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris

An interesting view of the Class 26 from the top of the cutting, now a Hy-Mac is in use to remove the snow, its jib and bucket being able to dump the snow easily on top of the cutting sides.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris

Now a view from the business end of the job with the Hymac removing the snow and dumping it on top of the cutting sides.
Photograph courtesy collection of Steve Morris
There appeared to be no co-ordination of the operation with no-one in charge [or so it seemed!]. There was a lack of precise instructions to men [e.g. when the engine was going to attempt a move] and a lack of confidence in authority. Management [‘men from Perth’, I was told] were even getting in diggers’ way. [I think that my life-time interest in health and safety stemmed from all that I witnessed when working on the railway!]

A Hymac on a low loader was brought in to open the cutting. If left to the task all day and night it could have broken through. Alternatively, if left to it, the men could have dug out the cutting in the time. [I cannot recall when the Hymac was brought in but it must have been out of the way on late Thursday afternoon because I noted that the plan to go home on Thursday was delayed. I was only home at 12 midnight after a fruitless use of the plough.]

The following day I went to work at Dingwall at 09.00 rather than the usual 07.40 because of the rule of being allowed nine hours rest.

I returned to the north on Sunday, February 5th and remained there until Tuesday, 7th. By starting at 05.00 on Sunday morning, and although the train was late, we arrived at the site the earliest yet (and, as it turned out, ever). The cutting was open and work on all three days was on relaying the track. The re-railing of the carriages was interesting: as one coach was dragged on using wedges, rather than using the crane on site, it tilted badly. Some of the rerailing gang had to dive clear into the snow of the embankment but all was well. The weather was cold with drizzle but meals were good with Richard and Norrie, of the Dingwall gang, and two others in the mess van.

With thanks to Nevis Hulme for the above notes & memories, recalled from events which occurred over three decades ago.

Update to the above text January 2011
Steven Brunton writes that it is myself in the picture with Nevis Hulme. As we remembered it certainly was a crazy time up there. I do remember a couple of instances of our time there. For at least one of the nights in the Braes Hotel there was no power, luckily they had plenty of candles on hand and they did supply us with a hot meal. I was bunked in a three-bed room with Norrie Maclennan and Dougie Taylor and we were so cold (as there was no heating in the hotel) we just took our boots off and went to sleep with our clothes and jackets still on to try and get warm.

I did end up in the mess car as one day I was walking past the Inspector and he caught me by the shoulder and felt how wet my jacket was and told me to go there to dry out, later that day Norrie was also sent in to dry out. As far as I recall there were two guys from another squad doing the cooking and to be honest the food they were giving out was a disgrace, one slice of bacon in a roll with a cup of tea was all they were dishing up and considering the conditions we were working in something should have been said or done. Myself and Norrie went through the mess car (it was an old black kitchen car with gas griddle and oven) where we came across a compartment stacked with food which included bacon, eggs, large tins of beans, rolls etc. We started bringing it all through and set about the cooking. On the next break the guys were asking us where were we getting all of this stuff and we said 'through the back, there's mountains of it back there' so the boys all went to see the Inspector to insist that we stayed and did the catering from then on and although we were by no means 'cooks' we at least saw to it that the boys got a good meal when they came in.

By Thursday the line south of Helmsdale was cleared for traffic, it would not be until the following weekend that the derailed coaches would be dealt with. The Highland mainline remained closed until Tuesday, the ‘Clansman’ continuing to be diverted via Aberdeen due to the Class 47’s not being snow plough equipped and to prevent snow ingestion into the coaches airconditioning systems.

Photographs from the collection of Steve Morris.

The three views above carry no details but it is assumed they are from one of the incidents featured in some of the other 'snowy day' photographs featured on this page. In the right hand view the the plough is charging the drifts and the hand dug trenches made across the line can clearly be seen nearest to the photographer. The left and center view portray the brute force of the snowplough in clearing the line. In the left view it almost seems that the plough is possibly no longer on the tracks, whilst the center view just adds to the forces involved in snow removal. One hopes the photographer came out of this thing unscathed, it looks like he's near enough to the railway line to be bombarded with vast quantities of snow, ice and other debris.

The steam heating boiler is working well on 47252 as it waits for time at Sheffield on a chilly February 13th 1978 with the 17.42 Leeds - Bristol. The weather this week had made the headlines again. From 7th cold air invaded from the east, bringing with it much snow, six inches in Kent (9th), a foot at Newcastle (13th) and Edinburgh (12th) with temperatures dropping to minus 17F at the latter. The freezing conditions at Newcastle caused considerable dislocation of stock due to points failures and frozen up stock at Heaton. Icicles in Haltwhistle tunnel broke the cab windows of 37194 on February 19th whilst running light from Carlisle.
Photograph courtesy Barrie Watkins.
On a chilly February 19th 1978 25065 sits in the snow at Haymarket depot. The winter of '78 proved to be a tough one, at the end of January much of Scotland succumbed to heavy snowfalls with major disruption to all forms of transport. The lines out of Inverness saw a number of services trapped in snowdrifts. The cold weather returned with a vengance in Scotland on February 12th, it would not be until February 23 before a thaw set in.

Heavy snow fell between February 18th - 20th with the south & west bearing the brunt of the storm. Fourteen inches fell at Exeter and Cardiff with snow drifting to 25 feet on Dartmoor and Exmoor. By mid afternoon traffic was seriously disrupted west of Bristol. The 14.40 Leeds - Plymouth was cancelled at Taunton, the 16.30 Paddington - Plymouth picked up those passengers, and was noted passing Newton Abbot at 01.30am! Exeter made use of steam lance equipped 45065 to free numerous points in the area.

Update - Mr Rodney Crook writes that as a member of the Signal & Telecoms section at Exeter, he had been assigned to snow clearance at Exeter St Davids. They were advised a locomotive would be waiting for them to assistance in clearing the points. A westbound overnight parcels train hauled by 45065 was sitting in Platform 1, unable to proceed west due to the worsening conditions, possibly affecting the seawall section at Dawlish. The driver fired up the boiler whilst a steam lance was acquired from under the West Signal Box.

A number of points were cleared at St Davids before heading up towards Exeter Central and out to Pinhoe. Here the snow was up to the platform level. Despite the doubts of the S&T staff the locomotive made good progress through the snow, the driver seemingly knowing his charge well. Regrettably the day's proceedings were terminated when the boiler water became exhausted!

The snow eventually closed the Westbury - Castle Cary - Taunton line and the Barnstaple, Exmouth & Okehampton branches, the latter remained closed for almost a week. Out of Westbury the Salisbury and Weymouth lines were also closed. At Warminster a diesel multiple unit became snowed up, the passengers being housed in nearby accommodation for the night. A ‘Deltic to Devon’, Paddington - Bristol - Kingswear special with 55018 on February 19th was turned round at Bristol due to the worsening conditions. On February 20th Finsbury Park based 31101 & 31202, with snowploughs cleared the Barnstaple and Exmouth branches. Also on this date (20th) a diesel multiple unit became snowbound at Chard. The heavy snow in the South Wales area had prevented any services running in the Tondu area on February 20th.

The 13.32 Plymouth - Liverpool rolls into Newton Abbot behind 46018 on February 19th 1978. The locomotive would become a failure at Taunton, the following northbound service with 50005 on the 13.45 Plymouth - Paddington pushed the failed train to Bristol. Stabled at Newton Abbot were 31202, 47477, 47028.
Photograph courtesy Steve Marshall.
On the same day as the above view but approximately 120 miles further east 33023 and a converted steam tender pass through Eastleigh station.
Photograph collection of webmaster.

On the Southern the 19th saw the Bournemouth - Weymouth main line and Lymington branch closed because of snow, service not being resumed until the afternoon of 20th. Further east snow on 16th & 17th affected the coastal services, with the 05.15 Brighton - Portsmouth Harbour reaching its destination five hours late. Diesel haulage was resorted to on routes coming out of the south coast towns. In addition electric units were strengthened simply to apply brute force to the problem. By February 23rd a thaw had set in with flooding now becoming the problem! Also on 23rd severe gales in the English Channels caused delays to the Boat Train services at Dover from Ostend.

Crewe allocated 47448 waits at Doncaster with a service to Kings Cross on February 13th 1978. The use of a Crewe locomotive on this service suggests disruptions to the locomotive roster somewhere, no doubt due to the bad weather, a modest snowfall has occurred recently judging by the snow covering the platforms.
Photograph courtesy Barrie Watkins

The lines out of Liverpool Street were bedevilled by several factors: the cold weather, heavy demands on oil traffic from the local refineries and the simply bizarre, permanent way work in the Bethnal Green area had raised track levels leading to the banning of those Class 37s with roof mounted horns (37118 upwards)! Electric traction on the Liverpool - Southport services were affecting by freezing rain on February 21st.

Two Class 31's, the lead loco is 31231, are trapped in substantial drifts at Marton Magna near Yeovil. The train crew and traction inspector were eventually rescued by a Royal Navy helicopter. Interestingly the son of the traction inspector had been one of the RAF helicopter pilots used in the rescue of those stranded in the Scottish Highlands during 1978. (From an article in Rail News)

By February 23rd a thaw had set in but substantial amounts of snow would remain in many locations for a further week.

A violent thunderstorm in the Cheshire area on the evening of May 4th including lightning. One lightning strike hit 25070 at Greenbank. The locomotive & crew were unharmed but much damage was caused to the lineside signalling equipment and the operation of the track circuits.

The early morning of October 31st produced high winds in the south London area, being strong enough to bring down part of a signal gantry in the Saunderstead area, causing delays to several services.

Between November 11th & 15th the country suffered from extremely high winds accompanied by heavy rain with some snow and sleet. Coastal damages included four washouts on the Furness limne and two on the Cambrian line. Flooding was experienced in the Southport & Warrington area. On the opening day of the storms (Nov 11th), a tree weas blown into the path of the 22.37 Liverpool Central - Ormskirk at Walton Junction. The driver was injured and the leading vehicle (29886) damaged. On the Southern Region on 14th a tree was blown down on to the Lewisham - Hayes line at about 6pm near Catford Bridge, interrupting rush hour services.

On December 1st 47435 working the 13.21 Liverpool - Plymouth stalled at Dawlish whilst departing, possibly due to the very heavy seas running at the time. A Class 47 was sent from Newton Abbot to assist, leaving the passenger train very exposed to the ocean elements for about an hour. The heavy seas eventually swept away much of the ballast on the down line, which required single line working between Teignmouth & Dawlish Warren for three days.

The year closed out with bad weather in the Midlands and North East. Walsall station, as usual, was flooded after torrential rain on December 29th. Heavy snow over the New Year plagued services with delays whilst faulty equipment made life even more difficult to maintain the timetable. In the West Country with temperatures reaching down to -13C many things simply froze up, Exeter proved to be a graveyard for frozen up equipment, with eighteen locomotives awaiting a thaw including 25052, 25206/225/263, the only operable machine being 46020, which had been equipped with steam lances for the freeing of pointwork and rodding. The local services out of Exeter were cancelled due to the diesel multiple units being frozen solid. The 31st's 00.05 Paddington - Penzance was reported eighteen hours late at Plymouth, 50046 had failed at Brent with 47106 sent to assist, the service was terminated at Plymouth. Penzance passengers went forward on the 10.30 ex Paddington, itself running eight hours late. The Penzance passengers off he 00.05 service had a journey time of 25 hours. Many Western Region cancellations continued over the New Year, with heavy delays to services that did run. Lines blocked included the Salisbury - Exeter and Weymouth - Castle Cary.

Its December 30th 1978 and light snow falls at Duffield, though heavier falls on the hillside in the background suggest the snow has been around for awhile. 47142 heads south with a short train in tow, possibly an indication of troubles further north.

On the SR heavy snow fell on December 30th & 31st causing many equipment related failures especially snow blowing into the electrical equipment and the seasonal problems of shoegear failures on the Bournemouth line REP units. On the SE Division the heavy snow was followed by strong winds which brought the problem of drifting snow, a condition not normally associated with the south. One line so affected was the Ashford - Canterbury West - Minster line, which required the services of a snowplough. The GE lines faired no better, heavy snow disrupting Thornton Fields carriage sidings, causing considerable stock disruption. This resulted in the 10.30 Liverpool Street - Norwich running with a six car diesel multiple unit of Derby/Cravens units. The Shoeburyness - Pitsea line had snow two feet deep on December 30th, being cleared by the Stratford plough on New Year's Day.

In the Merseyside area heavy icing on December 30th led to the use of Merseyrail's Battery Locomotive propelling the 05.17 Birkenhead North - West Kirby, followed by the 08.06 West Kirby - New Brighton. The morning's first Southport - Liverpool Central service suffered over two hours delay and was joined by the following service which had been cancelled to passengers but joined up with the first service to hopefully overcome the icing issues. Likewise in the opposite direction the 06.05 Liverpool Central - Southport was made up of nine vehicles instead of the usual three!

Late on the 30th the north London area was impacted by heavy snow, affecting long distance services.


New Year's Day finds the 09.32 Exeter - Plymouth service in the hands of 33018 as it hurries west through Exminster. The good blanket of snow seems not to be troubling the railway operation too much, but one wonders about its impact on the M5 motorway, just visible in the background.
Photograph courtesy Peter Lovell

As the New Year opened much snow still remained on the ground from the December 30/31st storm. More heavy snow fell on the north west & Midlands on January 2nd with the Channel Islands getting a heavy fall on 4th.

Its New Years Day 1979 and a small amount of snow is on the ground at Ford Lane, Derby. Typical workings over the Sheffield - London & NE/SW routes here feature 45148 & 47455 with fully air-conditioned stock. Both views courtesy Graham Turner.

For the SR much of January was a miserable time. January 2nd found the Central Division reduced to a shambles, snow and ice coupled to equipment failures and crewing issues demolished the timetable. The next day a severe frost and a guards strike at Selhurst involving ice on electric multiple unit footboards incapacitated local services. On the Western Region a morning Twyford - Paddington service with 50027 suffered frozen brake gear at West Drayton & Acton, 31117 eventually came to the rescue. In Scotland there was snow on the ground at sea level elevations, beginning at least January 10th.

Its a snowy overcast January 3rd 1979 as 25281 runs through Warrington with a mixed assortment of snow covered wagons. To the left an electric service appears from underneath the road bridge.
Photograph courtesy Barrie Watkins
Its just after midnight on January 5th 1979 as 87033 stands at Stockport station awaiting its next turn of duty. The snow on the roof of the building in the background suggests cool temperatures have been around for a while.
Photograph courtesy Barrie Watkins

On January 4th & 5th high tides damaged the lines along the seawall at Dawlish, leading to a bus service operating between Newton Abbot & Exeter until the lines could be repaired.

On the Eastern Region, Liverpool Street Division the heavy snow falls affected punctuality, not helped by overhead line trouble at Stanway on 14th, a broken gas main at Wickford and a landslip at Mistley on 15th. Both the Colchester snowploughs were in use on January 14th & 15th. A railtour operating between Liverpool & Doncaster on January 17th noted freezing conditions, snow and fog in the Liverpool area but by Manchester conditions had greatly improved. The Woodhead route quickly brought the return of ever deepening snow, with the nearby reservoirs partially frozen over. East of Woodhead tunnel the snow was much deeper, snowploughs were in use with much manual labour being used to free up pointwork. Dropping down into the Sheffield area the quantity of snow decreased.

An unidentified Class 25 at Guide Bridge on January 20th 1979.
Photograph collection of webmaster
Snow is on the ground at Stafford on January 22nd 1979 as 25069 runs through the station with what appears to be a short engineers train.
Photograph courtesy Barrie Watkins

Snow returned on January 23rd, coupled to the freezing conditions meant grief for the electric units. Continuing ASLEF action compounded the passengers woes, especially their inaction on 23rd which allowed heavy ice to build up since no de-icing trains were running. The next day saw most Central Division emus cancelled unless a locomotive was available to assist, a most unusual sight was 31114 & 73004 assisting an 8-SAP formation on a down Brighton train, the Class 31 being removed at Redhill. On January 24th the 05.13 Staines - Windsor froze to the rail between Ashford & Feltham. A Ripple Lane - Earley tank train surrendered 37215 to assist the stranded train, taking the twelve car working to Twickenham where the emu's struggled on alone to Waterloo. January 26th also brought heavy icing and major problems, it would not be until the 29th that conditions would ease. On the SE Division similar problems were encountered, especially on the North Kent lines with ice and snow requiring diesel power, especially on those days after the ASLEF stoppages.

Looks like a snowy day at Speke Junction on January 25th 1979 with 25236 and some Class 40's awaiting their next turn of duty. 25236 moved from Crewe to Swindon in the latter half of February 1985. Swindon would break up 25236 during November 1986.
Photograph courtesy Danny Preston, collection Neil Johnson.
York had a modest snow covering still remaining on January 27th 1979. Despite the notebook recording quite a bit of activity whilst we were at York, this appears to be the only photograph taken, of 45031 as it runs alongside the station.

More snow fell on February 12th from a storm moving south to north, six inches fell on the southern Pennines in blizzard like conditions. Blizzards re-appeared on 14th, particularly in the east, whilst more snow arrived on 15th with much drifting particularly in Lincolnshire.

(see below) From the camera of Ian Walmsley comes the above three views of two class 37's with snowploughs working on February 12/13th 1979 on the Dowlais branch.

Heavy snowfall on February 14th brought much grief to the SE Division, Sole Street Bank on the Chatham line, saw four early morning trains stuck on the bank. Possibly the last to get stuck was the 06:45 Faversham to Cannon St which was formed of 8HAP + 4EPB. It was reported that the arcing was so fierce from the effects of the snow and ice that it caused the shoes to weld themselves to the conductor rail. Eventually the current was isolated either because passengers were alighting from the trains or perhaps because the authorities realised the need to get the passengers to a place of warmth by using ladders stored in the guards vans. Some passengers remaining with the trains were rescued by down stopping services. Two of the trains were freed after about six hours, the latter two were eventually dragged back to Rochester, by which time the trapped commuters should have been making their regular journey home! It is also reported that the pub in Sole Street did a roaring trade this day.

Across the Pennines at one point (14th) only the ex-L&Y Calder Valley route was open. Also on this day an evening Sheffield - Manchester diesel multiple unit (51930 & 52047) collided at Chinley with 40055 working a Tunstead - Margam stone train. Six people were injured including the multiple unit driver, whilst 45063 eventually rescued the freight train. The snowy weather continued in the area the next day with the Buxton snowploughs in constant service, frequently occupying the paths of cancelled passenger services. Snowploughs were also operating over the Settle & Carlisle, which included their use to rescue passengers from a stranded bus, the passengers were taken in the locomotive cabs to Skipton, the locomotives later ran out of fuel having returned to their ploughing duties.

On February 15th & 16th heavy snow brought chaos to the Midland mainline south of Leicester, the 20.00 Sheffield - St Pancras of the 15th was noted at Luton at 7.30am the following morning. Delays were also incurred due to a St Pancras guard's dispute on 19th and by a nationwide maintenance dispute the next day. Drifting snow on the ECML on the 15th between Stoke & Doncaster brought out two Class 31s with ploughs at each end, other Class 31s assisting a number of local diesel multiple units. On the GE a thirty foot deep drift was encountered by a snowplough at Twenty Foot River. The Colchester snowploughs were in during this period, being hauled by a pair of Class 37s on February 17th and later noted at Sudbury with a Class 47. The WCML was also affected though not as seriously, with ice continuously disrupting the beginning of the morning services. And regrettably a railway worker was killed on snow clearing duties near Rowley Regis.

A little further north came more disruption, a Manchester area dispute affected diesel multiple unit refuelling leading to greater use of Type 4s on the Blackpool - Manchester services, 46020 & 46030 were called in to assist, each with five coaches. February 23rd found 25131 on the 08.10 to Southport, whilst 25042 was one of four diesels working the Manchester - Oldham - Rochdale - Manchester circuit. Allerton depot was affected by a dispute concerning diesel multiple unit maintenance creating a major reduction in local services. Not that the multiple units were alone in this blacklisting for maintenance men in the London area (Finsbury Park) were refusing to work on 'foreign' power, this occurring at the height of the bad weather. Peterborough became an emergency refueling center, locomotives from both north & south being exchanged to minimise service dislocation. In conjunction with this and the bad weather stock diagrams became hopelessly confused, so much so that 55011 and two coaches worked a round trip to Leicester on February 21st.

Its a very overcast February 15th 1979 at Crewe, where there does not appear to be much snough. However the snow piled up on the ploughs sandwiched between 25042 & 25063 indicate that there is plenty of snow somewhere nearby.
Photograph courtesy David Felton, collection of webmaster.

*****Update March 2013 *****
The Midland mainline and some of its feeder lines were also impacted by the heavy snowfall. The following notes and snowplough picture come from the memories of Vic Smith, who in 1979 was the Traction Maintenance Supervisor at Leicester TMD:
Heavy snowfalls in February 1979 brought severe disruption to services. It was the only time in my railway career where I spent a full 24 hours on duty, doing what would today be described as a railtour. I struggled through the snow, arriving at the depot at around 11am, having taken the required rest period from my previous shift. I could see two type 2’s (Class 25) being coupled up between the two independent snowploughs. The Train Crew Inspector welcomed me with the news that I could be in for a long ride as conditions were deteriorating fast. Gathering up copious supplies of breakdown food and tea, I climbed aboard one of the locomotives. A fitter was already on board with shovels, lump hammers and a couple of large adjustable spanners. Knowing the previous difficulties of keeping the ploughs on the rails, he had also taken the precaution of loading a couple of hand jacks into the back cab. One of the snowploughs had previously disgraced itself by derailing at the Coalville Depot Open Day in 1978. This was not the first time that this had happened and so it was despatched to the weighbridge at Derby, where it was found that the axle loadings were unbalanced, so corrective repairs were made.

Before leaving the depot, one of the old steam hands gave me a couple of small wooden taper wedges, similar to door stops. He said I might find them useful. We were very soon out onto the main line heading north towards Nottingham. On arrival at Syston Junction, we were advised that the line was blocked with deep snow between Melton Mowbray and Peterborough and that we were clear to plough through to Peterborough. A stop was made after Melton Mowbray station to lower the front blade plate and lift the side plates in preparation for snow clearance. Ploughing commenced, it was a great experience to see the snow flying past the sides and over the top of the locomotive. It was very difficult for the driver to see the road ahead, we were provided with goggles but did not use them, preferring to keep our heads inside the cab. We were brought to a stand by a signalman and pilotman waving red lamps and flags. Although we were advised the route was clear for us, the track gangers and local council were busy clearing the level crossing to enable the gates to be opened for road traffic. Once they had all cleared from the crossing, we set back and had a run at the snow. They did not look impressed as we flew through the crossing and they were all showered with the flying snow.

Approaching Peterborough on the Midland line we could see two expresses stationary in the snow on the adjacent East Coast Mainline. A quick run round at Peterborough Station, picking up a pilotman and we were wrong line working towards the stationary trains. There appeared to be plenty of staff on hand, so we were quickly sent back to Peterborough. We returned back to Leicester, retracting the blades at Melton Mowbray and then told to head south to Bedford. The snow deepened as we approached Market Harborough so the blades were again repositioned. All went well until Kettering Station, fortunately entered at slow speed. There was a large bang and grating noise as the extended side plates buckled and proceeded to plough up the first few yards of the station platform edging. Oops!

A little further down the line there was a disturbing crash and bang on the cab roof. No one had seen anything and nothing was obvious until reversal at Bedford. The driver went to change over the front and rear lamps and came back with a smile on his face. The lamp which normally sits on the plough blade bracket was missing. Now I knew what the taper wedges were for!!

The return to Leicester was thankfully uneventful as it was now dark. Onto the depot, a change of crew, then off to Nuneaton Trent Valley, where numerous movements were made in the station area. The driver was asked if he was prepared to work on the West Coast mainline with a pilotman. The answer was positive, but higher authority appeared nervous about us ploughing under live wires. We were soon sent back to Leicester, then immediately turned round for another trip to Bedford. Dawn was breaking as we arrived at Leicester. Another crew change and then off to Corby via Melton Mowbray. Before entering Corby Tunnel we had to break up a large lake of ice which had formed above rail level just inside the tunnel mouth. Large icicles could be seen hanging from the roof of the tunnel. As we drove through the tunnel the plough started breaking them off, one crashed through the roof mounted route indicator glass and another cracked the secondman's front window. A very frightening experience.

This photograph was taken by the fitter who accompanied the train and shows two unknown Class 25s coupled between the Leicester ploughs, standing outside the north end of Corby Tunnel in February 1979. (probably 15th or 16th).
Photograph collection of Vic Smith

We returned from Corby, expecting to go straight back to Leicester but on arrival at Melton Mowbray were sent up the Edwalton line to clear the little used Holwell branch. We finally arrived back in Leicester, very tired at around 11am, the snowploughs having behaved very well on this occasion. This was the longest railtour I have been on and I was fortunately paid for the privilege.

My long absence had caused concern at home, as news was announced that a railway worker had lost his life whilst carrying out snow clearance duties. The tragic accident occurred at Rowley Regis in the West Midlands and highlights the dangerous conditions the staff on the track were prepared to work under to keep the railway running.


During this spell of bad weather the maintenance staff at Finsbury Park (London) were in dispute, only working on locomotivess allocated to their depot. East Coast Mainline trains were changing locomotives at Peterborough station, using the locomotive depot as the the main refuelling point. This brought about a very unusual working into Leicester when Deltic 55011 appeared with a two coach local service from Peterborough. 55011 coming onto the depot for refuelling. I believe that this may have been the only time that a revenue earning Deltic locomotive has been onto Leicester TMD.

On February 17th a day trip was made from Derby to York, perhaps to witness some of the snowy conditions. 45037 took us to York, en-route 31407 was noted at Attercliffe with large snowploughs. At York there was enough snow on the ground to provide a little atmospher to an otherwise dull day, as shown below. At the end of the day 47467 returned us to Sheffield Midland, with 45076 taking us on to Derby.

Shortly after arriving at York we walked up to the north end of the platforms and captured 20003 and recently ex-works 20023 heading round the curve towards the diesel depot.

Not long after 20003 & 20023 disappeared round the corner, 47432 came into view headed south light engine.
A short while later 31111 came round the curve from the north towing 31327, 37108 & 37063! They must have been travelling very slowly in order to get the camera out set up in time to take this photograph. Out of this consist, 37063 proved to be a cop, so the day was not without some compensation.
A walk up to the sidings alongside York depot found 31117 & 31417 attached to a couple of snowploughs, with one being an ex-steam locomotive tender fitted with a blade.

Derby did not escape the snowy beginning to 1979, seen here is 31222 on February 22nd 1979 in charge of a NE/SW service, which should probably have had a Class 45/46/47 as its regular motive power, obviously things were not going to plan this day.

In the middle of March a low pressure system over the North Sea brought heavy snow to north and central England. As well as affecting many scheduled services it created problems for several scheduled charters over the weekend of March 16th - 18th. On March 17th such were the vagaries of the weather that the Severnside Railtours 'Fellsman' railtour from Cardiff to Carlisle with 37203 & 37189 was terminated at Gloucester. The tour was to have used the Settle & Carlisle but pathing issues due to bad weather as well as the collapse this day of Penmanshiel tunnel on March 17th were part of the reason for its termination. In the opposite direction a Merrymaker from York to Cardiff was three hours late in reaching Sheffield on the outbound leg behind 47525, here the tour was terminated and returned to York.

York would also be the termination point of the RPPR 'County Durham Crusader' on March 17th which had come up from Kings Cross behind 40030 with the intent to visit lines in the north-east, but was terminated at York due to heavy snow further north. Another railtour running in the West Midlands area using a diesel multiple unit encountered blizzard like conditions in the Trent Valley, but was generally able to maintain the railtour schedule.

An adventurous Western Region Merrymaker from Ealing Broadway to Aberdeen & Inverness (cost £9 adult) from March 16th - 18th required much endurance from its participants and failed to reach Inverness. A missing guard caused a ninety minute delay from the outset, the train was held south of Crewe for 210 minutes, not resuming northbound travel until about 5am. At Stirling it was advised that the excursion would now terminate at Aberdeen due to bad weather and the lateness of the train. Aberdeen proved to be misty and cold with snow on the ground. On the return journey the Sunday morning brought glorious sunshine, with the Settle & Carlisle was used to Hellifield, deep snow was encountered at the higher elevations, with a Class 47 and two snowploughs in action at Blea Moor.

The poor weather that affected these trips brought more severe icing to the Southern Region, although not as catastrophic as that seen in January & February. In the north the ECML between Newcastle & Darlington suffered from a heavy snowfall on March 17th, the first southbound trains from Newcastle didn't leave until 11am, whilst the local Berwick service was maintained despite closure of many roads in the area. However this day it was not the weather that would directly close the ECML but a massive rockfall within Penmanshiel Tunnel, with the death of two workers engaged in the installation of a concrete trackbed. ECML trains were diverted via Carlisle, not helped by more bad weather in the following weeks and a maintenance dispute at Scottish depots, leading to HSTs being used on the emergency Edinburgh - Dunbar shuttle, with a bus connection to Berwick.

The snowy weather mentioned in the above text was noted at Derby on March 16th 1979 in what looks the beginning of a snow shower. 25101 waits for the crew change to be completed as it heads west with a trainload of steel bar. Wisely the crew have stopped the train under the platform awning to avoid some of the falling snow. The Class 08 station pilot waits on the left for its next job.
Photograph collection of webmaster

May began with snowshowers.

During the second week of November the Southport area electric services suffered from icing problems, on November 10th many of the morning services ran late, often with the services doubled up to overcome the icy rails.

In the early hours of November 27th heavy rains caused an embankment collapse near Pyle, leading to the closure of the down line until midday on December 2nd and intermittent closure of the up line until December 2nd. Large amounts of spent ballast and larger stome were brought in to stabilise the embankment. Swansea - Paddington HST services started/ended at Bridgend, whilst many other longer distance Swansea services started or ended at Cardiff. A variety of freight trains were diverted via Tondu.

Drainage work in Kilsby Tunnel during recent months proved ineffective in dealing with the extremely wet conditions during the early part of December, services were diverted via Northampton.

Heavy rains on December 8th & 9th caused a landslip on the line between Seafield & Kinghorn, requiring a week of single line working until the slip could be dealt with.

Torrential rain coupled with strong winds on December 17th caused havoc on the WCML, bringing down the wires between Floriston & Quintinshill. Many northbound services were diverted from Carlisle to Hexham, Newcastle & Berwick. In the Glasgow area wires were brought down between Craigendoran & Cardross. A morning Glasgow - Liverpool service was reported over five hours late at its destination.

High seas closed the down line near Dawlish on December 21st. Single line working was instituted, except at high tide when bus substitutions occurred.

Heavy rain on December 27th & 28th causing extensive flooding on various parts of the Western Region. Temporary closures affected the Salisbury - Exeter, Castle Cary - Dorchester & Newport - Shrewsbury lines. On the latter the 15.08 Cardiff - Crewe with 46040 became stranded at Abergavenny whilst the 16.02 Crewe - Cardiff with 25055 encountered severe flooding at Woofferton, but was able to complete the journey. The Central Wales lines was closed south of Llanwrtyd Wells, not being opened until the next day. The Barnstaple and Looe branches were also impacted, the latter using buses on December 28th & 29th. Such was the flooding on December 29th that a Class 50 was trapped at Newton Abbot depot, unable to take up its book working.

Heavy snow fell in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the southern end of the Pennines on December 29th.

Snowy days in the 1960s
Snowy days in the 1980s

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Page added April 15th 2004.
Page updated November 3rd 2018.