Monday 20 Oct 2003


Region & Route:
| Southern
The autumn season presents every railway in the world with a challenge and will continue to do so this year but Network Rail is as prepared as it can be to counter the 2003 autumn leaf fall season.   This year has seen the most extensive preparations ever and the testing of new laser technology to help mitigate the effects of ‘leaves on the line’, which cost the industry about £50 million annually.  ‘Leaves on the line’ is the railway equivalent of ‘black ice’ on the roads.  When crushed, they form a hard Teflon-like coating on the railhead that causes train wheels to slip and slide.  This results in train delays and can also damage the track.  What was once wrongly regarded as a joke is now recognised as a serious performance and safety issue for railways across the world, including the USA, Sweden, Germany and France.  Network Rail is constantly looking at new ways to tackle the problem of leaf fall.  This year has seen a £1.6 million-investment in two multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), which have been fitted with lasers to blast leaf mulch off the track and are currently being tested.  Another initiative is the three-times weekly forecast, provided by the Met Office and ADAS, which indicates when trains are likely to have problems on the track with low adhesion.  In addition, Network Rail is operating its biggest ever treatment fleet this year including 12 MPVs (which apply a sand based gel called ‘sandite’ to the rails and have high-pressure water jets), 51 manual ‘hot spot’ teams and 6 locomotives/trains which apply ‘sandite’ working throughout the Southern region. As every year and in every country, there will be delays this autumn caused by leaf fall but - more – Autumn –2 Network Rail is as prepared as it can be to minimise them.    Robin Gisby, Director, Southern, Network Rail said:  “Although we cannot control the elements, we are constantly striving to find new ways of addressing the leaf-fall problem and this year sees a more focused effort than ever before to help to reduce the problems that autumn brings to operating a punctual and reliable railway.”                “We don’t expect to eliminate the problems that leaf fall causes.  We can never beat Mother Nature, but we, and our colleagues in the railway industry, are determined to work together and minimise the disruptive effects of the weather this autumn.”

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We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

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