Tuesday 1 Oct 2019
Network Rail’s leaf-busting machines ready to tackle autumnal deluge
- Region & Route:
As the cold mornings draw in and the leaves start to brown, Network Rail is busily preparing its 61 leaf-busting trains to keep passengers moving safely over autumn.
Passengers expect and deserve a reliable, punctual train service, which is why this autumn, Network Rail and its train operating colleagues will be working flat out – preparing specialist equipment and undertaking specialist driver training – to better cope with the annual blight of ‘leaves on the line’ – the railway’s equivalent of black ice on the roads.
Nick King, network services director at Network Rail, said: “Leaves on the line is a well-known issue on railways across the world. Our leaf-busting trains and highly-trained frontline teams will be working around the clock over the next few months to keep the tracks clear and rail services running.
“Even with these plans in place, on some particularly autumnal days it will be a challenge to operate the railway as punctually as we would want to. I would like to thank passengers for their patience and understanding while our staff work to keep them moving safely and reliably this autumn.”
When leaves fall on to the tracks, they stick to damp rails, and passing trains compress them into a thin, black layer which can affect train braking and acceleration. This forces drivers to slow down earlier for stations and signals to avoid overshooting them. Autumn can also present problems for our signallers, because the build-up of leaf mulch makes it harder to detect a train’s location, causing delays when subsequent trains are unable to proceed until the train in front is further up the line.
Network Rail’s autumn preparation programme includes a number of measures:
- A total of 61 leaf-busting trains – 29 Railhead Treatment Trains (RHTT) and 32 Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPV) – which move around the network, cleaning the top of the rail by spraying it with a water jet at very high pressure (1500 bar) to blast away leaf mulch
- These trains also lay adhesion modifier, a composite material of sand and steel shot suspended in a gel-like substance, which is applied to the rail to clear the tracks and help ensure the signalling system works correctly
- We have teams available 24/7 at key locations to scrub the top of the rails by hand with a sand-based treatment
- Management and replacement of lineside vegetation with species less likely to shed leaves on to the tracks
- Between 1 October and 13 December, Network Rail receives adhesion forecasts twice a day from a specialist weather forecaster, highlighting locations that require action. This allows resources to be planned more effectively
- As an industry, we work together to run a safe and reliable service. In areas with heavy leaf-fall, some operators publish special autumn timetables with revised journey timings to allow train drivers to drive more cautiously than usual.
Network Rail’s autumn treatment trains covered 1,418,169 miles in 2018 – the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back three times.
Notes to editors:
- With 20,000 miles of track and millions of trees growing along the railway, managing vegetation is hugely important to us. If not managed well, trees and fallen leaves can pose a risk to the safe running of the railway and cause delays to trains. To find out more about our approach, visit: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/vegetation.
- The photographs included in this press release were taken by Craig Munday, who works as a mobile operations manager for Network Rail.
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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.
Every day, there are more than 4.8 million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.