Passengers warned as Cross City line hosts pioneering autumn train trials: Close up of rail sanding process

Monday 23 Sep 2019

Passengers warned as Cross City line hosts pioneering autumn train trials

Region & Route:
North West & Central

Passengers are being warned about the part closure of the Cross City line next month for pioneering testing to improve the reliability of trains in the autumn.

The line between Barnt Green and Redditch will close on every Sunday in October (6, 13, 20 & 27) so special test trains can trial new ways of braking designed to reduce delays for passengers caused by ‘leaves on the line’.

Train performance can be affected during autumn as compressed leaves on the tracks cause a ‘Teflon-like’ substance which causes train wheels to slip and skid.

This means trains often travel more slowly in certain areas to stop this happening, causing disruption to the timetable.

To balance this, a temporary timetable can be introduced which retimes trains to account for the extra minutes needed to run safely - as seen on the Cross City line through Birmingham.

Martin Colmey, head of operations delivery for Network Rail’s Central route, said: “Leaves on the line is a big problem for the railway. It disrupts services and inconveniences passengers and every year, Network Rail and train operators work together to battle against the elements to keep people moving safely and on time.

“We are always looking at innovative ways to improve the railway for our passengers, so we’re excited to be working with West Midlands Trains and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) on a project which could see delays by dreaded ‘leaves on the line’ become a thing of the past.”

The braking experiments will see targeted jets of sand sprayed directly in front of individual train wheels before they pass over rails which have been made artificially slippery, as if leaves had fallen on them.

This a development of a similar method which already exists but these trials aim to target specific wheels when they start to slip, applying sand as and when it’s needed, to see if it reduces the need to brake or decrease a train’s speed.

Network Rail's partnership with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and West Midlands Trains will test this method on the main line rail network for the first time. If successful, it could eventually benefit millions of passengers nationwide.

Luisa Moisio, research and development programme director from the RSSB, said: “Poor rail adhesion affects millions of passengers each year, preventing the reliable service they rightly expect. This new sanding technique halves train stopping distances during times of low adhesion and provides the biggest improvement in 20 years”.

“RSSB is very grateful to West Midlands Trains and Network Rail for their leading role in this testing which will unlock the ability to use it widely across the network, improving performance and reliability, particularly during autumn time”.

During the test train trials, the railway between Barnt Green and Redditch will be closed to passengers.

Rail replacement bus services will be in operation and people are being advised to check to check if their journey will be affected.

Neil Bamford, engineering director at West Midlands Railway, said: “It might seem like an old problem but with millions of trees in Birmingham alone, leaves falling on the line cause very real issues on our network.

“We are fully committed to improving the experience for our passengers and once perfected this innovative system could boost reliability in the autumn months.

“We would urge passengers travelling on the dates of the Network Rail testing to check their journeys in advance and we thank them for their patience.”

If the new braking method is successful, the hope is trains could drive at normal speeds regardless of whether there are leaves on the line.

Passengers affected by the tests can plan their alternative journey by visiting

For more information on how we deal with leaves on the line visit

Notes to Editors

Thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto railway lines every autumn, and when they stick to damp rails, passing trains compress them into a smooth, slippery layer which reduces the trains’ grip.

To keep passengers safe train drivers then have to brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting them and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin.

Network Rail has more than 50 leaf busting treatment trains across the country which clean the rails using high pressure water jets to remove the leaves and then apply a sand-based gel to rails to improve grip.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - North West & Central Region
0330 854 0100

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