Scotland’s Railway gets ready for autumn: Autumn rail head treatment train

Thursday 19 Sep 2019

Scotland’s Railway gets ready for autumn

Region & Route:

Scotland’s Railway is more prepared than ever before to keep trains moving during autumn.

Rail cleaning trains will treat 20,000 more miles of track than last year, more ‘Leaf Buster’ teams will be out on the network and small changes to the timetable will help make the service more reliable. 

Ground-breaking microwave and cryogenic technologies will also be used for the very first time on Scotland’s Railway to help keep rails clean and customers safe.

Every autumn, the trees that grow along the railway drop thousands of tonnes of leaves onto the tracks and this debris can break down into a slippery surface that sticks to the rails and causes trains to lose their grip.

This can make trains overshoot signals and platforms – potentially putting customers and staff in danger. Debris can also affect signalling systems, making it hard to track where trains are on the network.

This autumn, activity includes:

  • A fleet of specialist trains deployed to wash leaf debris off the line and spray rails with a glue-like coating to help train wheels grip the tracks
  • Running treatment trains for a longer period and over more track miles than ever before –covering over 74,000 track miles, compared to 54,000 in 2018
  • Dedicated ‘Leaf Buster’ teams to clear leaves before they have a chance to stick to the rails
  • Rapid response crews based at key points across the network ready to react quickly to clean specific locations where drivers report poor conditions
  • Ground-breaking new technology – using microwaves to blast the slippery leaf mulch from the rails and cryogenic (dry ice) pellets to instantly freeze and disperse debris
  • Small tweaks to the timetable to make the train service even more reliable.

Liam Sumpter, Network Rail Scotland Route Director, said: “This autumn we will be running a huge operation to treat tracks and keep trains running.

“We have teams of engineers out on the ground and our rail head treatment trains will also work around-the-clock cleaning rails and adding adhesives to improve train wheels’ grip.

“Since last autumn we have been working with experts to develop new microwave and cryogenic technologies that we are trialing for the first time this year and which will clear leaf mulch from the rails more effectively than ever before.

“We know few things annoy customers more than when their train is delayed because of leaves on the line, but the reality is that leaf debris can be dangerous - acting like black ice on the rail and leading to disruption.” 

David Simpson, Operations Director for ScotRail, said: “We are working together with Network Rail to keep people moving during autumn.  Our teams will also be working through the night to clean train wheels of debris to help minimise the impact of autumn.

“We know that there is work to do to keep the network safe during autumn that’s why we’ve developed this plan to deliver a reliable service for our customers. It’s all part of our plan to build the best railway Scotland has ever had.”

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 - Nick King
Media relations manager (Scotland)
0141 555 4108 / 07515 617073

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