Saturday 20 Nov 2004


Region & Route:
Scotland’s Railway: Scotland
Leaves on the line are no laughing matter and Network Rail is working hard to minimise the effects of autumn on the West Highland Line. A special, mobile machine*, the only one of its kind in Scotland, is tackling the job.  The machine helps keep leaves off the track and treats the rails with special ‘sandite’ to protect the trains from slipping and sliding. Ron McAulay, Route Director, Scotland at Network Rail said:  “Autumn is always a challenging time for the railways and while we cannot eliminate the effects of Mother Nature, we do take enormous steps to minimise its effects. “The West Highland Line has dense foliage and this machine, along with our de-vegetation work, has proved to be particularly successful in controlling the problem.” The mobile machine travels up and down the railway line, normally working between Crianlarich and Ardlui, and Arrochar and Tarbet to Helensburgh Upper.  Its great advantage is its mobility, as it can be moved on and off the track very easily and can be taken simply and quickly to an area where it is most needed. Ron McAulay added: “A great deal of planning, time and money is invested to ensure we maintain the highest levels of safety and performance during this difficult period.” Network Rail is investing £3.5 million pounds in Scotland to combat the problem of leaf fall, ensuring trains run safely and on time during the autumn months. The majority of Scotland’s 1,750 route miles is nestled within dense trees and foliage which shed their leaves over a ten-week period during autumn.  This causes severe safety and performance problems for railways. Wet leaves fall onto the rail and are crushed by train wheels, which then turn the leaves into a hard, Teflon-like surface on top of the rail.  This can cause trains to slip and slide and is the railways’ equivalent of black ice on the roads.  Leaves can also cause track circuit failure, and both these problems can lead to safety concerns and train delays. Network Rail adopts a number of measures to combat the issue of ‘leaves on the line’ in Scotland: ·         *A mobile sandite applicator (the only one in Scotland) which travels on the West Highland Line, dispersing sandite on both rails at the same time.  It normally operates between Crianlarich and Ardlui and Arrochar and Tarbet to Helensburgh Upper.  It is operated by a two-man team ·         Five sandite treatment trains run throughout Scotland, clocking up thousand of miles during the ten-week autumn period ·         12 dedicated, two-man leaf busting teams operate six nights a week ·         39 static sandite applicators.  For the first time Network Rail is piloting smaller portable sandite applicators in Scotland.  We have 12,000 litres of traction gel for the sandite machines ·         Use of special treatments – 7,500 litres of Orange Cleanse (environmentally-friendly product that dissolves leaf mulch) ordered to use in 25 litre back pack sprayers applicators ·         A total of 29 petrol driven rail head scrubbing machines ·         40 trigger hand operated double-wheeled sand sticks which spread sand and Orange Cleanse onto the railhead
  • A proactive programme of vegetation management to reduce the number of leaves around the railway
  • Frequent leaf fall and wind throw forecasts provided by the Met Office throughout Autumn, in addition to daily weather forecasts
  • Leaf fall checks throughout the night

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