Track and signalling

08.10.19

Jet-washing trains begin work in Kent and Sussex to remove leaves on the line

Network Rail have deployed jet-washing trains onto the lines in Kent and Sussex, where they will be travelling the equivalent of four times round the Earth in order to clean the railway.

Thousands of tonnes of leaves are dropped onto the tracks every autumn as a result of the millions of trees that grow next to the tracks.

The heat and weight of the trains bake the leaves into a thin, slippery layer as the trains pass over.

The effect has been compared to the equivalent of ‘black ice’ on the rails, raising a safety concern for passengers.

Throughout the autumn and winter, Network Rail teams will be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to clear the tracks and improve the issue making them safer for passengers.

Operational signalling systems are also affected by the autumn leaves falling as friction and grip is compromised making it harder to start, stop, accelerate and climb for the rolling stock.

The leaves create a barrier between the train wheels and the electrical elements of the track, making it harder for signallers to keep track of the train’s location.

To tackle the issue, and ensure the smooth, safe running of trains, engineers and contractors maintain, repair and improve the rail infrastructure around the clock, whatever the weather.

Train drivers will receive refresher training using simulators to help improve their skills in coping with slippery conditions and are also instructed to brake earlier when approaching stations to pre-empt a delayed stopping distance and take more care accelerating to avoid a wheel spin effect.

The track treatment machines and vehicles will carry and deliver nearly 100,000 litres of water per circuit and water-jet the track with a pressure of 1500mb which is enough to cut through metal.

Some trains will even have equipment that applies ultra-fine dried sand onto the rail in front of the wheels which improves grip when braking or accelerating.

Rob Davis, delivery director, Network Rail said:

“Even with the best preparation, leaves fall onto the line which can cause the same conditions as black ice on the roads. With millions of trees growing alongside the railway, it’s something the rail industry takes seriously.

“That’s why our ‘leaf-busting’ trains and front-line teams are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to make sure we can get passengers from A to B safely and reliably.”

Autumn timetables will be introduced which allow for extra journey times and help reduce the impact of leaf fall issues, longer hours of darkness and adverse weather to ensure trains run to time

This initiative aims to solve this problem before the leaves even hit the rails by working through the year to minimise the impact of falling leaves.

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