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Innovative work underway to tackle leaf fall impact

Network Rail is working ‘even closer’ and more innovatively with rail operators to tackle the impact of autumn’s leaf fall on the network this year. 

Leaves and vegetation on the rails can be compressed into a dense and slippery mulch that reduces traction, affecting braking and acceleration. 

In the north west, preparation for autumn started earlier this year and a range of methods to monitor, prevent and remove leaves from the railway have been used around the network in the Merseyside area. These include new technology to assess the condition of the track as well as sophisticated weather and leaf-fall monitoring, daily treatment of the rails by special trains and leaf-clearance. 

One technology being used on the Merseyrail network for the first time is called a tribometer, a handheld device that accurately measures how slippery the rails are. Data from the tribometer is then used to assess the effectiveness of treatments already applied and help inform whether further action is required. 

This is complemented by special treatment trains, operated by Network Rail, that jet-wash and treat the rails to remove any build-up of compressed leaves. 

Ian Joslin, area director for Network Rail, said: “Leaves on the line pose a significant challenge to the rail industry, not just in Britain but around the world. In partnership with Merseyrail we have been able to channel our efforts and use a combination of old and new ways of working to minimise the impact as much as possible. 

“Throughout autumn we will continue to monitor and prepare for leaf fall and are well placed to react to deal with the issue. Passengers can be assured we have invested.”

To make stopping easier for drivers at stations which are known to suffer from the impact of leaves on the line, trains will stop at different positions at five stations on the network. The stations are Aigburth, Capenhurst, Formby, Freshfield and Spital. The temporary arrangements will be in place for three months. 

London Midland’s efforts 

London Midland is introducing a temporary timetable on its Cross City line to tackle the leaf fall challenge. The six week timetable, which affects Monday – Saturday services, will come into effect on Monday 3 November until Saturday 13 December. 

The main change for passengers travelling on the route, which runs from Lichfield in the north, through Birmingham and on to Redditch, is that not all trains will stop at every station. This means there will be fewer train services from some stations. 

The operator said that reducing the number of stations it stops at helps in two ways: “Driving conditions are most hazardous when breaking and pulling away from stations, so reducing the number of stops will make a real difference. Secondly, travelling at a slower speed and calling at all stations would inevitably cause delays and may lead to further disruption.” 

Mark Goodall, head of Cross City Services, added that the six week period is when the punctuality of London Midland’s trains suffered most in recent years, “so it’s right that we make changes”. 

“We have worked closely with Network Rail to reduce the impact of leaf fall, from identifying ‘hot spots’ for cutting back trees and vegetation, to defining the most effective times of the day to spray clean the rails,” he added. 

To find out more about the changes, click here

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