Autumn treatment train in siding at Wigan Springs branch depot, via Network Rail

North West routes to have leaf clutter cleared

As Autumn weather sweeps across the UK, that only means one thing for the rail industry: crusty leaves crowding the lines causing hazardous conditions to passengers and freight shipments.

Leaves on the track are often regarded as the equivalent of ice on the roads for the rail sector, creating major safety hazards as they stick to the damp rails and are then compressed by the moving trains, forming a layer that can affect train braking and acceleration.

 To combat these troublesome tree droppings, a fleet of ‘leaf-busting’ trains are now blasting leaves off the line. Starting this week, six specialist trains will perform maintenance cleaning as they wash leaf debris from up to 96,000 miles of track across the region while trees are shedding their leaves, with these works culminating on the 12th December.

Dave Shawcross, Network Rail seasons delivery manager, said:

“Leaves on the line are a big problem for the railway. It disrupts services and inconveniences people’s journeys, and every year, Network Rail and train operators work together to battle against the elements to get passengers and freight to their destinations.

“We are ready to keep people and goods moving across the North West by running a reliable service for our customers as they return to the railway as a safe and green way to travel.”

Five trains known as MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) will work from Wigan, while another train known as an RHHT (rail head treatment train) will operate from Carlisle Kingmoor depot in Cumbria. The total milage of treated track over this project will comfortably be over three times the length of the equator (3.855).

These machines will clear the rail lines with high pressure water jets, then applying the rails with a sand-like gel to aid in rolling stock wheels as they grip the tracks throughout their journeys. This year, 77 traction gel applicators have been positioned across the routes rail network. They spray a special sand-like gel onto the rails to help supply extra grip for train wheels.

The build-up of leaf mulch can also make it harder for signallers to detect a train’s location, causing delays.

Last year Network Rail spent £5 million on the North West route during its autumn efforts to keep passengers moving.

Rob Cummings, seasonal improvement manager at Northern, said:

“We are working hard as an industry to clear leaves from the line and to keep disruption to a minimum during the autumn period.

“We have introduced special timetables on problematic routes to give our customers a more reliable service and our drivers also have advanced training to help develop techniques which further reduce the impact of slippery rails. We are also helping to develop new innovative technology that will reduce the impact of leaves on the line.”

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