Water-Trak in action, via Northern

Northern trial Water-Trak technology to cut disruptions this Autumn

Rail operator Northern have begun the process of fitting new weather resiliency technology to its trains that will aid in combatting stray leaves on the line, aiming to reduce overall passenger disruptions this Autumn. Railway lines are currently cleaned using railhead treatment trains, also known as RHTTs, but the limited number of these units creates logistical issues for line management.

Leaf fall can present major issues for the rail network during Autumn as they can stick to the damp rails, thus becoming compressed into a smooth, slippery layer that in turn reduces the trains grip along the track. This major safety issue can cause severe delays to services and lead to passenger disruptions.

To combat this issue, Northern will implement industry leading innovation as they fit 16 of their 170 trains with new 'leaf-busting' technology to help clear the lines between Leeds, Harrogate, and York as well as routes between Sheffield, Doncaster, Hull and Scarborough.

The technology being utilised – Water-Trak – has had previous testing performed across the Northern Network, where it creates rainy-day conditions on the surface of the rail line. This is achieved by spraying a small amount of water from the train onto the track when a slippery rail is detected.

The idea of dousing these lines with water to create rainy conditions may seem counterproductive, however it has been discovered that leaf coated rails only become slippery if damp, noting that trains still stop safely in heavy rain.

Rob Cummings, seasonal improvement manager at Northern, said:

“This is the next step in finding a solution to tricky autumn conditions. One of the biggest risks to our performance during October and November is leaves on the line, but by helping to develop new innovative technology we aim to deliver the very best service for our passengers.” 

The trials being conducted come following two of Northern’s Class 319s fitted with Water-Trak successfully operating passenger services since late October 2021. These current trials are being conducted in cooperation with Network Rail’s Performance Innovation Fund.

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