Cutting-edge tech freezes out leafs and leaves only rails on the line
Leaf-clearing trains are being deployed across Scotland this Autumn, with the technology to give leaves the cold shoulder. A blend of cutting-edge technology and specialised trains are on the tracks to ensure the network doesn’t fall foul of Autumn. The infrastructure management agency Network Rail has fired up its dedicated leaf-fall teams, supported by a fleet of seven leaf-busting trains, and put them to work around the clock to mitigate delays during the challenging leaf-fall season.
Leaves on the track pose a significant challenge, akin to ice on roadways. As every driver knows, they diminish train traction on the rails and increase braking distances. This can lead to issues such as overshooting signals and platforms, as well as disruptions to signalling systems, making it more challenging for signallers to monitor train movements. The good news is that this year, there are some cool new tools in the box – very cool tools indeed.
High-pressure water and a sandy gel
Rail-head treatment trains (RHTTs) and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) will cover more ground in Scotland than ever this year. The teams will be extending their operations to the Airdrie-Bathgate route in Central Scotland for the first time. They’ll also increase their efforts on the Highland Main Line between Perth and Inverness. These vehicles utilise high-pressure water jets to cleanse the rails before applying a sandy gel that adheres to the surface, enhancing the grip of train wheels.
Network Rail say that between 18 September and 8 December, over 80,000 miles of track will benefit from this specialised treatment, while engineering teams will target known leaf-fall trouble spots. Leaf-fall teams will also experiment with the use of ‘hydrophobic’ sand in Scotland. The water-repellent formula was successfully deployed in the Anglia region of southeast England last year. This sand adheres to the rails, enhancing traction for trains. Network Rail say they will closely monitor the impact of this innovation throughout the season.
Cryogenic suburban Edinburgh
Coolest of all, a train equipped with cryogenic equipment is also set to be trialled in the Edinburgh area. This technology will discharge dry ice pellets onto the rails, causing leaves to fracture and disperse, leaving behind a clean, dry surface for trains to grip onto. Likely routes include the city’s heavily wooded South Suburban Line, which carries around seventy freight trains a day.
“Our teams will be working extremely hard with colleagues across Scotland’s Railway to keep passengers and freight moving this autumn”, said Liam Sumpter, Route Director at Network Rail Scotland. Although only slightly further north than other parts of the UK, Scotland generally experiences a cooler and wetter climate. Significant parts of the network are at higher altitudes than in the rest of the British Isles, exposing the infrastructure to colder, often icy conditions. Some parts, especially on the Highland Main Line, can experience freezing temperatures around the calendar.