1st Mar, 2021

Network Rail's leaf busting trains take to the tracks to keep passengers and freight moving this autumn

LEAF BUSTING trains are operating on railway tracks throughout the West Midlands and other areas of the country to make journeys more efficient for both passengers and freight this autumn.

Network Rail’s three specialist engines blast leaves and debris off the line between now and December 13, covering a total of 83,600 miles of track across the region.

The total miles treated over this time will be equivalent to going 3.35 times around the equator.

After the tracks have been cleared the machines then apply rails with a glue-like coating to help passenger and freight train wheels grip the tracks.

Leaves are regarded as the railway’s equivalent of black ice on the roads, creating issues when they stick to damp rails and are compressed by moving trains into a thin, black layer which can affect both train braking and acceleration.

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

Martin Colmey, operations director for Network Rail’s Central route, said: “Leaves on the line are a big problem for the railway.

“It disrupts services and inconveniences passengers and every year – Network Rail and train operators work together to battle against the elements to get passengers and freight to their destinations.

“Even more work has gone into getting prepared for autumn this year because of the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, including how we operate the trains themselves.

“We are ready to keep people and goods moving across the West Midlands and Chiltern Main line running a safe and reliable service for our customers.”

Last year Network Rail spent £3.6million on the Central and West Coast South routes during its autumn efforts to keep passengers moving.

This year, 96 track gel applicators have been positioned across the Central route. They spray a special sand-like gel onto the rails to help provide extra grip for train wheels.

Specialist teams will be positioned across the West Midlands and Chiltern main line to check the autumn treatment programme is working effectively and provide additional support where necessary.

Alex Warner is the chair of the Grand Rail Collaboration, which brings together passenger and freight operators, Network Rail and other rail industry partners in the West Midlands.

He said the work by Network Rail, with the support of train operators, was vital to help keep passengers and freight moving safely and on time across the West Midlands and beyond.

“Passenger numbers may be much-reduced but freight continues to be moved in high numbers.

“Regardless of demand, everyone in the rail industry is working hard to provide timetables that can be relied on and this is an important time of the year to really focus on getting it right.”

Malcolm Holmes, executive director for West Midlands Rail Executive, said: “The railway is open for business and the whole industry wants to run a safe and reliable service for everyone using it.

“Autumn poses a real challenge on the network but this work will make a real difference to passengers and freight services across the region.”

Visit www.networkrail.co.uk/leaves for more on the scheme.

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