Railworkers to turn over every leaf

RAILWORKERS are aiming to win the seasonal battle against leaves on the line in East Anglia thanks to a boost in investment and advances in technology.

RAILWORKERS are aiming to win the seasonal battle against leaves on the line in East Anglia thanks to a boost in investment and advances in technology.

Network Rail has invested £1.6 million in laser technology which, if it passes tests, could be a major new weapon in the fight against the £50m-a-year misery.

The leaves, when crushed, form a hard coating that causes train wheels to slip and slide.

The mulch can also, in extreme cases, insulate the electric currents passing through the rail which tells signallers where trains are, causing an effect called "ghosting", where trains can disappear from display panels.


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East Anglia has seven multi-purpose vehicles which will clock up thousands of miles in the next few weeks to tackle the problem, which is likened to "black ice" conditions on the region's rail lines.

The vehicles, which carry 1,400 litres of sandite and spread 16 litres per mile, will firstly spray a high-powered jet on the track to clear the leaves and then spread sand over the rail.

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There are also eight petrol driven scrubbing machines, six new pneumatic tandem sticks to dissolve leaves and various chemical remedies ordered.

Network Rail has spent £1.6 million on fitting two multipurpose vehicles (specially adapted trains) with lasers to blast the contaminating substance off the track.

Robin Gisby, director, Southern, Network Rail, told reporters: "They are being tested this year, in parallel with the other technology at our disposal.

"But if they work then we might have those two and some more next year."

He said about 50 might eventually be needed to provide national coverage if they were approved for use and they had advantages compared with the existing methods of using water and a sand-based gel called "sandite".

He said: "The lasers are completely non-intrusive and remember you are throwing water and sand around near the points in some cases."

Meanwhile, the company is operating its biggest ever "treatment fleet" this year - 62 specially adapted trains which apply sandite and high-pressure water jets, and 94 teams who walk the line in "hot spot" areas to deal with the problem.

"Although we cannot control the elements, we are constantly striving to find new ways of addressing the leaf-fall problem and this year sees a more focused effort than ever before to help to reduce the problems that autumn brings for operating a punctual and reliable railway."

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