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That time of year — ‘leaf busters’ at the ready

Posted on 12 Oct 2020 and read 457 times
That time of  year  — ‘leaf busters’ at the readyWith 1 October marking the first day of the railway’s autumn season, Network Rail’s fleet of leaf-busting trains and leaf-busting teams have been readied to help tackle the annual blight of ‘leaves on the line’ and keep passengers moving safely and reliably.

Regarded as the railway’s equivalent of black ice on the roads, leaves on the line can create issues when they stick to damp rails and are compressed by moving trains into a thin black layer that can affect train braking and acceleration. The build up of leaf mulch can also make it harder for signallers to detect a train’s location, causing delays to services.

Nick King, Network Rail’s network services director, said: “Our preparation for this year’s autumnal weather has been as comprehensive as ever, and our highly skilled frontline teams and leaf-busting trains will be working non-stop to help keep the tracks clear and services running on time.”

The 61 leaf-busting trains comprise 29 rail-head treatment trains (RHTTs) and 32 multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs). These move around the network, cleaning the top of the rail by spraying it with a water jet at very high pressure (1,500 bar) to blast away leaf mulch.

Mr King added: “These trains also apply a gel, containing a mix of sand and steel grains, to help the train wheels run along the tracks as they ordinarily would. We also have 80 two-person leaf-busting teams available 24/7 at key locations to scrub the top of the rails by hand with a sand-based treatment.

“Between 1 October and 13 December, Network Rail receives adhesion forecasts twice a day from a specialist weather forecaster, highlighting locations that require action. This allows resources to be planned more effectively.

“In 2019, this fleet of autumn treatment trains treated 895,217 miles of track — the equivalent of travelling to the moon three and a half times.”