Leaves on the line: the annual Autumnal battle of train operating companies around the world, and the arch enemy of the commuters that travel with them. Every year they drop and seemingly every year the network suffers, resulting in delays and even cancellations. But that could be set to change in the UK if a range of industry measures aimed at eliminating the slippery problem take effect.
Wet leaves on rail tracks can make them extremely hazardous, closely replicating the sort of conditions experienced in sub-zero temperatures when black ice often forms. Rail operators in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England will be attempting to minimise any disruption by employing manpower and machinery to help beat the problem.
In Scotland, the group formed between ScotRail and Network Rail, The ScotRail Alliance, will invest more than £2.5m, introducing seven trains that have been adapted so they can clear debris and spray the lines with a tacky adhesive-like coating that helps the wheels gain traction.
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland the manager of its network, Translink, has spent around £4m on a train to clear its tracks. Like ScotRail Alliance, the train will also deposit a gritty material to prevent wheel slippage.
In the south east of England the menace posed by leaves is being tackled by another Network Rail union, with a £500,000 investment to fit trains with a safety system that acts in much the same way as the way an anti-lock braking system (ABS) works on a car. Greater Anglia, which serves Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, has said that the ABS plan and specialist trains that will clean the tracks will help improve life for passengers.
“We are acutely aware of the frustration and inconvenience felt by our passengers when things go wrong, so we are pleased to be taking action in partnership with Network Rail, making additional preparations to protect train services during what is traditionally a difficult period on the railway,” said Greater Anglia’s managing director, Jamie Burles.
Despite the very real threat from the leaves the excuses for affected services from rail operators have been the subject of ridicule from passengers over the years. Seven years ago, the operator Southern said that a particularly stubborn leaf with a “Teflon-like coating” was responsible for 20% of its delays and cancellations – leading many to draw comparisons with “the wrong type of snow” comment made in 1991 by then director of British Rail in describing unusually heavy snowfall.
Earlier this week, Transport Security World reported on the action Keolis Commuter Services is taking in the north east of the US for its Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority network, which is using drones to fly above tracks to identify areas of the network that require special attention.
You may also be interested in these stories…