Leaf busting trains now out 24 hours a day on Midlands rail routes

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A special fleet of ‘leaf-busting’ trains have started blasting leaves off the line to help keep passengers and freight moving across the West Midlands and Chiltern main line this autumn.

From today (1 October) until 13th December, seven specialist trains will wash leaf debris from a total of 91,195 miles of track across the region while trees are shedding their leaves.

The seasonal delivery depot at Kings Norton is the nerve centre for keeping tracks in the West Midlands, West Coast main line to Euston and Chiltern main line to Marylebone this autumn.

Three trains known as MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) will operate from the Kings Norton depot, with another called an RHHT (rail head treatment train) operating from Banbury.

The total miles if track treated over this time will be equivalent to going almost four times around the equator.

Autumn 21 rail head treatment train (RHTT).

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

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 which 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.

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.”

Lucy Wootton, head of the Grand Rail Collaboration*, said: “Autumn is a challenging time on the railway but a huge amount of work takes place to prepare and deliver track treatment to keep trains on the move. It shows the industry working as one to deliver the best possible service for passengers and freight.”

Malcolm Holmes, executive director for West Midlands Rail Executive, said: “The rail industry’s work to keep trains safely moving during autumn is key as we welcome passengers back to train travel. Leaves on the line is no joke and is something Network Rail is once again taking seriously as it sends out its fleet of treatment trains this year.”

Last year Network Rail spent £2.9 million on the Central and West Coast South routes during its autumn efforts to keep passengers moving.

Autumn – Water Jetting in action – Rail Head Treatment Train.

This year, 107 traction 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 that the autumn treatment programme is working effectively and provide additional support where necessary.

For more information on how we deal with leaves on the line visit www.networkrail.co.uk/leaves

Photo credit: Network Rail

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