Engineers at Sheffield University have developed a track cleaning technology to remove leaves from railway lines, aiming to significantly reduce rail delays.

The technique was developed by a team of researchers led by Professor Roger Lewis from the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. It uses dry ice pellets in a stream of high pressure air which freeze the leaves, then as the pellets turn back to gas they are blasted away from the railhead.

First developed by the group in 2015, their method has been tested on railhead treatment trains over the past two years and on passenger trains in early 2020. According to the team, their technique has proven to be ‘significantly more effective’ at removing leaves from the line, preventing delays and improving trains’ braking distances.

The system is lighter, and can clean parts of the railway network where current methods are unable to reach such as branch lines and track close to station platforms. It doesn’t affect nearby railway infrastructure and is also more environmentally friendly due to its use of reclaimed carbon dioxide, researchers said.

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