A track cleaning system that fits onto trains could minimise delays caused by leaves on the line, network operator Northern has said.

Fallen leaves can cause significant disruption to the network as they stick to damp rails and are then compressed by passing trains into a smooth, slippery layer, which reduces a train’s grip. This can cause delays to services, which leads to disruption for passengers as well as affecting safety as braking is compromised.

Developed with the University of Sheffield, the cleaning system works by firing dry ice pellets in a stream of air at supersonic speed at the railhead – freezing any leaves on the line. The frozen leaves are then blasted away as the dry ice pellets turn back into a gas.

At the moment, railway lines are cleaned using expensive-to-run railhead treatment trains but there are only a limited number of these trains available, so they can’t treat the whole of the network.

The new rail head treatment technology cuts costs because it is attached to passenger trains and the researchers estimate that it could save the rail industry millions of pounds every year.

The dry ice pellets are made from waste carbon dioxide from other industries.

The researchers have bought two retired Pacer trains, based at Wensleydale Railway, to test the new design and develop a plan for the system to be fitted throughout Northern’s fleet next year.

Rob Cummings, seasonal improvement manager at Northern, said: “This is a game changer for the industry – the next step in finding a solution to tricky autumn conditions.

“One of the biggest risks to our performance during October and November is ‘leaves on the line’, but by helping to develop new innovative technology we aim to deliver the very best service for our passengers.”

Professor Roger Lewis, who has led the team at the University developing the technology, said: “This is a great example of a University testing and proving an idea in a lab-based experiment and then scaling it up to be trialled and implemented in the field to make impact.”

Northern is the second largest train operator in the UK, with 2,500 services a day to more than 500 stations across the North of England.

Extracted from E& T website, read more here

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