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New tech to be used to stop Autumn leaves causing delays on Highlands' rail network

By Gavin Musgrove

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Autumn treatment trains covered more than 70,000 miles of track last year.
Autumn treatment trains covered more than 70,000 miles of track last year.

Rail bosses have said their teams across Scotland will be working hard over the next three months to keep tracks clear of leaves and debris and keep customers on the move.

Every autumn, trees drop thousands of tonnes of leaves onto the network's infrastructure and these can break down into a slippery surface that can cause train wheels to lose grip – making it more difficult for them to stop quickly.

This can cause trains to overshoot signals or platforms and affect signalling systems – making it harder to track where trains are on the network.

But from now until mid-December, rail staff will be working around-the-clock investing millions of pounds to keep passengers moving.

In depots, there will be additional staff cleaning trains’ wheels, while out on the line leaf-busting teams will be deployed to clear debris direct from the rails.

The fleet of specialist rail-head treatment trains will also be in operation throughout autumn, cleaning tracks and coating them with a special adhesive to help trains keep their grip.

Last year, autumn treatment trains covered more than 70,000 miles of track all across Scotland’s rail network.

This autumn, rail bosses are making even greater use of new technology like cryogenics where dry ice pellets are fired onto the rails causing leaf mulch to crack and break away leaving a clean, dry surface.

Specialist weather reports will also be used to help pinpoint how the weather will affect leaf-fall throughout the season – allowing operators to target resources where they are most needed.

Liam Sumpter, Network Rail Scotland route director, said: “Last year, we delivered the best autumn performance on record, reducing leaf-fall related delays and improving train punctuality for our customers.

“Leaves on the line can pose a real danger to the safe operation of the railway – affecting a train’s wheels in a similar way to how black ice affects your car – and our teams will be working around-the-clock to make sure we keep passengers moving safely this autumn.”

David Simpson, ScotRail operations director, said: “We are again working very closely with our Network Rail colleagues to keep people moving.

"Our teams will work through the night to keep train wheels clean and help minimise the impact of the autumn weather.

“The performance of our services has been steadily improving and our staff will be working flat out to improve that further and deliver another strong autumn performance for our customers.”

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