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New systems being used to remove leaves from railways

A new system developed by researchers at Sheffield University is being trialled to remove slippery leaves from the country’s railway lines.

Like any machinery, effective lubrication is essential for trains to run smoothly, and lubricant makers like Klüber work to develop products to meet the particular needs of the rail industry. Even the rails and the wheels of rolling stock can benefit from lubrication. Unfortunately, this is taken to an extreme by falling leaves in that they get compressed by passing trains and become smooth. These then prevent trains from maintaining an adequate grip, rather like the rail equivalent of black ice, causing them to run slower and inevitably causing delays in the network.

The new system fires pellets of dry ice onto the rails with air, causing them to freeze. Next, as the dry ice becomes gas again, the brittle frozen leaves are blasted off the line. The new system should be less damaging than the current system where trains need to spray a mix of steel and sand particles onto rails from mounted water tanks.

In East Anglia, meanwhile, Network Rail is running six “leaf busting” trains around the rail network to clear up fallen leaves. These trains work differently in that they use high-pressure water jets to blast leaves off the lines. They then apply a special gel that works in the opposite way to a lubricant—it actually helps trains to maintain their grip if further leaves fall onto the line.

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