Freeze on the line: Ice pel­lets blast leaves off tracks

Daily Mail - - News - By Tom Payne Trans­port Cor­re­spon­dent

IT is a phrase guar­an­teed to chill the hearts of com­muters – ‘leaves on the line’.

But now ex­perts be­lieve they have come up with a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem which causes huge train de­lays each year.

Au­tum­nal leaf-fall costs the rail in­dus­try £ 45mil­lion and af­fects mil­lions of pas­sen­gers. Wet leaves are com­pacted on tracks un­der the weight of trains, cre­at­ing a slip­pery layer which causes a loss of grip – like black ice on roads.

A so­lu­tion be­ing tested by Net­work Rail this au­tumn sees dry ice pel­lets fired at su­per­sonic speed in a stream of air, freez­ing the leaves and mak­ing them brit­tle. The pel­lets then turn back into gas and blast leaves off the line. The method, de­vel­oped by Sh­effield Uni­ver­sity en­gi­neers, is be­ing used by track clean­ing teams on trial routes across the coun­try.

En­gi­neers hope to de­velop an on-board ver­sion which will au­to­mat­i­cally fire pel­lets at the track ahead.

Pro­fes­sor Roger Lewis, from Sh­effield Uni­ver­sity, said the in­ven­tion pro­vides ‘more pre­dictable brak­ing and trac­tion’.

Pas­sen­gers en­dured al­most 6,500 hours of de­lays caused by leaves in 2018/19 – up 78 per cent from ,650 hours in 2009/10, fig­ures show. Cur­rently, most rail op­er­a­tors use an on-board sys­tem which blasts sand on to tracks to gen­er­ate trac­tion – but this leaves a dam­ag­ing residue on lines.

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