Rail firm’s ‘chilly solution’ to remove leaves on the line

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Some 10 million trees line Britain’s railway and thousands of tons of leaves fall on to the tracks every autumn.

When trains pass over the leaves it creates a slippery layer.

Delays and repairs as a result cost the railway industry around £345million each year.

Now University of Sheffield engineers have developed a leafclearing technique, which will be trialled

Dry new by operator Northern on a passenger train in the coming weeks. It involves firing pellets of dry ice in a stream of air from a train, making leaves frozen and brittle.

The dry ice then turns back into gas, causing it to expand and destroy the leaves.

Professor Roger Lewis, who is leading the development, said: “This technology will make a step change in train performance during autumn.

“It will provide more predictable braking and traction than current technology, and will help to improve train performance and reduce delays.

“It will be great for passengers, but also for all the train operators and Network Rail. It will make their lives much easier.” Currently, leaves are cleared by 61 special trains that deploy high-pressure water jets followed by a gel containing sand and steel grains to assist with braking.

Engineers claim their method is significantly more efficient as it can be used by passenger trains, which cover greater distances.

It also does not leave a residue, which can damage rails and wheels, and can be used on the same stretch of railway more than once a day.The system has previously been trialled on test tracks and could be rolled out widely by 2023.

Rob Cummings, seasonal improvement manager at Northern, said: “One of the biggest risks to our performance during October and November is leaves on the line, but by helping to develop new technology we aim to deliver the very best service for our passengers.”

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