November 03, 2003

Leaves action pays off

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail

According to the Evening Standard:

Train passengers escaped misery today as Network Rail's strategy to clear leaves from the lines appeared to have paid off...

Network Rail employed more than 30 multi- purpose vehicles (MPVs) to run sandite - a sand and glue concoction - over thousands of miles of line to scrape off the mulch...

Spokesmen for Anglia Railways, South West Trains and Thameslink all said their services had run without significant delay due to leaves this morning.

Gasp, splutter, splutter. Our nationalised/fragmented railway getting something right?! I'm gobsmacked. For years every autumn we've got used to chaos caused by leaves on the line and here someone's gone and solved the problem. It's most un-British. There has to be a catch.

Incidentally, I wonder if anyone out there can tell me if leaves on the line have always been the problem that they have been in recent years and if not why not.

Update 09/05/04

Have just been reading Modern Railways from March 1986. Alan Williams (who is still there) has this to say:

The problem has been creeping up on BR for years, as post-steam age lineside foliage has become more abundant (thus keeping more tracks damp and covered with leaves), locomotive hauled trains have become rarer (because they are heavier and cause more draught, locomotives tend to keep tracks clearer) and disc-braked vehicles have become more common (disc brakes do not bear on the running surface of the wheel and because it does not therefore enjoy the "scrubbing" effect of the brake blocks of a traditional brake, the wheel suffers from a build up of "slime" on the tread).

To which I suppose the response is: why don't they cut down the lineside foliage, make the trains heavier or go back to whatever they had before disc-brakes?

Trackbacks

Comments

Yes, but this was investment made by Railtrack, which only was implemented during the last couple of years.

Posted by Robert Dammers on November 3, 2003

'Leaves on the line' is a recent problem. It's not hard to explain (and none of this may be new, so apologies if not)
1. There are more trees beside railway lines than in the past. Until 1968 and the end of steam traction, embankments etc. were kept clear of trees because of the risk of fire. We have now had enough time since then for embankments to become populated with fully mature broadleaved trees. And steam specials occasionally start fires. Anyway, there are more trees, so more leaves.
2. Modern trains are getting lighter than their older counterparts. This in itself makes adhesion problems more likely. Leaf mulch is more liable now than before to cause slippage.
3. Old fashioned block brakes scraped leaf mulch off train wheels; modern trains have disc brakes, and the mulch remains on the wheel to cause problems.
That just about sums it up. The problem would most likely go away were the authorities able to cut down the post '68 trees without raising an outcry. But that's just not going to happen - thus the new MPVs. Readers may like to know that Britain has been relatively successful in dealing with the problem, to the extent that representatives of European railways have come over to see how it's done.

Posted by James on November 3, 2003

I noticed a lot of leaves sucked into the low level ventilation grilles of a Virgin Voyager yesterday. Makes me wonder how leaf mulch will gum up their insides. I also heard an announcement that one southbound Voyager was cancelled because it broke down; I have no idea if it's demise was leaf related).

Foot travel isn't immune to leaf fall problems either; I almost slipped up on leaves on the path leading up to my house this evening.

Posted by Tim Hall on November 4, 2003

More on this in a letter to the Times. The writer reckons that mixymatosis has a lot to answer for. Why? Becuase the rabbits ate the seedlings.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on November 5, 2003

Wales and Borders have had serious delays this year with leaf fall and many trains have heavilly delayed or cancelled. Previous comments have addressed the cause, and I am now conscious of travelling through tree tunnels compared with the open views of previous years.

Posted by Brian Hayes on November 8, 2003

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